I did my second-ever meetup at WDS. Remember how I started forcing myself into public speaking two years ago because I was so petrified by stage fright that I could barely stand up to speak my name? I have to keep reminding myself how far I’ve come in such a short time, because I’m being eaten up by what Michelle Barry Franco so aptly calls a “vulnerability hangover.” This is why I’m sharing, because I suspect it’s a natural part of the emotional arc of learning to inhabit a stage presence.
Our Thursday was all about public speaking and storytelling. Our first academy of the day was “Make Instant Friends and Raving Fans” by the inimitable Marsha Shandur. We had the great luck of getting into her sold-out storytelling academy last year, because we were fast and decisive. Until they manage to generate an AI avatar so there can be two Marshas, or we can get her to bilocate, her raving fans are going to have to be pretty fast on that reservation button! Today’s topic was a matter of serious study for an awkwardly shy person like myself. My “dork goblin” isn’t a separate version of me, it simply IS me, only realizing I bumbled my opportunity for a conversation in retrospect. “Hi, you’re amazing, please allow me to tell you a completely pointless and boring anecdote about myself and then forget why I was telling you.” Hours fly by. I believe Marsha’s claims to have once been shy and awkward, although they do seem tenuous; if true, then maybe there is hope for us all.
We had a lunch break and came back to the same building for our afternoon academy, “Speak So It Matters” by Michelle Barry Franco. She is a highly accomplished speaker and captivating in her own distinct way. While Marsha’s focus is more on forming a personal, emotional connection through storytelling, Michelle’s is more on clarifying a message and using public speaking to get traction on it. She had specific tips on how to find an audience - like physically find them - and create your own public speaking career. We broke into groups, and my hubby and I were very fortunate to click with a pair of podcasters who each already have a clearly defined audience.
I walked out of that academy with half an hour to get to my own meetup, Wishing Permission, feeling excited and focused and empowered. It’s hard to believe for anyone who is physically overpowered by stage fright, but it is indeed possible to get over that stage fright and anticipate a speaking opportunity with excitement. It is! It does take time, because what’s involved is reframing, neurohacking that physical anxiety response, stress inoculation, simple practice, and learning specific, straightforward presentation skills. If you have something you want to say badly enough, and you can push through the first couple of months, you too can be free of stage fright.
I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve improved, it’s easier, it’s easier, it got better, because right now I’m still in that mopey, limp rag of a state that I get in after a presentation. Beforehand I’m so excited about everything I have to say. During, I just talk really fast. I was proud that I started exactly on time and ended on time, from 5:00 to 6:01. Good job, me!
Afterward I felt small, homely, useless, pointless, boring, wrong, confusing, drained, sagging from sleeping only four hours, and that surely any rational person would abandon any idea of ever doing that again.
Same exact thing that happened last year.
It’s like when an elephant seal has her pup, and the pup gains its weight by effectively consuming her accumulated body fat reserves, pound for pound, until it’s grown enough that she can go out to get some fish for herself. The speech comes out of me, depleting my life force, until I’m a pasty imitation sock puppet version of myself. Flopped over with its sock mouth hanging open derrrrrrrrp.
Then the feedback starts coming in. I had people who had attended my Curate Your Stuff meetup last year, who still remembered everything I had to say!
Then I got this: “...I’d love to talk to you more about this wish stuff, I feel like you’re really on to something.” AHA!
What I’m sharing is that when we have an idea, an invention, an innovation, or an artistic creation, it becomes an entity in its own right. It deserves to enter the world of reality. We are not able to judge our own work; we can’t possibly know where it will find its audience, or when. It doesn’t belong to us at that point. It belongs to the world. We can’t let emotional foo interfere with the creation of the work. My feeling that “I am a terrible public speaker, my ideas are ludicrous, I’m funny-looking and nobody wants me” is a direct reaction, a physical letdown from the adrenal buildup of anticipating the event. It’s very much like every marathoner who reaches the finish line and then never runs again. One day, with practice, this will just feel like an ordinary thing that I do, and I’ll be more skilled at recognizing the emotional ebb and flow. Until then, I have to keep reminding myself that if even one person benefits from my work, then I can’t not work.
Hey. HOW DARE YOU not give us your project? Who the heck do you think you are, to keep your ideas for private entertainment and not release them?
What both Marsha Shandur and Michelle Barry Franco had in common was that they both emphasize: they are not naturals at this. They worked at it. It was contrary to whatever they were doing up to that point. “Doing what comes naturally” was not going to lead either of them to a public speaking career; they got there by NOT doing what comes naturally. We can trust by their example that the path is there. We can respect that it takes years of steady effort. We can hold the line when every instinct in our bodies says to run away and quit doing it. We can believe that with dedication and focus, we can learn to captivate and get a message across. We just have to be willing to be dorky the first few tries.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.