As most introverts can testify, public speaking can be a terrifying experience.
One month after my husband and I were married, we packed up everything and moved from Pennsylvania to Florida. I did not have any family, friends or support network of any kind. It took Brian less than 4 days before he had found a job. I on the other hand, had not.
One day a commercial came on the radio for a bartending school in Tampa. I had just turned 19, and did not know anything about making drinks. But something inside me said it would be a great way to get over my anxiety with talking to people in crowds. Hair of the dog that bit you, I guess. I signed up for the course, and when I told Brian what I had done he looked at me funny. Then he said “What are you thinking?! You hate people!” I countered with my reasoning and said “If I can’t get over myself and get better at talking to people, I won’t make any money. I’ll either learn, or starve.” I landed a job pretty quickly, and as I expected, I was forced to grow.
For months I would sit in my car pre shift and try to psych myself up to go inside. I would have to calm my anxiety with slow breathing and remind myself over and over that the customers didn’t need to know I was scared. I would fake it until I made it. I would pretend to be bubbly and outgoing.
Bartending was like a mini performance each shift until it became normal. At a certain point it became my “on” personality. A side of me that I could summon when I had to go to a party or event where I didn’t know anyone. Even though it served me well, it was still in small groups at a time.
About 5 years into bartending I became a Licensed Massage Therapist, started my own practice, and left my slinging drinks days behind me.
As I added years and experience to my massage career, I knew I wanted to teach classes at some point in the future. I was scared to think of getting up in front of a class where all eyes, all attention were on me. Back when I struggled with anxiety and suffered with panic attacks, one of my triggers was to walk into a room first where it felt like all eyes were on me, judging me. The thought of intentionally putting myself in a situation where the goal was to capture and hold a room full of peoples attention was daunting. But once I realized it was a fear, I decided to take on the challenge.
I used to attend FSMTA meetings each month, and at one particular meeting the Chapter President was announcing that he had served long enough and the chapter needed to step up and take over. The chapter needed new fresh ideas and direction. It felt like he was looking right at me when he said “If someone doesn’t step up the chapter will dissolve.” At his time I was pregnant with my son, had a busy massage practice, and my daughter was almost 6 years old.
It did not make any sense at all for me to step up and say I would serve. I had zero experience holding a volunteer position on a board, much less leading an entire chapter. I barley had any time as it was, let alone take on a volunteering position of this nature. But my father is an obsessive volunteer and this was yet another way for me to emulate him in some way. Not to mention there was a little voice in my head that knew this would be the most excellent way to get over my fear of public speaking. And just like bartending, ready or not, I jumped in.
It forced me to get in front of a group of people, anywhere from 20 – 60 people, and speak for at least 20 minutes each month. For the most part they were a kind forgiving group that encouraged me and didn’t flinch if I stuttered, stammered or forgot what I was saying. I held that position for 2 years and it was an amazing experience of growth through fear. I still get butterflies when I am about to speak, but it never stops me.
How do you feel about public speaking? Are you afraid of it or exhilarated by it? How did you get started, or what is your biggest fear you want to get past? Please leave me a comment or short story below!