I, like most people, would rather do just about anything before speaking in front of an audience. And yet, in order to fulfill my goals of promoting mental health, public speaking has become increasingly necessary for me.
My typical way of preparing for any kind of public talk is to literally script it in advance, jokes and all, and rehearse the heck out of it so that it comes across as natural. And I pull it off every time. I get the applause, and the positive comments. I succeed at projecting an image of complete confidence in spite of my anxiety.
That’s the thing about perfectionism – it’s usually rewarded. But it’s a lot of work. And quite honestly, as a busy working mother building a business and trying to get on top of this social media thing, I frankly no longer have the time for this level of obsessiveness.
It also occurred to me that my perfectionistic approach essentially made me a hypocrite and had the potential to undermine one of the core messages I am trying to promote: the power of authenticity. How could I speak about the power and importance of sharing one’s authentic voice while hiding behind a script? How could I present a completely rehearsed talk when my goal is to make a genuine connection with the audience?
So when I was asked to be one of 6 presenters at an event called My Epoch, I knew that I needed to take a different approach. The spirit of the event was to make genuine connections with people you might not normally meet with the aim of cross pollinating knowledge and inspiring new ideas. Clearly, there was no better opportunity to challenge myself to truly ‘walk the walk.’ It was time to let go of fear.
You see, I realized that the true motivator behind my pursuit of perfection was not conscientiousness, but fear. Fear that I suddenly would be unable to articulate my thoughts, when in fact I receive positive feedback about the way I convey ideas every day be it with clients or in media interviews. Fear that I would somehow present as not knowing what I was talking about when in fact I am an expert in my field. Fear that I would make a fool of myself…well, that actually happens on a daily basis. But it’s ok. I recover and move on. If that should happen, if I should reveal a flaw, reveal that I am indeed a human being, it would only serve to solidify my connection with the audience.
With this new perspective in mind, I chose to lead from the heart and to connect with the audience by sharing a genuine part of myself, even if that meant that I might stumble along the way.
In the days leading up to the event, I did find myself wrestling with the temptation to draft my talk as I had done in the past. I mean, the people attending paid to come and I wanted them to get something out of it. I did not want to insult them by looking ill prepared. I wavered and thought that I should just forget this little experiment and write out and rehearse my talk.
But rather than give in, I stayed true to my intention and let the anxious thoughts wash over me. I chose instead to just observe my own process. And in fact my internal battle was actually a little amusing.
However, I did not ignore the anxiety gremlin entirely. I did have to do something to prepare. And so I struck a compromise: I would draft a brief outline with the main points I wanted to communicate. Nothing more.
I decided to dedicate my 6 minutes at the mic describing why I am so passionate about my work as a psychologist. I wanted them to understand how privileged I feel to be able to witness and support the human spirit in each client I see, regardless of whether they are suffering or aspiring for something more. I wanted each person to walk away with the understanding that seeing a counselor or a psychologist is not about weakness, it is about assuming control to Design Your Life.
The day of the event was like any other Saturday filled with making meals, working out, cleaning up and taking advantage of some time to take a blessed nap. I arrived at the event early and while I spoke with my fellow presenters and then the guests as they arrived, I found that I was not nervous.
The only time a felt a bit anxious was while listening to the presenter just before I was to go on. This was largely because I was trying to review the main points of what I wanted to say in my head but could not do it effectively while also trying to listen. Recognizing the futility of this form of last minute preparation, I gave up on trying and focused on listening to Dennis and his honest and heart felt talk on the benefits of connecting with people outside of one’s typical social circles. Dennis finished to resounding applause; a hard act to follow. It was now my turn.
To quote one of the participants I “..nailed it”. As I spoke about the privileged role I have of witnessing and empowering the human spirit, I could see… or rather I could feel that the audience was with me. I was able to make eye contact and take in their smiles of encouragement as I scanned the room. It was actually really great.
The comments that various audience members provided me with all the validation I needed for my new approach. All of them expressed feeling moved. I had succeeded.
Not only had I made a connection, but I proved to myself that fear was not necessary for me to perform well. I could listen to my anxiety as a sign for the need to prepare without letting fear take over and push me into obsessiveness. I could keep focused on my own goals, show up, and let the process unfold.
I tried it and now I am sold. There is no going back.
How about you? Is there any way that these ideas could fit for your life?
I welcome your thoughts and comments.