Yesterday I was a contestant in a Toastmasters humor contest. In the past, this many people in a room with all eyes on me would have sent me 1-running for the Loo, 2- fibbing, “I’m not feeling well and can’t make it today” to, 3- “I’ll be on vacation then” and then booking a vacation so I’m not a liar. However, things were going pretty well for me in my little Toastmasters club and I was on fire. Oh it was going to be one funny talk. Except it wasn’t really. My best friend had been recently diagnosed with colon cancer and I was a mess. I decided to deliver a talk about our 55-year long friendship in my small Toastmasters club. That was the same week they realized they needed an entry for the humor contest for our Division. My talk about our BFF friendship had some cute stories but nothing very “ha-ha”. Unfortunately, only one other person in our club gave a talk that day and they chose my talk as the one to move forward to the Division contest with. “But it’s not really a humor talk” I said. It’s funny enough was their sentiment. They needed a contestant and I could always decline. My club was small and I was becoming very comfortable speaking in front of them. We’re a family of sorts. The contest was a great opportunity to become used to speaking in front of more people, and people that I didn’t know. I decided to step up. Gee whiz this could go really well or really not well. I rehearsed for days and happily no longer needed my notes, or so I thought. I practiced all the annoying Toastmasters advice using vocal variety, moving around the stage and using body language. However, my goal is not to become a poster child for Toastmasters and become an affected speaker. I like my charming mess-ups and just want to enjoy myself. I was all over this. However, yesterday morning the familiar pounding heartbeat started up. The beginning of my fight or flight reaction always tends towards flight. The flight fantasies run from hoping for a small, non-threatening fire where we all have to go home, before my talk begins. Or, I hope for a small EMT emergency where we all want to go home afterwards in deference to the person involved. I’m not proud of these but I’m panicking and this is the best I can come up with.
When many hear about my fear around public speaking they often share, “Oh talking in front of others doesn’t bother me at all”. Thanks for sharing. I respond with, “How wonderful for you, you’re so fortunate”. And, they might even add, “Throw away your notes and just wing it. I do”! Hmmm…consider who you’re speaking to because the reason I’m in Toastmasters is because I can’t do that yet. FYI, we phobics don’t want to hear how comfortable you bad-ass speakers are. We’d rather hear how scared you used to be but now you’re capable of delivering a TEDTalk. It's just that your well-meaning suggestion is terrifying. For me, winging it = brain freeze/blank stare/temporary blindness which means I can no longer read my speech notes because now they seem to be written in another language. Then there’s the inevitable suggestion to imagine everyone naked. THIS DOES NOT WORK. They’re still people and, naked or not, they can still judge me.
Fear isn’t something I can just talk myself out of, anymore than I can talk myself into feeling confident. Hearing “you go girl” or, “you rock” or, “knock ‘em dead” is well-meaning and lovely, but no one can talk me out of fear with platitudes. I use platitudes too, and surprisingly heard myself cheering, “break a leg!” to one of my fellow contestants. But happily, I’m already experiencing that the more talks I give, the more comfortable I’m becoming. Even after all these years, as I’m letting go of my long-standing limiting beliefs, confidence shows up. It would have been nice to tackle this in my 30’s but it’s happening now.
There were some funny folks that deservedly won our Division contest. Yesterday, I showed up and did my best. The next time I’ll do even better. I quite possibly could have been the most frightened person in the contest, but also the bravest. No matter who was the most courageous, or the biggest ham, we all put ourselves out there and I met some really nice people.