Public Appearance - my story There’s a lump in my throat. I shake as if I had Parkinson’s disease, my heart is pounding so hard that it feels like it has hands and it’s kicking my head. I can’t remember my first sentence, but I can remind myself that I am stupid and that I don’t deserve an opportunity like this. I have been through this scenario before, so it was very likely that it might happen again, 15 minutes before my public appearance at a conference in Paris. However, I have decided that it’s going to be different this time. Yep, I have simply decided. My essay has been chosen and I was invited to present my idea, among with 30 other young people from different countries. The goal of this event was creating a declaration about youth perception of educational systems in the future. “Wow! Good job Anja”, I thought. And instead of enjoying my success for some time, my happiness didn’t last too long. And that’s a common mistake that brings us perfectionists down. We don’t have time to be happy about our success. We immediately go forward, hungry for more. We are voracious and three Raffaello balls won’t satisfy our needs. We want more! We want the whole box, and when we eat it up, shortly after we crave for another sweet. I instantly started doubting myself. ”They must have needed a student form Serbia, so that’s why they chose me. It can’t be that they really liked my idea. Maybe they didn’t have enough people to attend the conference” … But here we are, even if that’s true, I knew that my first and major public appearance is about to come and it was not in my native language. Thinking about that made me extremely nervous. “I’m going to present my idea in front of experts from all around the world”, I thought and fell in another trap of negative thinking. I could have simply imagined that I was going to present my idea to people. Yes, people. Let’s start with the fact that we all are, above all, people, and we don’t eat other people. Those experts, or professors, or whatever we call others who we believe are great and powerful, they wake up in the morning just like us, often unhappy and with no confidence, they also quarrel with others and they cry. Nevertheless, I had two choices: I could run away (and I did think about this one) or I could stay and fight this awful feeling of not being good enough and embarrassing myself. I decided to fight. To practice until I faint. I’m going to master the public appearance! I asked for some advice from my friend Peđa – he’s a skilled speaker – and I expected a lesson about diction, about how to walk around room, ways to overcome stage fright… He asked me, with no explanation, to stand in front of him and to sing for a minute. After five times of my helpless tries, he said: Don’t think about yourself, this is not about you, it’s about your audience. I came here to listen you sing. And you are going to sing your story of six minutes in Paris, and you’re going to work on keeping their attention. And that’s the whole point! Six minutes of singing that were frightening me for the whole month. Peđa also said: “Your first mistake was that you didn’t try to make an eye contact with me. You stood there, thinking how embarrassed you were, how stupid you must have looked. The only way to go out on a stage in front of all those people is
to not think about your flaws, or how your hands are shaking or if you’re going to say something wrong. Тalk to them and think only about persuading them to believe you.” His advice had a strong impact on me and helped me think outside the box. And not only that. All of a sudden I started seeing this opportunity as an exciting challenge. I couldn’t wait to come home so I stopped by to McDonald’s and I prepared my presentation and my speech in five hours. The next day I started practicing. My audience were objects around the house (deodorant and a pencil holder mostly) with whom I ably made eye contact with, believing they were listening carefully. And the day of the challenge came. Of course I was nervous, but not nearly as the first day and without a lump in my throat. I truly believed in myself, and it paid off. I did it. The incorrigible perfectionist was finally satisfied with herself. I can boast about the fact that I was invited for an interview after my presentation. Some people who had rich experience in public speeches asked me what my secret was. And most importantly – I started appreciating my hard work and what I achieved.
MY ADVICE Here are a few pieces of advice that will help you overcome your negative thinking and prepare you for public appearance Advice no 1: Prepare a good speech and a presentation. The subject of your speech must be clear to you to pieces. You need to believe in your words. When we are familiar with the content of our speech and we have enough knowledge in that field, there is a reduction of uncertainty, and with that we lower our fear of public speech. Unfortunately, some of us will be in a situation where they have to present about a theme that they have absolutely no interest in, but try to evoke it with a few examples or tell an interesting fact. Advice no 2: Tell a joke or a personal story. This is not possible always, but if you have some empty space within the presentation, it might be very advisable and effective. Think about the public appearances you have seen. For example, I’m following the TED speeches, and I have tried to remember the speeches that had the strongest impact on me. Those were the ones that made me laugh and with a personal touch in it. Advice no 3: Talk to someone who has experience. It is highly recommended that you talk to someone who often speaks in public. They surely have some aces up their sleeve that can help you, and most importantly, they can motivate you with their story and experience. I don’t suggest asking too many people for advice. It confuses you and by relying on others we forget it’s us who are responsible for our speech, and that no on will practice it for us. Advice no 4: Practice, practice, practice! It’s time that you try and simulate everything that you have heard, read and prepared. I wouldn’t advise practicing more that three to four hours a day –
two hours in the morning and two in the evening at most, because you won’t have your voice echoing in your head. Practice by simulating the whole situation. Your audience might be your friends and family, or if that distracts you, use objects around your home. Advice no 5: Visualization. Imagine yourself in the particular situation as realistic as possible. Imagine your clothes, the stage (if you are not familiar with what it looks like, let your imagination create it), the audience… Now imagine yourself perform your speech the best way possible. The audience liked it and you are satisfied. Keep that feeling. Enjoy the pleasure. Advice no 6: Don’t perceive your audience as your enemies. The experts suggest different methods which can help you lower your own impression of the importance of people sitting in the audience. Some of them suggest you imagine them in a funny situation, naked, or most effectively – sitting on a toilet. Advice no 7: Don’t burden yourself with trivialities. Questions like: “How do I walk on the stage, how can I keep away from trashing my hands, how do I breathe properly”? – are only some of those that bother us before public appearance. There are some tricks like holding a pen in your hands so you feel a bit more confident and so that you can control your moves. Yes, that certainly is a secure object and it creates a feeling of not being alone in the “ring”, but there is no magic formula for keeping your hands next to your body, but keep in mind that that’s something you will learn with time. If your public speech is overly good, no one will see that small detail! Advice no 8: Believe in yourself. Someone is boosting their confidence by saying “I’ll blow them all away”, someone says “It’ll be good”, someone tries to stay completely calm. Effective methods that are used in REBT psychotherapy and which reduce anxiety and build faith in ourselves is “stop” technique and usage of “coping” sentences. Negative thoughts such as “I’ll get confused” should first of all be stopped with rational thoughts: “Stop! These thoughts are not good for me. They do not help me in any way”. Afterwards, you should think of two to three “coping” sentences which will help you get your confidence back. For example: “I tried really hard to prepare this speech, and now I am determined that it will be excellent. Even if I get confused nothing bad will happen”. Advice no 9: Biofeedback. This method helps you prevent jitters. It is conducted by (loudly or quietly) sending information about our physiological processes that happen while we are stressed, to our brain. That could sound like this: “I am nervous, I feel my heart is pounding. Now my heart beats are going to get to normal. My heart is beating slower and slower. I am great, now everything is fine”. Advice no 10. All of your senses are focused on content of your speech and how you bring it to the audience. This is the moment when you don’t think about yourself anymore and what impression will you leave. You’ve had quite some time to think about that, right? Now you only think about the speech and how to bring it closer to the audience.
Advice no 11: Perceive public appearance as a challenge. We can often hear that most of the passionate speakers had major resistance to speaking publicly or that they were too shy for ventures like this. It’s not too rare that we start loving something that we used to fear the most. Advice no 12: Talk to a psychotherapist. According to some researches, fear of public appearance is most of the times greater than the fear of death. Therefore, it is completely justified if you consider that you cannot overcome this problem alone.