Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford
Public Speaking has been a goal of my and a fear for a long time. Great business leaders like Warren Buffet have said that public speaking has been one of the greatest things they ever did to become successful. I decided to conquer this fear about two months ago. Here are the preliminary results.
In this post:
- How I coped with the fear of public speaking for the first time.
- My thoughts leading up to the event and patiently waiting to go on stage.
- Potential disaster remedied during the start of my talk.
- Lessons learned from my first event.
Showdown with Fear
I was standing at the back of the Orpheum Theater in Marshalltown, Iowa. There were about 50 students staring at the stage where the event organizer was talking. While she spoke, I controlled my breathing and reassured myself. “I was born for this.” “I am ready.” “I am confident.” These are necessary thoughts when you have never been here before. Why is public speaking so scary? We are all just people doing our thing. I reached down to adjust the wire that disappeared into my shirt. “Don’t forget to turn on the microphone,” I thought to myself. I had practiced this talk 25+ times. In hotel rooms, in my front yard with my son riding his bike close by, at a campground in the national forest. I practiced everywhere I could find for the last few weeks. I even completely rewrote the thing once. Every time I practiced the entire thing would come out completely different. But with each time, I tried to eliminate things that I wanted to avoid on stage. I learned to guide the ideas where I wanted them to go. Most of all, I gained confidence that I might actually pull it off.
The night before my speech, I woke up several times. My heart racing, the fear of failure and embarrassment trying to rise up and defeat me. Actually the wiley coyote of self-doubt set fantastic booby-traps at every corner for the last several weeks. “You’re not good enough.” “You’ll forget what you want to say when you get on stage.” “Everyone will laugh at you.” But, like the slippery sly road runner I was able to avoid the traps through leaning on friends and sharing the fear I was trying to face publicly through social media.
I stepped out for a second and had a sip from the water fountain. My hands sweating, that strange feeling of numbness you get when you know it’s almost your turn to face any fear on the verge of taking over.It was being held back only by the confidence of knowing I had practiced so many times and the fact that the my connections here were counting on me to deliver a message that might help a student get through the semester. I walked back into the theatre and stood leaning on the rail near the last and top row of the room.
From the stage, Marnie, the event organizer, amazing singer, and co-dreamer (Check out Marnie’s new Album!!!) clicked over to her next slide. “Bradley Gann” She began to introduce me and I cleared my mind of all thoughts except my first line. I started down the walkway to the front of the room and I was about halfway when the applause stopped and it was my turn. I took a sip from my water before walking on stage and belted out my first line. I worked so hard to nail the first line and it ended up being useless. No one could even hear it over the screech of the microphone. I moved the mic and started again. The second line, covered by the microphone screech. It was the same feeling I had when my main parachute failed to open on a jump from 14,000. “Well, this isn’t right. I need a quick fix or it could get messy.” I reached down and turned it off. I launched into my $100 million question and we were on our way.
From that point forward, I felt confident about how it was going. Honestly, I have no experience to judge it from other than the 60 seconds it takes to tell my passengers what we are about to attempt when I’m working a flight. I talked loud, people responded. I was able to gauge the value of a story by the interest of the audience.
This part must be boring, I’ve got to move on past it.
Oh wow, everybody is frozen and attentive… this must be the good stuff, milk it baby!
Oh, she is listening now; maybe I said something that interested her.
That guy is sleeping? Haha, He must have a newborn too! Oh, nope, he is just playing dead so I don’t call on him.
Wow, I didn’t expect a laugh there. Mental note.
I’m sure after the video, I’ll see a mountain of room for improvement but the bottom line is I finally got out of the bleachers and into the game. It feels so good to deal such a big punch in the face to something that seems so easy for others and has always been such a daunting task for me.
Score- Fear-0, Me-1
So what did I learn?
1) You can do exactly what you want to do when you make the decision to do it. I went from being terrified of the idea to just committing. Once I was committed, I read Dale Carnegie’s book on public speaking again and got down to business creating personal content.
2) All the prep in the world might get you to the aircraft door but when it’s business time, you are going to have to make the jump yourself.
3) People respond really well to personal stories. Abstract ideas about “success” on the other hand will force people to answer texts from their friends.
But what if I fail? But what if I fly? (Thanks Libby Doodle)
Big thanks to Pamela for listening to me talk about this everyday for 40 days. To all my family, friends and supporters on this blog for the seeing me through this goal. Your comments and support mean the world to me. What an amazing experience! Special thanks to Marnie and Mandy at Iowa Valley for taking the risk and giving me the opportunity to share my story. Thanks to all the students in the TRIO program at Iowa Valley not just for being there but for going after your dreams. Good luck this semester!