November 25, 2003
I never understood why public speaking makes me so distraught that I believe I'm going to puke and piss my pants before I get to the podium. I've played guitar on stage in front of crowds of over 5,000 people and that crap never bothered me. In fact, I was ENERGIZED by the big crowd. But giving a lecture is different.
I was Manager of Training at the plant for several years in my checkered past, and that's when I was forced to confront that unreasonable fear of public speaking. Speaking in front of a room full of people almost every day became MY JOB. I was terrified by it, and I sometimes DID go puke before I went before the audience. I always did the job, and a lot of people told me that I was good at it, but I never overcame the fear. I felt it every time.
I never understood why I could climb on a stage with a guitar in front of a bunch of strangers and feel confident, yet be utterly terrified about presenting a training program in front of a room full of people that I KNEW. The problem wasn't a matter of preparation. Hell, I was more prepared for the training than I was with my music sometimes.
But there was a difference. I still don't know what it was, but the difference was obvious to me.
I have the "gift of gab," as anybody who attended the blog-meet will testify. I am a GOOD public speaker. Even Jennifer admitted after attending a few of my classes, while KNOWING how terrified I was, that my fear didn't show. She said that I was GREAT at what I did.
The only problem was, I never felt great doing it. I still don't to this day.
Yep, exactly. Near the end, at my old job, I was in charge of the training for new hires to do Visual Basic support. I also did part of the training. I was always terrified, though less so, the better I knew the topic, the better I already knew the group, and the smaller the group.
It's an irrational phobia.
Early on I went through a training class which we were video-taped. The main lesson was to be WELL prepared and DO NOT digress at formal meetings. But the real lesson was to look at the video-tapes and SEE that the audience did not know how nervous you were, as long as you were well-prepared. It works.
But I also learned that God or the devil can't help you if the "fear" genie ever gets out of the bottle. Eventually I got pretty confident, because my mantra was "I know the material better than anyone. They want information. I can deliver. And they don't care how I "look" if I give them the rationale supporting a needed decision.
The difference is:
As the Training Guy, you're expected to be the expert, and you know that the AUDIENCE knows that something "expert" is expected of you.
Playing guitar on stage is more intimate. You're entertaining, and the audience is part of it. No one is expecting anything more than a good song.
Michael Demmons is on to something. It has a lot to do with the role you are playing, the persona you have assumed.
I studied violin when I was a kid, and had to play solos at recitals. I was always stricken with awful stage fright, so bad that I would fuck up things that I could play! It was really bad.
Then, in high school, the annual big play was a bigtime, full orchestra production of Fiddler On the Roof, and because I could actually play the violin solo from on top of the house set, I was cast as the Fiddler. I had to go on stage in costume in pitch darkness, climb up onto the house, have my fiddle handed to me by a concealed stage hand, and start the show by playing the solo, alone and in the dark, in front of a packed theater.
I should have been paralyzed with terror. But I wasn't, because it wasn't me up there doing it, it was The Fiddler, and he wasn't nervous at all.
Incidentally, I never had stage fright after that, not even at recitals.
Yeah, I did training also. It is different. With the guitar, you're putting your talents and soul out there. They like it or they don't. If they do, great. If they don't tough stuff.
With training and public speaking, you are supposed to be "THE EXPERT". It isn't a give OR take kind of thing, it's a give AND take thing. That is a lot of stress. They don't listen because they like you, they listen because you are going to tell them how to part the Red Sea, and walk on water afterwards.
Believe me, I know.
Music is a shield.
Two examples. Mel Tillis stutters, but sings fine.
I am/was painfully shy around women, but when I learned photography, I managed to photograph a bunch of beautful women that I never would have talked to otherwise. Camera as shield.
Make sure you still have something worth wishing for.