It’s easy to imagine that there are Natural Born public speakers (those who can) and then there is you. That’s how I felt for my whole life, until I was cornered into my first ever piece of public speaking, in an attempt to be selected for my Dream Job…
For the first twenty years of my life I had avoided public speaking wherever physically possible. There were Those Who Could and then there was me. Not that I was particularly shy, but public speaking never seemed to be the sort of thing I would do. I’d seen opportunities pass me by at school and then university, just because I didn’t want to stand in the spotlight.
Public speaking was my biggest possible fear. And then I was offered the chance to stand for elections to my Dream Job – a position on the National Team of AIESEC UK; an organisation that I was completely in love with. The job would mean huge amounts of travel, responsibility and massive learning opportunities, all at a young age. I really really wanted that job.
The problem was, to get the job I had to go through a grueling selection process, which included a series of short speeches. To 200 people.
It should have been a no-go. But something happened –
I realised I wanted the Dream Job more than I wanted my fear of Public Speaking. So, full of nerves and excitement, I put my name forward. And before I knew it, I was standing outside a room of 200 people, waiting to go in and deliver the talk of my life.
You can imagine how I was feeling, right? Sweaty palms, wobbly knees, everything – everything felt awkward. I was running over my opening lines in my head, but in all honesty I wasn’t sure whether any words would come out at all.
And all I could think about was the previous year, when a friend of mine had been through the same process. I was in the audience watching him as he strode to the front of the room. He looked the part. Smart, confident and ready for action.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I’m really excited to be here and….” Silence. Nothing. He choked. His speech stopped there. And of course he didn’t get the job, directly as a result of his public speaking.
Gulp. So there I was outside the room, thinking “Don’t choke, don’t choke, don’t choke.”
Soon it was my turn. The door swung open and I found that my body was walking me through the crowd to the stage.
And… I started speaking. The lines came out! Let’s not pretend that this was some kind of Hollywood moment, where I wowed the audience as fireworks exploded behind me. Let’s not pretend that it was a standing-ovation-worthy speech, or that I was even all that good.
The important thing was, that I did it. I got through it. And in getting through it, I got through my biggest possible fear. And you know what that feels like? EXHILARATING!
As soon as I had done that, I was free!
If I could overcome my biggest possible fear, what else could I do? Of course, it didn’t stop there. It’s that experience that has propelled me into helping others overcome their fears. If I can do it, so can anyone.
We just have to find the thing in life that we want more than the fear of public speaking. That’s what spurs us to step beyond our fears.
And by the way, yes, I got the job.