By the time you read this, I will have already done something that really scares me – given a speech to a bunch of strangers. However, it’s more than just public speaking. The topic is “Life is an Adventure. Dare it,” and I’m giving it to people I consider established explorers at a tremendous adventure called Burning Man. In other words, I’ll be preaching on how to develop an adventure attitude to “the choir.”
My fear of public speaking
My whole philosophy about having an Adventure mindset is to become aware of a fear or an internal limitation and find a fun way to overcome it.
For example, I have a fear of speaking to groups. When I think of doing it, I get a big knot in my stomach and do what I can to avoid it. And you know what they say – things you resist mean you should be doing them. So specific fears are okay to resist, within reason…and honestly, speaking to groups is not life-threatening!
My corporate background didn’t help
With my background in sales, one would think that public speaking would not be in my fear wheelhouse. Especially since I had a long career in ad sales and had opportunities to present to groups regularly.
In my career, I often pursued individual meetings over group calls. It was easier to learn more about the client, not just speak at people about what I wanted them to hear. Some of the most challenging presentations were to my co-sales team…because they knew the pitch and could focus on what I said wrong or needed improving. This meant we purposefully opened ourselves to criticism.
Selling a product is different than selling yourself. So I had to shift how I see myself to feel comfortable being the “expert” and that I have something important to offer.
Entrepreneurs apparently go through this phase regularly. The “Who the Hell am I to ____” phase (fill in the blank.) In my case, who am I to inspire others to shift to an adventurous outlook?
The response phrase here is “why not you?” or “the world needs you.” Selling a product (for me, it was magazine ads), you can use ‘smoke and mirrors’ to get away with uncertainties and flaws. However, when you are the product, you must be your most confident, authentic self, or the buyer/client/reader will see right through and move on.
Standing on stage, pitching my point of view, is scary as it’s all about me selling my true self.
Teen Years Public Speaking Failures
In middle school, I gave my first presentation for a science class. I was woefully under-prepared. During the presentation, I held something in my hand, which shook so much the class laughed. My ears burned with embarrassment. My teacher gave me a failing grade. When I look deeper at that time frame, it was also when my dad finally moved out. As a young kid, it was hard not to think that my chaotic home life made me a failure at school.
During middle school and high school, I kept trying. I’d try out for musicals (gutsy for a tone-deaf girl!). I was in a few school plays- but always in the crowd scenes. I suppose if they gave out participation awards, that’s what I would have received.
In my senior year, encouraged by people with more bravado, I stood up in front of the entire class during a pep rally to discuss a Spirit Week project. I was prepared this time with notes. As I started to speak, my head started buzzing. My ears heated up, and I had no clue what I said. I must have done okay because people signed up to help me with my project.
To this day, I remember that out-of-body experience.
Overcoming fear with Adventure
As an entrepreneur, I have been told frequently and by different sources that speaking to groups is a method to grow your business. This way, people get to know you personally. I want to help more people, so this path makes sense in my head.
But because of that fear, I have yet to start touring the country with speaking engagements. What do I do? Take my own advice, of course. Create an adventure!
Obstacles Into Challenges
The first “obstacle” my brain came up with was that I didn’t have a topic. Or I have too many. Or my subject isn’t suitable for the local library crowd (where I “should” practice or network). So I used the “let go” theory and realized the topic would show up when I found the right venue or situation.
Instead of heading straight into the wall (aka the obstacle of my fear of public speaking) that keeps me from moving forward, I look around. Maybe there are ways around the wall – a door, above, go under? Even build a big window?
Turning the obstacles into challenges (looking around the wall), I took the step of reaching out to podcasts. It was interesting to find ones that are appropriate and will interview me. Turns out being interviewed is fun! Speaking one-on-one for a podcast extemporaneously on a subject I know well comes easily!
Another venue for public speaking I’ve been trying is Facebook Live. I don’t prepare much for them, but I try to find relevant things to talk about, so I get used to speaking more on a subject.
If you’ve done live events on social media, you’ve probably encountered the problem where you don’t see the audience or their interactions. A trick I’ve learned to feel comfortable is to imagine I’m conversing with a friend I know well.
An Old Fashioned Way to Learn Public Speaking
My grandmother used to belong to a Toastmasters group. I fondly remember how much joy she had participating in the meetings. I knew another friend who joined and became quite good at public speaking.
