This week I spoke to an audience of 170 people. It felt like the start of a new career for me and it was both terrifying in the week preceding the event, as well as completely thrilling. This feels like a turning point professionally in that I’ve gone out in public to take the risk of executing new skills learnt in my new role: Author, Speaker and Workshop host. And the reward was tremendous.
Public speaking has been a skill that I’ve been working on lately, and have not spent a lot of time on in my life. I joined Toastmasters and I got to practice snippets of my talk to my fellow club members. It is a wonderful place to practice a new skill – it’s supportive and many club members are also learning. It’s a place where you can fail and try again without any career or reputational consequences.
I don’t like to fail. I don’t like to be vulnerable and it was difficult to tell my very personal story to strangers. Both in the club setting, and to the audience this week. But it paid off. In many ways I feel that my story can’t be wrong because it is my story. I worried a little before I spoke that it would be boring for people. It is just my experience of burnout, what happened and what I did to correct it. I was concerned that it might not be appealing to people.
But the response was excellent. The audience was warm and accepting and they listened very politely to my story. And once I was up there, the nerves were gone. I enjoyed telling my story and the part I enjoyed the most was when people laughed at my humour. I felt that somebody ‘got me’ and what I was trying to say. I am still amazed at how much they laughed and that they enjoyed it so much. And I’m also amazed that I enjoyed it so much.
I need to integrate the lessons I learnt from the experience. From my reading about deliberate practice in books like The Talent Code and Talent is Overrated, I’ve learnt some tips. I’ve learnt that people who are world class do very small corrections to master their craft. They practice relentlessly and they tweak. I’m going to apply these principles to my own craft of public speaking so that I can keep improving.
Next time I need to allow more time for laughter in a bigger audience because I think I did overrun a little. Next time I will try not to get so stressed in the week before, especially if I have been practicing for months. And I will also continue to apply what worked well. The stories were well accepted and the humour was a real hit. That was really rewarding for me.
Recently, I have had some worries about public speaking being part of my new role. With my adrenal glands still recovering, I worried about the impact of the stress on my health. Am I slipping backwards towards illness if I do a lot of speaking? I think the stress is short term, and as long as I build in a few days of recovery afterwards, I should be okay. I will try some new techniques to sleep better the night before the talk, because lack of sleep does affect my health and my performance on the day.
I am now so pleased to have taken that risk and to have felt the reward: a sense of achievement. Right now, it’s not about money. This talk was an experiment for me to see if I am up to the challenge of public speaking. And I feel that I am indeed up to it. In fact, I relished it. I enjoyed the experience. This is something quite strange for someone who fears humiliation. But I’m so pleased that I took the leap and tried something new. Because I can enjoy my reward – a feeling of accomplishment. I haven’t felt very accomplished in the past two years as I tackled recovery from burnout.
In a way, I put a lot of things on hold to prepare for this talk. And now that it’s done, I have a range of exciting opportunities to pursue. I want to put workshops together, I want to finalise my book and I want to build a pipeline of leads through more networking. This is a very exciting point in my life where I feel that my illness is mostly behind me, and an exciting career is ahead of me. One that wont deplete me into a state of poor health.