Speaking: It’s Not About You.

Speaking: It’s Not About You.

Written by Emilie

Topics: Public Speaking

“Why do I keep putting myself through this?” I asked, a drop of hysteria in my voice.

It was 2 hours before I was due to step on stage.

“I don’t even enjoy speaking very much, and it just causes me so much anxiety, for like months, leading up to it…”

My friend Jason turned his head and looked at me.

“Em, you’re going to be great. Don’t worry.”

“Yeah…” I looked out the car window at the Rocky Mountains wishing for something to stop us in our tracks– maybe an avalanche. That would certainly be an appropriate excuse (an “act of god,” in legal terms).

Forget it. There was no getting out of this.

*Flash forward to later that evening.

I had just fielded a number of questions from enthusiastic audience members, parents had rushed up to ask me questions and thank me. The hour and a half I’d spent on stage had flown by in a split second. I felt light, relaxed, relieved and content.

As we packed up the gear, Jason turned to me once more.

“Sorry Em, but I think you have to keep speaking,” Jason said.

I knew he was right. Damn it!

***

I experienced something very similar in California last week. I had flown out to speak with students at Pomona College. There was a growing knot in my stomach in the days leading up to the event. Why do I keep putting myself through this? I wondered.

But then, later that night as I was leaving the auditorium, I felt that same lightness. And hearing words like “this was the most useful workshop I’ve ever attended in my life,” made it all the more clear… I had to speak. I have to speak, because speaking is not about me.

Speaking doesn’t come naturally to me. I rarely raised my hand in class when I was younger. I am getting past those fears now, but the main reason that I speak and will continue speaking is that I have a message that needs to be shared. It’s not about me.

If you are someone who has long been afraid of public speaking or is just starting to get into it, know that speaking isn’t about you. It’s about the lives you might change, and it’s about the message that you’re communicating– a message that is, or should be, much bigger than you.

Your Turn

Do you feel anxious before getting up on stage? Is it worth it?

em_authorbioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist. Learn more about Emilie here.

11 Comments

  1. Leslie says:

    Yes! Love this. I do a lot of public speaking and this is so important to remember. It’s all about the audience. It’s all about what the audience can create and how you and your story can let the audience see new possibilities :)

    • Emilie says:

      Yeah, realizing that takes a lot of the pressure off. Of course, there’s still that biological instinct that makes you want to run for safety, but it does help. :)

  2. Heidi says:

    A couple years ago, I took Pam Slim’s Power Presentations course, and something she said really stuck with me; you are not the hero of your speech, the audience is. As an introvert, I tend to be fairly uncomfortable being the center of attention, but when I think of myself as simply a guide, helping the audience embark on their own hero’s journey, it gets easier. Not always EASY, but at least easier. ;)

  3. Even seasoned pros get nervous. It’s when you stop being nervous that you are either too cocky or don’t care. If the nerves stop you in your tracks and paralyze you to the point you cannot go on, that’s not good. Being aware that this is important, that you are human, that you are humble enough to know you have something to say but you aren’t the be all end all, is totally okay.

    • Emilie says:

      Well said. I think you’re right, not feeling nerves is a bad sign. I have gotten past the paralysis though, which is nice. Thanks for the comment, Cheryl.

  4. Pritesh says:

    I agree I love speaking.
    I just need a career where I can speak and change people’s lives (at least motivate them).
    I did great in public speaking when I was in College.
    My fellow friends thanked me after my riveting speeches.
    I have my own style; I don’t follow no text book on speaking.
    I start pretty awkwardly, hastily in the beginning but slowly gain momentum.

  5. Bianca says:

    Good point! It will help me a lot when I’ll have to do some public speaking in the future:) And I also agree with Heidi’s point, a speech should empower the audience and give them something to bring back home.

  6. Katja says:

    Hi Emilie,

    I’m not doing public speaking, but as a musician I know stage-fright very well… I have been performing live for over 2 years now and so I’m thankfully well past the “paralyzed” stage. What I notice now, whenever I’m not very nervous, or rather not full of nervous energy, I’m not engaging/connecting to the audience very much.

    These knots in the stomach are like a manifestation of energy, and to me it feels like the audience “feeds” on this energy, giving it back to me and pushing me to a better performance.

    I don`t know if this makes any sense, but for me, this nervousness is a vital part of a great performance, so by now I’m embracing it.

  7. Emily the Frenchie says:

    I love public speaking. One of the speaking I liked most was at a conference where I was sharing the stage in front of 1000 people and I made the audience laugh. I even dream of speaking at Ted Talk. Nothing special you could think. But yes, it is special. I started stammering at 8 years old, and the worst experience I had was at 18, totally incapable of speaking in front of my class, ashamed and wishing to die while my fellows seemed so embarrassed. And here I am. Feeling awful during the first 2 minutes on stage and then, it starts. I speak, and people listen. I am totally committed. Having clear and honest thinking makes an easy and smooth speaking. It is like sharing the energy of life with people. And this energy is made of words. To make it short, the closer to who I am the better I speak.

  8. Jen says:

    Trying to overcome this fear right now, I joined Toastmasters, it’s so helpful :D

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