One day earlier in the summer, I gathered up my courage to find a meeting and attend. I wandered around empty rooms, looking for the event. Apparently, the group had decided to suspend meetings for the summer. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell the security guard.
However, it wasn’t a complete loss, as I met the Area Director (he also was not given notice, and his job was to drop in and see how groups are doing!)
As I left the building, my feeling was Toastmasters wasn’t meant to be how I learned public speaking,
All this led to the public speaking challenge I dared myself to try – I signed up to give a speech at Burning Man’s “Center Café Speaker Series.”
I applied, stating my topic to be about giving tips on how to develop an Adventure Attitude. You may be familiar with these tips featured in my “Finding Fun” ebook. Then, confidently, I decided I could speak at length about this easily.
After all, I can speak on the topic for an hour on podcasts and teach about it during the seven-week group calls in my “The Adventure Solution” program. Burning Man organizers loved the subject, renamed it “Life’s an Adventure. Dare it,” and gave me 15 minutes with 5 minutes Q&A time slot.
Woot! Woot! I was so excited. And then, my fears started with the criticisms in my head. Who are you to tell people in the middle of the biggest adventure how to have an adventurous attitude? They are on a grand adventure already!
My positive inner voice kicked in too. Who am I not to? Also, “Burners” are people too, and just because they attend, it doesn’t mean they automatically are magically transformed! Many people would appreciate tips on taking “all this” and living it back home full time.
Other inner chatter included more cons and pros. What am I going to talk about? (Duh, how to develop a new perspective on life). Will I forget something? (Probably, but the audience won’t know). Will I bore them? (Only if I read a script. Once I am in my zone, in a state of flow – people enjoy listening). Will I have enough to say? Or too much to say? (It will be what it will be, and only time will tell.)
And finally, I knew I had enough subject matter to focus on things that benefit my audience. If the talk was too short, it wouldn’t matter, and if it was too long, I would get cut off.
Getting in the Zone
Putting in the work so I can get into my public speaking zone has also been something I’ve been challenged to overcome. I’ve meditated, asked my higher power, and turned over tarot cards to get clarity on the main points to make in the speech.
To hear my thoughts out loud, I took long drives and practiced by myself in the car. Then, I put on my phone’s video to record myself (the video is just shooting at the car roof, and I’m often interrupted by my GPS.) This helped me get over my feeling foolish.
Practicing this way helped me understand what I’m forgetting (and decide that notecards will be a big help). In addition, video recordings taught me I can say a lot in just 6 minutes (yikes, what about the other 9?? Ha! That will come.)
My speech outline
What am I going to say? Before leaving for the week-long event, I still wasn’t sure. So the outline I wrote went like this:
- (Intro by the leader of the speaker series)
- Welcome, everyone. Acknowledgment that we are on the biggest adventure, and wouldn’t it be great if everyday life were this exciting. Maybe a quick story that shows my credibility? Add in my definition of Adventure as a mindset.
- A quick listing of my 10 Tips (1. Courage 2. Take baby steps 3. ABC – Always Be Curious 4. I Wonder game 5. Be inspired by others 6. Appreciate 7. Self-care is not selfish 8. Turn negatives into positives 9. Let go 10. Dare yourself
- Then take one tip (ABC) and expand upon it, using examples from the event itself. Perhaps ask the audience thoughtful questions. Wrap other insights into this one.
- Summarize how a shift in perspective can help the audience members take their own transformations at the event and incorporate it into a more inspired life every day.
Stay tuned. If the speech comes out well, I will figure out how to share it with you. Even if I fail, I’ll still share – because it’s not the outcome that matters. It’s having fun overcoming fears and enjoying the lessons learned.
Public Speaking at Burning Man
Now that it’s done – phew! Check out the video below, or go to Preaching to the Choir, Part 2 (I Did It!)
Your so talented Stace! As always- I really enjoyed your blog and can’t wait to hear your speech!
Thanks Lisa! I’ll have it ready for Wednesday!
Did you have it recorded for you,I would love to hear it. We all have fears, overcoming them is always a goal. Keep up the adventures!
My speech was recorded. I have to actually watch it and may edit it a little (only to add photos of my speech being promoted in the guides etc). I won’t let my inner critic edit more than that!