Public speaking: Overcoming my fear

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Working on my speech
Toastmaster's Best Speaker Ribbon

Public speaking has always made me nervous and is way outside of my comfort zone. 

Listening to TED talks is one of my favorite ways of doing a little personal development while driving in my car or standing in line at the grocery store. Every talk I hear leaves me feeling inspired and blown away by how eliquently the speaker uses his or her words to connect with the crowd. I want to give a TED talk one day, BUT FIRST I must overcome my fear of public speaking!

I have had to do it several times of course: defending my thesis and dissertation, presenting at conferences and in classes, and leading team calls to inspire and motivate fellow coaches. Despite the practice and the rush of excitement after it was done, I always feel nervous to start.

I decided I wanted to improve my public speaking skills and overcome my fears, so I joined Toastmaster’s International which defines itself as “a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs”.

Despite being a member for several months, I never volunteered to give my first speech. I was nervous. Don’t get me wrong, the club I attend is amazing! They are very kind and supportive. I have watched many others give speeches and no rocks were thrown, they were not booed off stage. In fact, after every speech we all write encouraging messages and give them to the speaker to acknowledge their strengths and give them positive feedback. Why was so I so afraid to stand up and give my first speech?

I told myself I was busy. I would do it later. I had too much going on. Excuses.

I was nervous and uncomfortable. Simple as that.

One day the president of the club sent me an e-mail saying, “Hey Jes, I signed you up to give your first speech–The Icebreaker. Let me know if you cannot do it.” Yikes! I guess he decided I needed a little push out of the nest.

My first instinct was the cancel! I had a big lab group meeting on the same day that required time to prepare for. But, it was time to step out of my comfort zone and overcome my fears of public speaking and give my first speech!

The Icebreaker speech is 4-6 minutes long where you tell the members in the club a bit about yourself. Compared to my dissertation, the subject matter was easy and the length was nothing. Yet still, I was nervous. Talking about yourself is personal and vulnerable. I tend to share a good portion of my life with social media in order to inspire and relate with others, but to stand up and tell people face-to-face is nerve-wracking.

I sat down and wrote out a story line of what I wanted to say and put together a slide presentation with photos. Then I practiced. Practice is the key to public speaking! Sure I knew the subject matter with no problem, but when I stand in front of people I get tripped up on my words, forget what I want to say, and say “um”. I practied. I practiced. I practiced. In my car on the way to work and on my way home. Standing in my livingroom talking to my cats (they are terrible at listening by the way).

I did it!

I told our club about my three favorite things: photography, science, and helping others through health and fitness. I was nervous and my legs shook, but when I finished I received a STANDING OVATION! You guys! It was incredible! I was blown away! I was told it was the best Ice Breaker speech they had heard at our club (granted I had a little practice with presentations, as I mentioned previously). I even thought, “Maybe public speaking is in my future!”

I was awarded the Best Speaker ribbon that night! I left feeling in top of the world!

Why do I tell you this story? Because it is important to go outside of your comfort zone. It is important to face your fears and push toward your dreams. You never know of what you are capable until you try! 

I will continue to push past my comfort zone, particularly in regards to public speaking. I imagine myself one day standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people motivating them to follow their dreams and never stop learning.

Toastmaster’s today–TED talks tomorrow.

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