So I finally did it. I finally kicked that long-held, sweaty-palm, racing-heart, oh-god-I-might-be sick-or-possibly-cry, fear to the kerb. I faced the bugger down and I NEVER HAVE TO DO THAT FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER AGAIN. It’s done.
Did I jump out of a plane? Save a child from a burning building? Escape from a hostage situation?
Um, not exactly, no.
Ahem. I stood up in front of 70 people and gave a presentation.
But if you’d asked me to do that a few years ago (well, someone did), I have said (did say) no.
Now I’m not one for running from fear. I don’t believe in letting fears, especially irrational ones, restrict your life. I’ve made my own way in a male-dominated industry. I took on a crumbling wreck of a house aged 21 and brought her back to life. I learnt to deep-sea dive despite being properly scared to the point of panic. And I’ve been stretchered down a mountain after a nasty skiing accident, only to be right back up there the next season, albeit with some extra bits of metal holding me together. I am no sissy.
But stand up in front of a group of young people and share the benefits of what I’ve learnt about life, the universe and everything (well, the music business)? Not a chance buddy. Not. A. Chance.
And for a long time I managed to kid myself that this was something I didn’t need to do. It wasn’t limiting me, so why put myself through it? Well, because getting outside our comfort zone is where the juice happens, where we grow, and facing fears is just an extreme version of that. And because it was limiting me. However much my lizard hind-brain wanted me to believe there was a very real chance I could die up there, in reality challenging my fear could only increase my confidence and improve my skillset. So when I received an email inviting me to give a seminar to a group of music college students, I decided it was time to put on my big-girl pants and get over it.
I already had experience of teaching groups of up to 30 people in a yoga setting, but leading someone through an activity where their focus is on themselves is very different from speaking to a room full of people who are looking at you. What on earth was I going to talk about for 2 ½ hours? What if my voice shook, my hands trembled, my mouth went dry, I forgot what I was doing up there?
Then I realised where I was going wrong. All of these ‘what ifs’ were about me. But ‘what if’ I shifted the focus to the audience’s needs instead? In yoga we learn to teach ‘as it applies to the student, not as it applies to you’. This would be my starting point. How could I be of service to them? How might my experience be of benefit? What might they find inspiring, informative, useful, amusing, helpful?
I’m not saying that my apprehension magically vanished, but it did lessen dramatically once I shifted my perspective. I started to put the hours into getting prepared and making the presentation the best it could be, and that process became an education as I watched and read about public speakers who had honed their craft and learnt to keep an audience engaged. When the hour came I felt calm inwardly, although I could see my hand shaking as I reached for my glass of water. But once I found my stride and began to relax, an extraordinary thing happened: I started to enjoy it! Judging by the lovely responses and follow-ups I’ve had from the students, so did they – and if what we do helps even one other person then surely it’s worth it!
What I learnt – to shift the focus from yourself to the other – won’t apply to facing all fears. But fear of public speaking is really a fear of making ourselves vulnerable, and making that shift can be a big help. I really did make myself vulnerable up there – I didn’t put on any persona, any ‘mask’ to hide behind, I was just myself. I’m sure some people didn’t take to me, you can’t please everyone. But when we authentically share ourselves, and we dare to show a little vulnerability; when we ask what we can do for others and meet their needs in a spirit of openness; a true communion can take place, and alchemy can happen.
I genuinely surprised myself that day, and I offer my thanks to the students of Platform One college for their time and attention. I’m no longer afraid of public speaking and I’ll happily do it again. Fear can take a running jump; I’ve befriended my dragon!