It happened the night I crossed the stage during my talk. Halfway across, my foot stuck to something on the floor and jolted me to a stop. I attempted to lift my foot, but the sticky goo sucked it right back to the floor. I lifted it again using both hands and saw a sticky pink substance that adhered my shoe to the platform.
After swallowing my pride, I reached under my shoe and pried the sticky gum off. It was yucky and made my fingers stick together. I wondered where it had been before it ended up in my hands. Eew!
I pried and pulled, but nothing released the pink goo’s grip from my flesh. Then it dawned on me. When I was a little kid, I got balls of bubble gum from a penny dispenser and thought that rolling it might help set me free. I rolled the gum on top of itself in a circular motion.
The pink swirl formed into a little ball and it was no longer stuck to my hands. I lifted it up and admired the fun food from my childhood. Then I looked around and quickly popped it into my mouth to reminisce the full flavors from my youth. It was chewy.
Without thinking I started blowing little bubbles and popping it. I felt like a kid all over again, which gave me an idea. I blew out a long even breath and watched the bubble grow to four inches. I blew more forcefully and it grew to ten inches. I blew even harder and needed to hold the enormous bubble with both hands. It was huge.
I wondered if my childhood fear still resided within my bones and took a sharp object from my pocket. I stiffened as I raised the pin like object close to the bubble. Then I braced myself for the impact and pricked the surface.
The make-believe bubble deflated in seconds and with it, my fears of public speaking.
Many of our fears as a young child are unfounded. Our prowess as adults gives a vantage point that helps us to understand our top two fears in life. The second, being the fear of death, and the first, public speaking.
In the moment when the giant bubble burst, I realized my new freedom. The fear of speaking had disappeared and I enjoyed giving the remainder of my talk. It was a revolutionary time, as I also understood the three steps to converting speaking fears into a great talk: fully participating in a speaking club; receiving encouragement from my peers; and, emulating my favorite speaker.
Participating in a speaking club started when I walked in for the first time. I was greeted with smiles, handshakes and warm welcomes. One woman suggested the best way to get a feel for the group was to dive in and give an impromptu talk, which I did with a bit of trembling. My question was easy to respond to based on my experiences and I filled the two-minute talk time with a simple life story.
I continued to give talks in each subsequent meeting in order to establish a pattern of speaking that would strengthen my skills through repetition. One woman saw my growth over a half dozen talks and recommended I compete in a humorous competition where I gave the talk that opened with me stepping in bubble gum.
Receiving encouragement from my peers over a dozen weeks gave me the courage to compete in the humor contest. It also empowered me to share several funny moments from my own life that had the audience laughing out loud. Receiving encouragement during my preparation gave me the confidence needed to face an audience and judges.
Those encouraging me made a significant difference in my approach and skill development. Their authenticity and affirmation supported me in taking risks that got me to the next level of competition and brought me to the moment when the fear of speaking disappeared, for which I’ll always be thankful.
Emulating my favorite speaker gave me a temporary confidence that allowed me to explore my own style of talk and storytelling. It forced me to learn my content well in keeping with the one I emulated.
This process helped me to quickly learn what techniques worked best for me and I soon found my voice in my word choices, content-based impromptu, and life stories. This gave rise to a new confidence that empowered me to step into that imaginary gum to kick off my talk.
It’s comforting to know the three steps to convert speaking fears into a great talk: fully participating in a speaking club; receiving encouragement from my peers; and, emulating my favorite speaker. I hope you will take this same journey and find yourself having a significant amount of fun in the talks you give going forward.
Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers