After nearly four years of running Wrap it Up PR & Communications, a small communications and public relations (PR) agency based in Stellenbosch, I stood up in front of a room full of people to do my first ever talk on communications and PR.
Somehow the universe and Erika Kruger, owner of SomaSense Massage and the Helderberg chapter leader of the Xtraordinary Women’s Network, had conspired to get me to Erinvale Golf Estate where the talk took place. Of course I had set it all in motion by writing the desire down in a notebook earlier in the year. One of those crazy things I would do once I discovered my public speaking gene. I promptly closed that notebook and never referred to it again, writing it off as a moment of madness that I would attribute to the usual New Year’s euphoria, never mind that I had penned it in mid-January.
As much as I love helping clients with the communications and PR challenges they face in their businesses, being the centre of attention while sharing that knowledge with a room full of people feels a lot like taking a tumble while walking across the stage at a graduation ceremony. I suspect that’s how the emperor must have felt when one brave soul pointed out that he was wearing no clothes.
Speaking in front of large crowds has never come naturally to me. In fact, it is something that I have consciously avoided throughout the 15 years I have worked as journalist, strategic copywriter, media and PR specialist. Writing takes up a lot of my workday and in between I field calls from journalists and editors interested in speaking to some of the people or organisations I write about. I also spend a lot of time talking about our clients’ and their organisations to the media. I’m completely involved in the doing and frankly it is also what I have thrived on – first as a journalist delivering simple, captivating and thought-provoking material that educate and further understanding amongst the general public about a particular topic, and later as a strategic copywriter and PR specialist intent on helping clients understand how they can communicate effectively about their business/organisation/
brand by telling a story that their target audience will love and gobble up.
My aim two weeks ago was to help those in attendance – many of whom are small business owners or involved in NGOs – see the impact that effective communications and PR could have on their organisation’s ability to connect with its target audience.
I had 30 minutes to traverse through a rather big topic with Powerpoint slides to help bring a lot of that information across to the audience. I was a mixture of nervousness and excitement. As the first slide appeared on the screen, I launched into my talk and...I got stuck. I stumbled over my words and was completely rattled.
For a split second, my eyes darted to the back door of the venue. I was overcome with the desire to bolt right past everyone, out that door, down the stairs, straight to my car, and floor it all the way home. After the week I had, I was sure the audience would have forgiven me such a moment of madness. I had earned a get-out-of-talk free card after a jam-packed seven days with back-to-back deadlines caused by a number of delays that were out of my control, a sinus infection that developed into a severe upper respiratory infection and forced me into bed for two days (it was all I could spare my raspy chest) and the discovery that my blood pressure had once again dropped so low that it was a miracle that I still had the energy to wash on most days. That door looked very inviting at that moment.
But here’s what made me stay and stumble forward through my first slide. Not the deep breath I took to calm myself nor admitting to everyone that I was nervous. It was remembering why I had agreed to Erika’s request in the first place – I wanted to step out of my own comfort zone by doing something new and scary and I wanted to help other entrepreneurs with something I know many of them struggle with.
So I stayed and I shared my expertise. Now I could tell you that I woke up the next morning with no desire to replay my “performance” and analyse it frame by frame, but that would be a big fat lie. It took me a few days of over analysing before I told myself, let it go.
And so, nearly four weeks later, I have let it go and am instead focused on what I have learned and how I can improve on my public speaking skills. I might just pursue this public speaking thing after all.
With much appreciation, gratitude and love
PS: If you missed my talk or felt overwhelmed by all the information I shared on the day, you can access all the tips here.