Time to Speak Up!

Ask most working women what they think about public speaking and they’re likely to say “no thanks.” In fact, according to numerous polls and studies, like one conducted as far back as 1977 from the Book of Lists, speaking before a group is the number one fear of those surveyed, ahead of fear of heights, bugs, financial problems – and even death.

Problem is, this fear holds women back as your career success will likely depend on you speaking up in front of a crowd.

You don’t want that to keep you from applying for and getting the promotion we know you deserve.  As a female business owner I can relate. I find myself procrastinating when I need to set up customer visits simply because I want to climb out of my own skin when speaking in front of a group.  Based on my past public speaking experience I was sure that my brain and body had formed a mutiny and left me for dead in front of all of those people.  I never wanted to experience that again so I just decided to avoid giving presentations. Period.  Done.  Problem solved. Not really.

I knew if I wanted to grow my business I was going to need some serious outside help.  I was able to set my fear aside long enough to sign up for a 2 day Executive Speaker Workshop with Speechworks in Atlanta.  As soon as I responded to their welcome e-mail asking for my lunch menu choices, things got real.  No backing out, now that they have my ham and cheese on wheat order.

I dusted off my snake skin high heel shoes and threw on my Trina Turk presentation pants with their crisp front crease, trying ever so subtly to mix “Take me serious, I’m a business owner” slacks with “Don’t worry, I’m still fun and edgy” shoes and headed out the door to face my fears.  When they told us we would be recording our work on-camera, my feet urged me to get up and quietly walk out (undetected of course amongst the group of 10 participants in a small board room). In hindsight I’m glad I stayed.  I discovered other participants, most of them men, were just as nervous.

Studies show women in particular are afraid of the “thought” of making a fool of themselves and are more nervous about stuttering or tripping up words.  I wondered, why do women fear it more than men?  When did we decide that looking foolish was directly tied to our self-esteem?  When I heard presenters mix up their words and showed their nerves, I secretly rooted for them and hoped they’d recover quickly to relieve the anxiety that was rapidly building inside of myself.  And once they’d rebound, which most do, I wanted to celebrate with them.  I found this endearing, they’re human like me.  So why do we think we’ll be ostracized if we are simply having a human experience?

I was about to find out.

I learned the most from watching myself and other participants get hijacked by adrenaline during our on-camera sessions. When this happened to me, I noticed I’d laugh nervously at odd, inappropriate times. I stopped mid presentation and looked at my coach with a “can I get a do over?” look to which he silently shook his head and gestured to keep going. I was on camera! Maybe Adele could get away with this but I clearly would not.  Watching this as we reviewed our videos enabled me to make some much needed changes.

I learned adrenaline hijacking was common; so common in fact, they have three tips to manage it, already neatly typed in our hand out.

  1. Mind – know your presentation cold.
  2. Body – move your body to flush out adrenaline.
  3. Attitude – be listener centered, not self-centered

Everything changed when I understood the goal wasn’t to eliminate being nervous but simply to practice what to do when I get nervous and how to recover with confidence.

During two days this brave group had the chance to improve our presentation skills.  We shared embarrassing moments, we laughed together and we were simultaneously vulnerable and courageous. I learned, in the words of Ambrose Redmoon, “Courage is not the absence of fear but the judgement that something else is more important”.

By Trina Keuller
Trina Keuller owns Miss Concepts Inc. and lives in Atlanta.

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