Why battle with your nerves in order to stand in front of a group of people and risk the embarrassment of making mistakes? It’s absolutely unnecessary as most career paths don’t require public speaking. Furthermore, we can date, marry and bear children, all without ever having to stare out at a sea of faces looking back at us expectantly.
So, why do something that is often so uncomfortable?
What I’ve discovered is that public speaking allows you to move people in a way that the written word often doesn’t. I say this with hesitation because this was a lesson I didn’t want to learn. I have a substantial amount of my life invested in the power of the written word. I’m an English major and have a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry. I also have a pronounced speech impediment which didn’t cost much compared to my degrees. Actually, truth be told, the speech impediment came completely free. I picked it up as the result of a birth injury. The common name for this type of birth injury is cerebral palsy.
For much of my life, I hoped to achieve what I wanted professionally by mainly directing my words, feelings and stories into the written word. The computer keys A through Z were to be my surrogate vocal cords.
If this was my life intention, then how is it possible that a few weeks ago I arrived back at my home in San Diego from a speaking engagement at a college in Virginia? And then, in just a couple weeks time, how is that I am headed to Houston to speak at a business conference?
What happened to my plan to sequester myself behind a computer screen until my final days?
Simply put, I found public speaking to be nothing less than magic. Now, I’m not talking about easy magic. I’m talking about immensely challenging magic. But magic none the less.
Why is public speaking magic?
When you speak before a group, you don’t just offer the magic of words on a page with your name at the end. When you speak to a group, you offer your voice, your body and your presence. Coupling this offering with the telling of a story that is pivotal to you for the sake of providing a transformative experience for the audience, the results are indeed a special kind of magic.
This magic flows outward in unexpected ways. For example, a year ago I was a guest speaker at Kyle Cease’s EVOLVING OUT LOUD event. At the climax of my talk I said, “I have spent thirty years being at war with myself,” at which point a woman in the front row bust into tears. This was Traci and, after my presentation, she came up to me and asked to begin working with me to achieve her lifelong goal of public speaking. During these coaching sessions, I helped her get in touch with the broad outline of the message she most wanted to share from the platform of the stage. She asserts that I am a master of creating a supportive space and encouraging people to speak their truth, even the parts they perceive to be imperfect. During this same time frame, Kyle Cease encouraged Traci to follow her longtime dream to speak on stage without a script. A month later, Traci rented a theater in LA and staged her one-woman show. She says her work with me helped her craft her message and enabled her to create a channel for her content to flow. Traci’s one-woman show was a dream she had held onto for twenty years and put aside until she heard me speak.
I’ve found that when you speak from a place of vulnerability, you offer your audience the gift of knowing that they are not alone in the world. This sense of connection can help unlock dreams and define purpose.
This past April, after speaking at the college in Virginia, I traveled to New York to visit Traci. A few months earlier, I had asked if I could visit while I was in the area and she, with a combination of hesitation and excitement, said, “Since you’re coming, we might as well put on a show!” Traci’s hesitation arose from the fear of coming out as a speaker/coach and performer on a hometown stage and possibly bombing where she had an established identity as a real estate professional. In spite of these fears, she rented a theater and produced the event. I had the pleasure of being the guest/opening speaker for her show. Traci must have done a pretty good job because she got a standing ovation! She insists that if it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t have made that show happen which was really all she wanted to do. Not only do I create a space for people to open and grow but I seem to be a catalyst for positive change and transformation. Traci crossed a bridge that night–in my eyes, her eyes, and in the eyes of the audience.
For me, this magic is more than worth all the nerves that accompany public speaking.