Hello all! First of all, apologies for my extended absence. Last week flew by in a blur of stress, my eighty year old boss visiting from New York and more stress. I think I averaged at around five hours sleep a night. On Friday I could barely order my lunch in Itsu. Can I have some food please? I actually said this to the bewildered man behind the till. Fortunately my brain managed to spark enough energy to order noodles and I left the premises without anymore confusion. So what’s new? Well yesterday the conference took place and I had to give a presentation to a room full of people. Think university lecture hall, complete with a huge screen, bright lights and a microphone. As I mentioned in my previous post, the setting was basically my own personal nightmare. My poor family bore the brunt of my emotional outbursts on Sunday. It was certainly an interesting visit to Nandos with me rushing to the toilet every ten minutes! By the time evening came I was fantasising about ways that I could get out of doing it. Maybe I could ring in sick with the Norovirus? (That’s come in handy before.) Or claim that I’d fallen down the stairs? Tbh, they got more dramatic as the evening progressed. Armed robbery in the flat? Rare Poisonous spider under the bed? But then I thought about how far I’d come. Was I willing to let the ‘anxiety trick’ fool me into believing that I was more vulnerable than I actually was? The answer was NO because it’s ok to feel scared sometimes, it’s natural. So I practised my speech as though it were a script from a play. Poor Dan and Rigby heard it at least three times! Some people might find this geeky, but preparation makes me feel more secure. I think everyone has their own style. Unfortunately the presentation wasn’t until 3pm the following day, so I had all morning to feel anxious… and I practically destroy the toilet. I’m fairly certain that the intern either thinks I’m pregnant or dying. Still, I deliberately kept busy with numerous tasks, but allowed myself to ‘feel and accept the fear’ when it washed over me. I wanted to acclimatise to the anxiety gradually in order to build up a tolerance. Sat outside the venue at 2:50, my heart was pounding more than a drum solo. The thunderous applause from the lecture theatre echoed throughout the hall and my anxiety reached a critical level. What if I can’t do this? What if I make a fool of myself? As the previous presentation ended, masses of people exited the theatre like a stampede. This was my cue to enter and with trembling legs I made my way inside. Rather than dictating the remainder of the story like a Dicken’s novel, let me cut to the chase. The presentation went extremely well. I communicated with clarity and even made the audience laugh once or twice. The initial sixty seconds was excruciating, but the more I spoke the easier it became. Let me pass on some useful public speaking tips for anxious people:
- Look at your audience. This sounds obvious I know, but it really helps. Before I went on stage I took a moment to scan all of the faces in the room. It helped me to realise that they’re just normal people like me. Once on stage I focused on the faces that looked particularly friendly.
- Take a deep breath before you begin. BUT – remember to sigh/exhale first, as this will loosen the muscles in your body. Then take a deep breath using your stomach to obtain maximum oxygen.
- Be honest about your nerves. (To be clear, I don’t mean start screaming.) When I first entered the theatre I was greeted by the event organiser and I said jokingly ‘gosh I feel quite nervous.’ Admitting my feelings instantly lifted 10% of the pressure.
- Use visuals such as powerpoint slides and videos to take some of the focus away from yourself.
- Encourage your audience to engage with you. I asked quite a few questions which then developed into discussions. This again helped to ease my nerves and reaffirm that I was dealing with normal people.
The presentation wasn’t an easy task for me and it certainly isn’t something that comes naturally. However, I’m glad that I exposed myself to it. The experience helped me to realise that I CAN manage my anxiety and I’m NOT a slave to it. That’s not to say that I’m ‘cured’ as such, but I’m getting there. So for all of you out there who think that you can’t cope with your anxiety and will be miserable forever, let me remind you of one thing. Twenty months ago I couldn’t even sit in a meeting room without having a panic attack. I thought that I would be crippled by it for life. But yesterday I spoke in front of a theatre full of people. With hard work and the right help you CAN get better.