On speaking at Women’s Travel Fest (Or “On not hyperventilating nearly as much as I thought I would.”)

March 16, 2014


Last weekend, I did one of the scariest things I have probably ever done in my thirty-eight years of life.

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 Mariellen Ward has been to India like a kajillion times and writes about it on her blog. She also started We Go Solo, a project that inspires women to travel on their own.

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.

Gah! Gorgeous, right?

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.

Okay, so I did manage to eat a free bagel. Because FREE and BAGEL.

Okay, so I did manage to eat a free bagel. Because FREE and BAGEL.

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?

Sarah and I chit-chat about cookies. Or I do.

Sarah and I chit-chat about cookies. Or I do.

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!)

Probably saying something about my mom.

Probably saying something about my mom.
Sorry, mom.

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?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On March 16, 2014 at 5:33 pm Caitlyn said:

    Congratulations! Sounds like a very cool discussion to have been a part of. I’m one of those weird people who love public speaking – I work as a tour guide so I do it all the time. And making people laugh – I’m addicted to it ๐Ÿ™‚
    Caitlyn recently posted..Believing the hype of Bled

    • On March 22, 2014 at 1:42 pm Sally said:

      I can do the tour guide thing. In fact, I was a campus tour guide when I was in undergrad. And, oddly, I’m perfectly okay at acting and doing improv — in fact I performed in improv comedy groups for years. So I really have no problem getting up on stage as a character. My problem is standing on a stage in front of an audience and having to speak AS MYSELF. That’s when I get freaked out. So maybe, umm, I’m the weird one?

  2. On March 16, 2014 at 5:54 pm Briona said:

    I am shockingly bad at public speaking. And explaining things clearly. And getting my point across. I don’t know how I get through life… especially when my job requires me to speak in public (if public is a classroom with up to ten students in it) and to explain things and get my point across. So yay you for getting up there and doing it for reals! Think that calls for some cookies. And maybe even a cat video or two! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Briona recently posted..Spring in Madrid

    • On March 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm Sally said:

      I’m HORRIBLE at explaining things orally. I think this is because I’m not an auditory person at all. This means I’m really bad at understanding oral directions, and, therefore, don’t really know how to give good oral directions. And, yeah, I’m a teacher, too, so this is bad. I’ve found the key is to write all my instructions down on my lesson plan, so I can just read the instructions out loud. My colleagues think I’m crazy because I have these insanely long lesson plans (when most of them have NO lesson plans), but if I didn’t do it, I’d just stand in front of class mumbling unintelligibly.

  3. On March 16, 2014 at 5:59 pm Wendy said:

    What an awesome experience! Congratulations!
    Yes, public speaking scares me and I have taught fun light hearted classes like population genetics. I believe that those “strong inspirational” women on the couch were scared too. You making them laugh relieved their fear as well. Laughter is a powerful tool to combat fear. My mom used it every time we were hurt or injured. In your discussion you taught those women a lot. i wish i could have been there.

    • On March 22, 2014 at 1:32 pm Sally said:

      Somehow I have a feeling the woman who was in Iranian prison for a year has faced much worse than a couch on a stage in front of 200 people! But she did say she liked what I had to say. So that was nice. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. On March 16, 2014 at 6:36 pm Sara said:

    You were great on that panel, Sally! Other than your saying you were nervous, I never would have known!

  5. On March 16, 2014 at 7:58 pm Priya said:

    You didn’t seem at all shaky. Actually, you seemed like you knew what you were doing! And, honestly, every time you spoke, something amazingly magical happened. Like angels sang or something. Or the crowd laughed. So proud of you! And I want you to do more of it! People loved hearing you speak. I loved hearing you speak!!
    Priya recently posted..Meeting The Fabulous Unbrave Girl

  6. On March 16, 2014 at 11:54 pm Heather said:

    45 minutes on stage?! Go on with your bad self. I probably would have passed out from nervousness!
    Heather recently posted..Walking With Dinosaurs at the National Museum of Natural History

    • On March 22, 2014 at 1:28 pm Sally said:

      Well, it was a SHARED 45 minutes. As it was a panel, I obviously wasn’t speaking the whole time. Although I was something of a mic hog, I will admit!

  7. On March 17, 2014 at 1:31 am becky hutner said:

    well done, sally! i love making people laugh too but i doubt my ability to do it under that kind of pressure. the very few times i’m called to speak publicly, i become VERY. SERIOUS.
    becky hutner recently posted..Fashion โ€˜Round the World: What people wore in Jan โ€™14

    • On March 22, 2014 at 1:28 pm Sally said:

      I found it helped that I was on a panel (therefore I didn’t have to talk the WHOLE time) and that it was unrehearsed (I’d be really bummed if people didn’t laugh at jokes I’d spent forever thinking up — as it was, it was a total surprise every time someone found something I said funny… mostly because I had no idea what I was saying!).

  8. On March 17, 2014 at 5:59 am Hata Trbonja said:

    Who wouldn’t be afraid of speaking publicly next to and in front of all those women?! I don’t know if I could have done it.
    If it helps; you make me laugh everytime I read your blog. Your blog is the first one I look for on my bloglovin’ feed. It is always a treat, kinda like a cookie, when I see you wrote a new post.
    Love you and your blog.
    Hata Trbonja recently posted..Gift From a Student

  9. On March 17, 2014 at 9:05 am Erika said:

    Oh, I definitely understand the thrill of performing and making people laugh — and I love the way you put it, that that outweighed your nervousness. I sometimes have a bit of social anxiety which keeps me from connecting to people but maybe if I think about it this way — that connecting with them is way more fun and worth it, maybe it’ll shine less of a light on the hard part. Loved this! And congrats on this speaking engagement — how awesome!
    Erika recently posted..Mapping My Goals: St. Patrickโ€™s Day!

