#1 Fear Banished

098Among my many phobias, I’ve conquered only one. But it’s a biggie. The #1 ranked fear shared by so many: fear of public speaking. I hated presenting in college and high school, suffered through speech classes, shuddered to even introduce myself in a group.

That’s why I’m a writer. I work alone, communicate easily online, love my blog, am addicted to Twitter. The first time I walked into a classroom and realized that I had to actually talk to these people, I wanted to turn around and run back out. What was I thinking?

I was thinking a degree or two in English would be fun: lots of reading and writing, my favorite things. And I could teach, which to me seemed like discussing exactly what I loved. Ha. I was in denial about the “talking” part, and to this day I work really hard to get my students to do most of the talking in class.

xmas 09 001When I published my first book in 2007, I realized I needed to promote it at least a little bit. I had 1,000 copies in my closet that were not going to move themselves.

I arranged to give a two-part talk at my local library, and I only got through it because I took a pill that many actors and musicians use to stop the fear of public performance. I felt energized on that stage with a room full of people who had come to hear me. This was a very different audience from a room full of teenagers forced to read poetry and novels. I liked those talks and wished I could feel that way without meds.

Duty done, I went back to routinely refusing all offers to speak about my books. I read one poem at a writer’s function, because it won a prize and they paid me. When the hostess asked me to read the longer piece, which had also won, I declined. The poem was hard enough!

Just last week I was invited to read a poem or short bit of prose with a group of writers and I declined, automatically. And then I remembered: I wasn’t afraid to speak in pubic anymore. Magically, that fear had evaporated.

It happened at a workshop called “Public Speaking for Writers” facilitated by The Write Concept‘s Linda Anger (pronounced Ahn-Jay). Sounded like something I needed, so I signed on. Right away she had us warming up with partners in preparation to speak in front of the group. I am fine one-on-one but was dreading the going to the front of the room and claiming the floor part.

I walked to my doom, clutching the notes I’d taken. And suddenly, something lifted. I felt it. I was as comfortable as if I were in the last weeks of a semester with a great, engaged class. I was having fun. I loved it.

So, maybe teaching for many years helped, maybe Linda has some kind of magic not in pill form, probably both. I don’t think it was a coincidence that my life-long fear of public speaking vanished at the moment I stood in front of Linda’s DWW workshop. I think, between the two of us, we banished it.

14 Comments on “#1 Fear Banished

  1. Cindy –
    You were one of the stars of the class!

    The program is open to the public and I would certainly consider putting it on again for a group of your followers.

    Linda

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    • You do a great job. After 40 years of terror, gone in a day. And as you said, this is the number one fear. Would be great for businesses as well as creative type groups.

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  2. Cindy you are so good at everything you do you make it seem easy and the light at the end of the tunnel xo aunt wese

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  3. Great post, Cindy. I think if you are getting your students to do most of the talking in class, you must be a really good teacher. That seems like an excellent approach, so maybe your former phobia fulfilled that purpose. And now you can be free of it!

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    • I know! And almost all the books are gone too. That was my only non-fiction book, Nia. I wrote it for my creative writing students, who want to write everything from poetry to screenplays to memoirs. I couldn’t find a book like that, so I wrote it. And the bookstore sold it right next to Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” I snuck in and took a picture one day:)

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  4. I remember being really in denial the last time I was asked to speak. I whipped up a speech in a couple of hours (literally the same day I was to give the talk. “It’s no big deal,” I told myself. Then I got there and felt like I was having a heart attack on stage. I told a joke that I thought was quite funny and heard a single gasp in the audience. People told me it went well, and to the extent that I was having an out of body experience at the time I can only take such feedback on face value.

    I think the one thing I have learnt from teaching and radio is that how you say something is at least as important as what you say. If you project your voice to the back of the room you sound like you know what you’re talking about, you feel more confident and people (hopefully) listen.

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    • John, I always thought you had great presence in your YouTube videos. You seemed totally at ease talking to the camera. I know what you mean by “out of body” as panic can be like that. But to perform under panic keeps your feet on the floor. Voice projection is KEY. I’m glad you brought it up. My voice, when I was speaking to peers in class setting, shook. Some students turn red, some of their written notes tremble, some speak too fast, or too low. And a few, like me, give it away with a quavering tone. The best training I received in voice projection was 7 years teaching emotionally impaired “at risk” high school kids aka troublemakers. I could not abide a classroom of chaos and would not yell or lose control. But I did project voice, stance and attitude. It was the thing that worked. Most of the time. Since then, my voice has smoothed out and I project well. There’s a silver lining. Every difficult thing brings rewards:)

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