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I conquered my fear of public speaking by turning on the tap

Some people are lovers, not fighters. Well, I’m a writer, not a speaker.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t blah on for England — as we say in England — and my friends will testify to that. No, it means that on paper, I can rant and opine with the best of them, but getting me to say it in public is quite another thing. Or, at least it was until I turned on ‘the tap’.

My fear of public speaking, or performing, to be precise, came from being encouraged (forced) to take part in talent competitions, dressed in crochet dresses made by my gran, from the age of eight.

My sister played the guitar and I sang, when I could remember the words, as fear often got the better of me causing me to dry up.

For The audition we sang Nina Simone’s “Sinner Man”, an ‘obvious choice’ for two little white girls

However, by some miracle, we made it to an audition for the British televised kids’ talent programme Junior Showtime, which was bigger than X-Factor, back in the seventies. We’d made it to the ‘big time’ via the unglamorous route of two kids’ amateur talent competitions.

For one, in Blackpool, which is a sleazy seaside resort in northern England, we won a stick of rock each, though I suspect it had something to do with the fact that my gran cheered louder than any other parents simply because she had no shame.

On the day of the audition we were singing Nina Simone’s “Sinner Man”, an obvious choice for two little white girls aged 10 and 12.

She played guitar and we both sang. Except big, bossy sister decided to impress the judges with harmonies arranged three minutes before the audition.

As the piano accompaniment started, I could only emit a croak and after the third false start I knew I’d fluffed it. I only just ducked in time when my sister swung for me with her guitar after our shameful failure. She’s never forgiven me for the fact that she could have been bigger than Shania Twain.

when I forced myself to speak in public, my whole body would freeze and shake

But it left me with a crushing fear of public performance and when I forced myself to speak in public, my whole body would freeze and shake.

So I started to avoid it, which was quite difficult for an opinionated newspaper columnist with the title “Feisty and Fearless”. Oh, the irony! I was happy to be controversial in print, but elusive when it came to backing up those opinions with a public appearance.

So, I decided to face my fear and signed up for public speaking lessons. The organiser, seeing the quivering mess I got myself into, enlisted the help of a hypnotherapist who introduced me to EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique. It involves tapping key points on the body whilst reciting a positive mantra. It’s used on veterans suffering with PTSD.

he asked what I felt and I shamefacedly admitted ‘diddly squat’

I thought it was a load of rubbish and after the hypnotherapist performed it on me, he asked how I felt and I shamefacedly admitted diddly squat.

So he went through it a second time. The fact that he performed this embarrassing ritual before an audience in a group session got me all stressed, so when he asked me again how I felt, I lied and said I felt my fear had gone, just so I could sit down.

Anyway, some time later I was invited by a group of businesswomen to talk about my career and, as always, I was having palpitations, but felt I had to do it to support the sisterhood.

But when I got up to speak, I realised at about 10 minutes in, that my knees weren’t trembling and my neck hadn’t stiffened. For once I didn’t look like I’d had a stroke. I was cured, really.

After that, you couldn’t shut me up and I didn’t care that they started to fidget and their eyes glaze over, they were going to get every triumph and disaster of my 30 plus-year career. Boy, did that feel good.

I have since been known to stand up and talk in front of 50 people at one sitting, but I can’t say I’ll ever enjoy it.

But conquering a fear felt good and it’s something we can do at any age if the will is strong enough.

Feel the fear and do it anyway — but a word of caution, just don’t bore your audience rigid when you do.

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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