When I was younger, say 7th grade through my whole entire life, I was very bad at public speaking. My teachers always made us get up in front of class and do a prepared speech every year. I fretted about this pretty much from the second they announced we had to do this. No matter how much I prepared or practiced, I would stand up in front of the class and shake, sweat, stammer, and be almost to the point of tears when I had to give my speech. I was so nervous and shy that the thought of talking in front of people made me physically ill.
I was a little bit better in high school and college, but not by much. As a working adult, I have had to get up and speak many times in meetings. I have led training classes, taught diversity classes, given talks at client meetings, etc. Nothing really big. I think the largest group I talked to was about 50 people at a client meeting.
The client meeting was a funny experience. I was the only travel agent for this particular group of travelers. My client contact had given me a list of the travelers’ concerns before the meeting. I was ready and armed with responses for them. I had heard horror stories about past client meetings and how these travelers were very unhappy with us. I was nervous, but I was totally prepared.
Basically, I won them all over. I let them know that I understood how hard their job was, traveling all of the time, spending most of their time overseas. I told them I wanted to make their travel easier. I gave them all new profile forms and asked for all of their updated travel information so that they always got their miles, etc. I joked with them. At the end of the meeting, they all came up to me one by one to tell me how happy they were. I chatted with each of them briefly before leaving the meeting.
In the car on the way back to the office, the sales manager for my company told me she never saw anything like that. She said that all previous meetings were so stressful. “You had them eating out of your hands!” She went back to our director and told her how the meeting went. The director sent me a nice email and ended it saying, “You must be a natural public speaker.”
I nearly died laughing. If she only knew.
Tonight I am leading a discussion at my writer’s group. I talk to the writer’s group every week from the safe confines of my chair. I always have an opinion and I share it without hesitation. I have to admit though, I am quite nervous. I am sure I will be fine. I am prepared. I created an outline and wrote down my comments. Read articles over and over. I bought a new dress and new shoes. I fixed my hair. I feel I am totally ready.
I’m not expecting the wild success I experienced at my client meeting, but I’m sure I will do just fine. Nonetheless, any time I have to get up and speak in front of a group, even people I know, see, and talk to every week, that scared, shy, nervous young girl sneaks up on me and says, “Noooooooo!”