    • On March 22, 2014 at 1:26 pm Sally said:

      Thanks, Erika! Yes, I definitely think focusing on the good stuff (I’M MAKING PEOPLE LAUGH! YAY!) is the key to not thinking about the bad stuff (MY VOICE IS SO HIGH IT COULD ATTRACT DOGS). ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. On March 17, 2014 at 10:49 am Heather said:

    Way to go! Wished I could have heard you ๐Ÿ™‚

    I don’t like public speaking but I’m fairly good at it, and I have to do it at work several times a semester…I always get so nervous leading up to the presentation and then within a minute of speaking I’m okay.

  11. On March 17, 2014 at 11:51 am Margaret said:

    I’m definitely one of the strange ones that enjoys it – and for the exact reason you state, I love making people laugh. If I were braver (which I am totally not), I would’ve tried a career as a stand up comedienne.
    To be fair, I do have nerves and sweat problems before I give public talks. But I still love it!
    Margaret recently posted..Swiss fashion

  12. On March 17, 2014 at 5:01 pm Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    I could never do it, no way! You rock girl!!! Wish I could have been there! CONGRATS!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..A Photographic Look At My Adventures In Buenos Aires, Argentina

  13. On March 18, 2014 at 2:38 am Sue B said:

    Once I appeared on a local television show to talk about careers. I remember walking into the station and have absolutely no recall of what happened there. People said they saw me and that I sounded good. I’ll have to take their word for it.

    • On March 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm Sally said:

      That’s exactly how I felt. People kept on coming up to me afterwards and mentioning things I talked about and I was like, “Really? I said that? Huh.”

  14. On March 18, 2014 at 11:00 am Lisa - Wee Wanders said:

    Great post, especially, “Hey, can you come to New York City and FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD?โ€…I can completely relate, it’s all I hear most of the time!

    I have always suffered with bouts of anxiety and I know just how nerve wracking these situations can be – I’m trying to build up the courage to write about my own anxiety over on my blog.

    You deserve a HUGE congratulations! I think most people would struggle to talk for 5 minutes in front of an audience so you should feel really proud of yourself and I bet you have encouraged others that they could do the same ๐Ÿ™‚
    Lisa – Wee Wanders recently posted..Hungry Wanders: Jimena de la Frontera, Luis and his Mama

    • On March 22, 2014 at 1:20 pm Sally said:

      Thank you, Helen. And I totally recommend talking about anxiety on your blog. I’ve found it really liberating to say, “Hey, I’m scared.” It may not be the cool thing to do. But it is honest. I’d much rather honest than cool. Plus, so many people have reached out to me and told me they have similar fears and insecurities. That’s been totally awesome.

  15. On March 19, 2014 at 5:25 am Kassandra said:

    Well done my friend! (We’re friends now. Because I get you.)
    Kassandra recently posted..Searching for the meaning of life

  16. On March 19, 2014 at 5:08 pm Angela said:

    I wish I’d been there. I love hearing about cookies and I love people who can make me smile!
    Angela recently posted..Sticky Cinnamon Scones

  17. On March 19, 2014 at 8:47 pm Georgette said:

    Hi Sally!!
    You were absolutely hilarious on the panel and your nervousness did not show at all. Your honesty, humor, and ability to push through your fears are what made you so endearing and relatable. Look forward to seeing you on panels at future travel shows.
    Georgette recently posted..New Year, New Travels!

  18. On March 20, 2014 at 8:38 pm Pam@Globetrotterville said:

    I am a weird one. I can be on the mic MCing an event like a wedding or a charity event. Center stage even! I DJed for 17 years so no problem. But leaving voicemail? OMG. Or calling up for an inquiry/coldcall. Heck no!
    I also cannot do television. I was so excited to be featured on a special program on Miami TV years ago. Then it hit me afterwards how stupid I sounded and how horrible I looked so I refused to watch it when it aired nor the DVD they sent me.

    I like it when *I* am in control. Sharing the stage with others or having an interviewer (or a beep prompting me to leave a msg!) freaks me out. I turn into a big fumbling dork.

    PS that bagel reminds me I forgot to get a bagel while in NYC two weekends for my last work trip pre-move. Boo.

    • On March 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm Sally said:

      I’m almost exactly the opposite — I totally don’t mind not being in control of the situation. I loved being on a panel where I got to just answer the questions. I also spent years doing improv comedy, where I was completely and totally out of control of the situation and completely and out of control of what my fellow performers did on stage. But, I absolutely hate having to give prepared speeches and I have always been too scared to try stand-up where I would actually have to prepare something and stand up there BY MYSELF and try to make people laugh. Ahhh, way too scary!

  19. On March 26, 2014 at 6:01 am Carmel said:

    I couldn’t even tell you since I’ve been avoiding it for ages now.
    Carmel recently posted..ANGKOR WAT IN PHOTOS

  20. On March 28, 2014 at 12:42 am Ceri said:

    My god, I would love to see a video of all of it. ๐Ÿ˜€ Well done, you. I know what you mean though – I hate public speaking. Unless I have a script or a lesson plan, I get really nervous putting myself out there.
    Ceri recently posted..Update on the Hospital Situation

    • On March 30, 2014 at 6:06 pm Sally said:

      The funny thing is I get even more nervous when I have a script. At least if I’m doing something impromptu and I say something stupid, I can just feign innocence and be like, hey, I didn’t PLAN to say that.

  21. On April 12, 2014 at 9:31 am choi kum fook said:

    From today onward you may change the title from unbrave girl to brave girl and no more scaredy cat, Sally. I think your speech should be very attractive and awesome!


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