As I stepped onto stage in front of an audience of around 25 people, I remember feeling like I wanted the world to end even before I opened my mouth. I was utterly terrified. I could feel my pulse sky rocket and my heart beating through my chest. My hands were clammy, my mouth was dry and no matter how much I tried lubricating my lips, my mouth somehow remained in this constant state of dehydration.
It was meant to be relatively straightforward; the speech was about me, and who else knew me better than, well, me? I knew what I wanted to say but the thought of opening my mouth in front of a group of people was intimidating. Rather than relaxing myself so I could focus on my task, all I could think about was how badly the speech was going to go and how much people would judge me for my performance. This set me up for failure and the thought of it consumed me to the point where I didn't even realise it was time to start talking.
Unfortunately, this isn't one of those feel good stories which starts of with an uncomfortable introduction and ends with an inspirational climax.
My speech bombed. Badly. In fact it was terrible. I lost my train of thought and panic gripped me to the point where I started sweating profusely, which in turn distracted me and made me even more nervous. I could feel myself crumbling on stage and whats worse, I could sense the audience feeling sorry for me. So much so they wanted me to stop and put an end to the painful experience, but I persevered and made sure I finished, despite feeling like the experience was hell on earth.
When I was done, I was mentally and physically exhausted. My hair and clothes were drenched in sweat and people were rubbing my shoulder, politely saying, "Well done mate, you did well," followed by a wry smile. I have never felt so insignificant and unworthy. My confidence was shattered and I spent the rest of the event glued to my seat, too nervous to look anybody in the eye or even go to the bathroom, and it ended up being a very uncomfortable evening for me.
Since that day, I've learned some valuable lessons about myself and in particular having the confidence in my ability to speak up. Its taken a while to build that confidence but it's remarkable what you are able to do when you get to grips with your mental state and believe in yourself. Despite being one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life I'm glad I experienced it - because the First Time I Gave a Speech was also the last time I ever allowed myself to be afraid of Public Speaking.
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