Finding a voice in public

I’ve never forgotten the first time I did it.

I was in in year 3, & apparently the teacher thought me the brightest kid in class. I’d changed schools that year (& had failed in at least two subjects in the previous class, so how that happened remains a mystery to me).

Being the ‘brightest’ automatically meant that you were selected for any competitions – debates, speech contests, sports etc. I was terrible at sports and not much better at anything else, although I loved reading & math.  I got selected for a speech contest. I don’t remember what my subject was. But I do remember standing on a stage that seemed twenty feet above the ground, looking at an ocean of people I did not know, freezing up, forgetting every word of what my mom had helped me prepare & rehearse. The worst part was being booed off the stage by a sea of cruel faces, most of who were just as old as I was.

I remember my fateful decision that day to never, ever get in front of a crowd to speak again.  It has had nearly catastrophic consequences.

Fast forward to the 2000’s. I discovered Toastmasters through a series of co-incidences, found the love of my life who was the daughter of my mentor, gave up Toastmasters for half a decade as life got in the way, rejoined it when I moved countries, & have nearly gotten over the fear of talking to most crowds, however big or small.

Nearly, I said.

I’ve been reading/ listening to a lot of blog posts & podcasts of late, & have been wondering why I’ve not really done things that I’m rather reluctant to do because of those voices in my head.  One of them is doing presentations/ public speaking at work. Talk (pun intended) of coincidences  – an opportunity arose to host the monthly team meeting, & I found myself thinking about a particular podcast, & volunteering when no one else in the room wanted to. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do.

I’m fortunate that I have built some really strong relationships at my workplace. As soon as I told them what foolhardiness I had embarked upon, I had some incredible support from my friends at work. I came up with a few of my own ideas & my colleagues were happy to suggest theirs too. The leaders were also really supportive, despite my reservations about doing this.

One of those podcasters / blog posters that have really kicked my ass into gear has been James Altucher. I messaged James on Twitter, telling him just that.

I was awestruck when James replied back, asking how the event went, & reminding me to breathe from my diaphragm, not my chest! He probably has already forgotten his simple act, but that did incredible things to my confidence when I was beginning to think that I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

The meeting went well, & while I was still nervous & a bit out of sorts, I’ve been getting feedback from a few who attended the meeting about how fresh it was, & that it was the first time they thought it was a worthwhile use of their time. Wow!

And thank you again, James.  I think I’ve found some courage to raise my voice in public again.

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