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Get your speak on…

I was very kindly ‘volunteered’ for my May challenge by a colleague, who happened to notice I had a gap in my calendar of events for the month! How helpful! 🙂  It was actually quite good in that I did not have to think up a May challenge  myself, however it was also quite a lot of work in itself to prepare for and deliver on this one!

It came in the form of a public talk at the National Library of Scotland-part of their ‘Health at Work’ week activities.  My ‘Year of No Fear ‘ project and work in the Silent Scream Anthology tied in very nicely with their chosen focus for the week on mental health in the workplace, and I found it so encouraging to see an organisation promoting open dialogue around an area which many still feel a great deal of shame and reluctance to discuss with an employer.  In fact, as part of my talk I referenced a statistic from the MIND website, which suggests a staggering 48% of people who experience a mental health issue still feel uncomfortable talking about it with an employer.  Given that up to 1 in 6 people could be suffering with mental health and related issues at any one time, that is a lot of people potentially suffering in silence and discomfort.

I think the majority of people will understand the apprehension I had around public speaking.  It’s a very rare person who would get up in the morning relishing the prospect of standing up to speak for an hour to a roomful of faces I think.  However, as I mentioned during my talk, although I was pleased to see those who had come along and given up an hour of their time for me in addition to being a quite nervous and intimidated, there was also a curious little part of me I’ve noticed developing over the course of this year that was a combination of these two! Sort of ‘pleased to be intimated’?! 🙂  So maybe I will become one of that particular rare breed by the end of the year, you never know!

It was a great first time experience though, and once I relaxed into it I did actually quite enjoy it.  I put a lot of work into trying to find the right balance of factual information, sharing my personal journey and making it funny, engaging and entertaining.  I think the huge amount of rehearsal and prep work I did were really helpful in alleviating some of the nerves I had around this particular challenge.  I also took a course on presentation skills through my work as part of my preparations which was actually incredibly helpful!  Also, the Saturday prior to presenting I had appeared on stage in front of 230 people for a burlesque cabaret-which I will be writing more on in my next post- so I felt at that point I had sort of ‘blown a fear fuse’ in terms of being exposed and seen!

Particular doubts around this challenge were as you would probably expect.  Having to talk for an extended period, with a room full of expectant faces looking back at you and none of the usual social conversation cues, that’s undeniably tricky.  You begin to project onto the blank faces your own worst fears- the audience is bored, they don’t understand what your talking about, they don’t think you’re funny… It’s quite easy to get inside your own head with worries on how people are receiving you and what they think of you.  The facilitator of the presentation skills course I had attended actually really helped shift my perspective on that one, which was great.  She reminded us all that our only focus should be in conveying information and our message clearly to the audience.  As I focused more on preparing and rehearsing to ensure I did this, rather than worrying about how I would be perceived/received, I became more confident and therefore more relaxed.

I am pleased to say I got some really lovely emails and feedback following the talk, and actually am hoping to do it again-if not soon then later in the year when the Silent Scream Anthology is released.  I have a run of quite intensely physical challenges coming up though (Ben Nevis, Half Marathon…) and I’m also beginning rehearsals for the Fringe Festival as soon as next week, so it might even have to wait until my next ‘Year of No fear’!

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