Thursday, March 6, 2008

Surprisingly, It DOES Get Easier…

At work today I was talking to a coworker. I had taught a workshop last Saturday and would be coming in late tomorrow because I was doing a school visit in the morning. My coworker looked at me, jaw agape, and said, “Oh my God, I could never do that. Never. I would be a nervous wreck for a full week before I even had to speak. And then I would just stutter with nerves.”

And as I listened to her, I realized she was describing me, four years ago.

Four years ago, the mere idea of speaking in front of more than two people who weren’t related filled me with dread. My palms grew all sweaty, my throat dry, and my voice got shaky with nerves. Sometimes, I even couldn’t breathe—literally—while attempting public speaking and had to come to a complete stop and gasp down some oxygen, because my lungs constricted.

But lately I’ve noticed something, and it really hit me over the head last Saturday. I was barely nervous at all anymore. In fact, I don’t even think what I was feeling could be called nerves, more like anticipation, looking forward to getting the workshop ball rolling, as it were.

Sure, I was wondering if I had too much material or not enough, or if I had enough copies of the handouts or had provided enough examples—but no, lung-clenching, throat constricting, oh-my-god-I-can’t-breathe case of nerves. The whole public speaking part of it wasn’t even an issue.

Somewhere along the way, I got used to the act of public speaking. And while there will always be some situations that are more comfortable than others, I now have some success to draw upon.

That's not to say I'll always be fine with every public speaking occasion in the future. Hardly. This was only a group of about thirty, and I was talking about writing, not me or being an author. Put me in front of a group of 200 adults? Yeah, I'll probably continue to be a little nervous. But now that I have proof that I can acclimate to these sorts of situations, it makes it just that much more worthwhile to push myself a little bit in that direction. Mary even has a name for these sorts of goals, push goals? Stretch goals? Can't remember...

Anyway, that’s what I’d like to share with any of you Violets with a similar dread of public speaking: you really and truly can become accustomed to it through practice. And this is coming from someone who swore they would never be able to. I never set out to get used to it, but I kept plugging away at a few speaking opportunities, letting my love of connecting with a room full of kids or sharing craft elements with fellow writers overcome my fear of speaking in front of groups. And Voila! It did in fact get easier…

And trust me, if it can get easier for me, it can for you too...

6 comments:

Mary Hershey said...

Oh, I'm so glad you blogged about this! I wish I had a before and after video to show. Remember that promotion retreat we went to at the Mission a few years back? We each had to get up and do a 5-min promo for our book? I do remember thinking I might have to get the defibrillator out for you. ;-) You were NOT taking in any oxgyen at all.

Now you are so smooth, so at ease in your skin. Such a great lesson in the power of experience!

Mary

Carmel said...

Thanks so much for the encouraging words. A friend in my writers group accuses me of holding back because I'm afraid of where publishing will lead me. And public speaking is that biggest fear. Right now I'm thinking, Okay, I could handle a group of kids, but the teacher has to leave the room. :o)

I was thrilled when I found your website. Are you familiar with the books of Elaine Aron? We're all HSPs in a pod, we are.

Sherry Rogers said...

Thanks so much for sharing that! I seriously have a fear of public speaking. I love kids and social occasions. . .but shutter at the thought of public speaking.

liquidambar said...

"What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
;-)

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

I'm an introvert who does well with public speaking as long as I'm prepared (and I'm good at mentally composing what I'm going to say when it has to appear extemporaneous). I tell you this not to come across as smug, but because it's a relief to me when I hear other people confess to being terrified of public speaking. I have gone from being terrified of driving, to dreading driving and being nervous every time I have to drive to a new place. I've been hassled for my driving reluctance (i.e. "It's so easy, why are you sweating it?"), and have rejoined with, "I may not be confident in driving, but I'm confident in public speaking. Surveys show that a lot of people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death."

So, to all of you reluctant public speakers out there, know this: chances are you're comfortable with driving or something else that makes me go knock-kneed. I tip my hat to you.

Kimberly Lynn said...

Robin,

Funny!

And you’re right. I can’t believe that I’m actually considering joining Toastmasters. Back when I first started visiting Shrinking Violets there would have been no way. I can’t remember if it was you or Mary who said it, but when you concentrate on the craft of writing, the public speaking gets easier. I’ve held back on the Toastmasters thing for the moment because the particular group I want to join meets every Monday night. Don’t think I can put myself through the other six nights of anxiety leading up to it. My cute little picture books would turn into horror novels.

Vuh. Vuh. Vuh.