Of late, I have been thinking a lot about a category of young women, some of whom have approached me about their fear of public speaking. They desire to speak up, but the fear of becoming a laughing stock is more powerful than their desire. Well the good news is, I know this feeling too well and hence I would like to share with you how I fight this battle on a daily basis using my four favourite Ps; Pray, Plan, Push and Play.
The year was 2012; I was then a Learning and Development (L&D) Manager for an international organisation. My job gave me many opportunities to speak to different groups within the company and occasionally outside of it. So yes, by then if I had any fear of public speaking, it had hopefully dissipated. Until one day; I was sitting in my office minding my own business when I had a call to immediately go to my General Manager’s office. Long story short, I was to go along with him to Nigeria to make a presentation on how my department (Human Resources) had been implementing our company’s corporate culture. The audience was to be made up of the Group CEO of the company’s West African brand as well as the General Managers (GM) in the various countries. ‘Mon Dieu!’ This call came on Tuesday and the presentation was on Thursday! I had just two days to prepare and deliver!
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. It was so nerve wrecking that I forgot I had a fear of flying on small planes. I even lost my appetite! Anyway, I returned to my office, sat down and the first thing I did was to:
One of my favourite Bible quotations is ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’. For some few minutes, I silently had an honest conversation with God. He knew that in spite of my talkativeness and perceived air of confidence, appearing before the said CEO and all these GMs was no mean a feat. I needed Him and so I asked for His help to design and deliver a great presentation that achieved its objective. I committed the entire trip not to mention my expired passport which needed an immediate renewal to Him. The next thing I did was to:
I thought carefully for a long time. I thought about the ‘why’. Why was it that of all the subsidiaries in West Africa, we were chosen to go and share what we were doing in Kumasi? What were the objectives of this presentation? I also asked questions; how much time did I have? What kind of setting will I present in? Who else might be there? Etc, etc. With the answers to these questions and research I could do, I started working on my presentation. I tell you, every few minutes I would sort of imagine myself at a Sanhedrin-like board room and shudder in dismay! All sorts of questions flooded my mind: what if I failed and embarrassed my GM and our entire company? What if I got so nervous that I wouldn’t even be able to speak? What if I tripped and fell? So many what ifs…But then, with each what if, I remembered whose help I had asked for; God’s. Finally, a draft was sort of ready on Tuesday night. Now the next thing I needed to do was to:
Frankly, pushing is easier said than done! I practised and practised and practised late into the night. I was tired but I knew I needed to master the presentation because I couldn’t go and open my mouth like a toad! Imagine the embarrassment! During this period, whenever I made a mistake I felt despair. I got frustrated. I thought, why don’t I just come up with an excuse why I couldn’t be at that meeting. Oh wait a minute, I already had an excuse: my passport had expired! Thankfully, I didn’t give in to the frustration.
The next morning, I wore my five-inch heel and nice suit en route Accra, picked up my renewed passport (thank God!) and then set off to Lagos as if I was the most confident woman in the world. Yet inside me, my nerves were being properly naughty! My perceived dread at the next day’s meeting was so powerful that I flew on Starbow and Arik Air without even noticing that I was on small flights and should panic as usual! Haha. As soon as I checked into my hotel room, I practised some more and again did some last minute tweaking of my presentation. Every time fear creeped in, I would say a short prayer and keep practising.
Finally, Thursday morning came and the moment of truth was approaching. No, I couldn’t eat breakfast even though the buffet looked amazing. However, I took some few selfies with my ‘yam’ to ease a little bit of tension. On that long trip through traffic from Lagos to Victoria Island, something was happening inside of me. I kept praying, ‘God don’t let me mess up, please help me’. We got to the head office, sat down and got ready. I am sure I didn’t hear a word of what was being said until my name was called to give my presentation. I got up, looked at the faces of my audience with a smile and said one last prayer ‘Lord, I know I can do this with you on my side. Amen’ And then I started by thanking them for the opportunity, the rest is history. I just rattled away as if I was a natural (in my opinion haha!). Long story short, they were so impressed with my presentation that they sent all the HR and L&D Managers from the other countries to come to Kumasi for a 2-day site visit and presentation! Ei, if this was not God at work then I can’t think far. After this presentation, I started to breath properly. A huge burden had been lifted off my shoulder and I could finally:
Oh yes, play I did! I showed the little per diem I had been given who was boss haha. We had to leave very early the next morning so I really couldn’t see much of Lagos, but the hotel had a cute shop and so I didn’t lose guard. That evening at dinner, I actually ate to my satisfaction. All of a sudden, I began noticing how extremely beautiful the hotel was and I simply basked in its ambience. Yes, I celebrated because the past few days had not been easy. I felt good and you know what, I deserved it!
Now, you might wonder; do I still get nervous sometimes when I have to speak publicly? You bet I do. I admit, sometimes it is easy especially when I am familiar with my audience. However, I don’t always get to speak to the same group so what do I do? I pray, plan, push and play.
Dearest young woman with a fear of public speaking, I wish I had a magic potion to make your fears go away because I know how it can cripple you. But I don’t. Instead, I have shared with you the 4 simple Ps that help me overcome. Praying helps me stay connected to God and ward off fear. Planning helps me prepare what I need to do, and why and how to get it done. While pushing, I keep myself motivated through filling my mind with positive and helpful information. Two of my favourite books are John C. Maxwel’s ‘Everyone Communicates Few Connect’ and Dale Carnegie’s ‘How To Develop Self-Confidence And Influence People By Public Speaking’. The great thing about such books is that they don’t just show you how, but give many examples of the mistakes others made and how they overcame. Trust me, the phrase ‘never give up’ is not a cliché, I bare that in mind as much as possible. Finally, when by the grace of God I achieve my goals, I find a way to play by celebrating my success, no matter how small it is because it gives me the energy for the next level.
I hope these help you too. I strongly believe that if you have something positive, impactful and inspiring to say then you should absolutely say it. Nothing, especially fear should be able to stop you because you are too fabulous to be stopped. You are invictus!
Written By: Ama Duncan, Corporate Trainer and Founder of The Fabulous Woman Network