Sweating palms, dry mouth, flushed face and a heart beating so fast my chest hurt. I was pumping more adrenalin than a bungee jumper whose harness had just snapped.
I knew that the only way to overcome the fear and anxiety I was experiencing was to take my turn in front of a group of strangers and present my three minute speech. It was either that, or die quietly of a heart attack.
I volunteered next and stood up in front of a group of eight people. My topic, chosen randomly minutes earlier from a pack of speech topic cards, was ‘The best way to get to the moon.’ I smiled and took a breath.
‘A few years ago, I journeyed to the moon…’ I began and I was off, weaving a tale of pure make-believe for the next three minutes. Nothing I said made any sense, but that didn’t matter. The point was I was speaking, I was telling a story and, here’s the unexpected bit, I was enjoying it!
The earth hadn’t opened up and swallowed me whole, nobody in the audience had laughed cruelly or booed, as far as I could tell I hadn’t done anything obvious to embarrass myself and most importantly, I hadn’t died.
In those three minutes I went from being a person suffering with acute fear and anxiety to someone who was one step closer to conquering the world’s number one fear: public speaking.
The Foundations of Excellent Public Speaking Course
I had enrolled on a one day Foundations of Excellent Public Speaking course offered by Ginger Training and Coaching Ltd. The course is run by founder Sarah Lloyd-Hughes with Nicky Moran, both of whom are CTI trained co-active coaches.
While I don’t have any aspirations to become a public speaker I thought the course would help me gain confidence in speaking to small groups and, because I’m flirting with the idea of doing some storytelling in public, propel me to take the next steps. Most people were there because they needed to give presentations or talks as part of their work and felt they needed help.
As it turned out, it was the perfect introductory course for someone like me who needs a supportive environment before I can gain confidence and flourish.
The Foundations of Excellent Public Speaking focuses on the first quality: Awareness. Over the course of the day we learned to be more aware of our body language, our mental habits and nerves and our voices.
There was a lot to take in and process but Sarah and Nicky made the learning fun and interactive. They are a lively and energetic duo and I loved the interaction between them. The course had a perfect balance of theory and practical with discussions, group work and opportunities to practice public speaking and gain positive feedback.
Fear and Anxiety about Public Speaking
The night before the course I had not slept. Each time I felt myself drifting off my mind had conjured up an image of me standing in front of a group, too frightened to speak.
I was afraid of embarrassing myself, stammering, or going blank when it was my turn to speak. I was afraid that whatever I did would not be ‘good enough’ and I’d let myself down. There was the fear that people would laugh cruelly at me, I’d be the subject of ridicule, or the worst in the class. Then the adrenalin would start pumping, my heart would beat faster and I’d be wide awake for yet another hour.
Taking Control of my Fear
On the day of the course, despite feeling shell-shocked from fear and exhaustion, I made the decision that I was going to do my best and get the most out of the day. In similar situations in the past, I’ve undermined myself by not taking the class seriously, or laughing nervously and apologetically. Somehow, my determination to do my best this time gave me some control over the situation and masked some of my anxiety.
By the end of the day I had come to four important realisations:
- The audience was often completely unaware of things that I thought were obvious and embarrassing, like my dry mouth, sweaty palms, stumbling over words or feeling tongue-tied.
- I was not alone. Everybody on the course was there because they were afraid of public speaking, or lacked confidence or wanted to improve their public speaking in some way.
- Most people understand how nerve-wracking public speaking is and are very forgiving and understanding.
- It is possible to speak without notes, to remember points or to make it up as you go along. Sometimes a little adrenalin makes it easier to think clearly on your feet.
As I stood up to give my final speech of the day and looked at the people in the group, I realised how silly I’d been to have got so anxious. What I saw was a sea of compassionate, smiling, interested faces of people who wanted me to do well. I was going to be okay.
And while public speaking may be most people’s number one fear, it is no longer mine. I can think of far worse things to be afraid of.
If you’re looking for a perfect one-day course or a longer public speaking programme, I highly recommend Sarah’s programme. Find out more at Ginger Training and Coaching.