On speaking at Women’s Travel Fest (Or “On not hyperventilating nearly as much as I thought I would.”)
And it wasn’t even by accident.
You see, usually, that’s how I find myself doing super duper scary stuff. Like that time I went hiking through a field of unexploded ordinances in Laos. That was totally an accident.
Okay, so it was kind of my fault. But, in my defense, I’m a really horrible listener, and I get easily distracted by food. So when the tour guide told us we were going to visit a field of unexploded ordinances and then eat soup, all I heard was soup. BECAUSE SOUP, OKAY.
But this time I knew what I was getting myself into.
Well, kind of.You see, when Kelly from Go! Girl Guides contacted me last year and asked me to speak at the first ever Women’s Travel Fest, I agreed.
After all, the conference was going to be in New York City. I don’t really need much of an excuse to go to New York City. Besides, you know, bagels and Thai food and donuts and pizza.
It’s possible that when she said, “Hey, can you come to New York City and speak on a panel at our conference?” I heard, “Hey, can you come to New York City and FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD?”
I didn’t bother to prepare anything. I didn’t think about what I was going to say. Heck, I didn’t even know the topic of my panel discussion until a couple weeks ago when I saw my panel listed on the website and thought to myself, “I’m going to talk about WHAT NOW?”
Then I showed up at the conference on Saturday morning, and I saw my name along with my fellow panelists, Sarah Shourd and Mariellen Ward.
You’ve probably heard of Sarah Shourd. She was one of the three Americans who were imprisoned in Iran a few years ago. Maybe you’ve seen her on the news or on Oprah or on EVERYWHERE because she’s amazing and inspirational and has lived through things I can’t even imagine.
And then there was me.
You guys, I had to take the bus to New York City from DC and I whined the ENTIRE TIME on Facebook because I hate buses and the wifi sucked and the girl in front of me was listening to her iPod super loud and I didn’t approve of her song selection.
I’m pretty sure the only thing I inspire people to do is to watch cat videos and eat more cookies.
And I have never been to the Middle East or India, and I’m not sure I ever will, at least not on my own, because, frankly, those places scare me. I wish that wasn’t the truth, but it is.Seeing my name up there, seeing all these other inspirational ladies step up on stage and be so poised and confident, seeing the sold-out crowd of two-hundred-some ladies (and ten-some mens) in a venue so beautiful it made my heart hurt a bit — that’s when it all sunk in.
What the hell had I gotten myself into?
Not only was I totally unprepared and way out of my league, but public speaking?
That is not a thing I do.
Or at least it is not a thing I do without having about five heart attacks while doing it.
Sure, I am a teacher and I make a living standing in front of people everyday and speaking. I even teach public speaking, which I agree is terribly ironic. But my students have to like me or at least sit there and pretend to listen to me and laugh at my jokes.
Standing in front of a crowd of people — people who don’t know me and don’t have to listen to me and don’t have to find any of my jokes funny because their grade doesn’t depend on it — that makes me completely freak out.
And not just butterflies-in-my-stomach kind of freak out.
But breaking-out-in-hives-and-my-voice-getting-all-shrieky-and-OMIGOD-I’M-GOING-TO-FAINT-OR-HYPERVENTILATE-OR-PUKE-OR-WORSE freak out.
Our panel discussion didn’t happen until the afternoon, which meant I was so nervous I could barely eat any of the free food they set out for us. Do you know how many times I’ve said that in my life? Pretty much NEVER. Because if there’s something I love more than food, it’s free food. And I already love food a whole lot.And then before I could run away or bribe someone to put my name tag on and sit up on the stage and pretend to be me, we were on.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened while I was on stage, as I have a tendency to block out scary stuff.
But I do remember my hands shaking so hard I was worried I would drop the mic. And then pointing out to the audience how hard my hands were shaking.
I remember asking the audience if anyone had heard of my blog, and only one person saying they had. Which was about one more person than I was expecting to say that. So that was cool.
I remember telling Sarah Shourd that I really like cookies. Because isn’t that what you bring up in a public conversation with a woman who survived Iranian prison?
While I can’t remember much of what I said, I do remember saying a lot — at least a lot more than I thought I would.
You see, before I went on, I didn’t think I’d do much talking at all. I figured that since I was on a panel with two intelligent, inspirational women, I’d just let them do all the talking while I sat there and looked pretty.
But what I forgot about was how much I love to make people laugh.
Every time I would pick up the mic and make someone laugh, I’d think, “YES. MORE. THAT.” I didn’t care that my hands were shaking or my voice was all shrieky-like. I didn’t care that my neck was covered in hives. I didn’t even care about what I was saying or if I was even answering the question I was being asked.
I just wanted to make people laugh.
My fellow panelists were up there on stage speaking thoughtfully and articulately on important stuff like sexual harassment and safety while traveling while I cracked jokes about my mom. (Sorry, mom! Love you!)And that’s how a panel discussion about conquering fear taught me something about conquering my own fears.
Or not conquering them, as the case may be.
You see, I’d love to say that in forty-five quick minutes on stage, I conquered my fear of public speaking. But I didn’t. I know I didn’t.
The next time I have to speak in public, I guarantee I will be rashy and shaky and shrieky.
But as much as I hate public speaking, I love making people laugh even more. And that’s what I focused on while I was talking. I wasn’t thinking, “Omigod, I’m speaking in public and it’s the worst and I suck.” I was thinking, “I’m making people laugh, and it’s THE BEST THING EVER AND LET’S KEEP DOING THIS.”
And isn’t that what doing scary stuff is all about?
Whether it be traveling alone, or living overseas, or writing stuff and publishing it for the world to read, or talking to a bunch of people who don’t have to like you or listen to you or laugh at any of your jokes?
It’s not about doing the stuff that scares you.
It’s about doing the stuff you love.
Even though that stuff might scare the heck out of you.Does public speaking make you freak out? Or are you one of those weird people who actually likes to do it?