a fear worse than that of death

Tomorrow I'm giving a presentation to a local company about healthy feet.

I've heard that for many, fear of public speaking rates higher than a fear of death.

I've come a long way, baby...

I've come a long way, baby...

And, while there have been times I would have prayed for a tsunami to swallow me up on my way to a gig, I think I've made some progress to this end.

Otherwise, why the heck (I often ask myself) would I keep signing up to do this?

Some years ago, while battling the urge to throw up before making my very first public presentation about shiatsu, a friend and Bach Flower Essence practitioner pulled me aside for a quick consult.

She explained that fear of public speaking can have several manifestations.

For me, it seemed to be dealing with 'the group energy' - in other words, lacking the capacity to pull together my own inner strength to command the energy of a group. Which felt totally spot on. All someone had to do was yawn, or look at their watch, or ask a slightly critical question and I was done.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice for me was from a book called "Be Heard Now!" by Lee Glickstein.

Unlike other Dale Carnagie-ish type books, this was more about connecting with the audience authentically rather than trying to dominate. The author suggested that your listeners actually want you to do well, and if you can appeal to their empathy and support right off the bat, it can make all the difference. (I've since learned there are better and worse ways to do this...)

Another book I'm buried in right now, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain, draws on a huge body of research regarding this sensitive segment of the population.

Of course, public speaking is explored as the classic introverts nightmare.

Cain shares one theory put forth by a sociobiologist about this who said "that when our ancestors lived on the savannah, being watched intently meant only one thing: a wild animal was stalking us."

Though it's kinda funny to imagine a conference room filled with lions or hyenas licking their chops as you click through your Power Point presentation, I personally like Glickstein's scenario better.

So, while I'm not sure what drives me to keep raising my hand at these opportunities, other than, when I learn something new or something I think can help other people, I'm so excited to share it. Even clumsily. Often clumsily. But almost always, enthusiastically.

That first talk about shiatsu was twelve years ago, and it appears I survived.

Since that time, I've learned a lot about not just how to prepare for such events, but more importantly, which preparations that will only work for me.

For example, what role notes play.

My fear of choking (and not unfounded - it happened and, yeah, it was sad) led me to practically write out every word of my talk (complete with cues) on paper, which either had me reading (so unprofessional!) or staring at words that I couldn't read through eyes glazed over with fear.

Owning the words, through rehearsing (a lot) and ironing out the sticky parts, is kind of like building muscle memory. When you know your talk, you don't get derailed as easily.

For the record, other practices that have helped me:

- Picking out one or two faces that nod and smile when I speak. I think this saved me that time twelve years ago. One friend showed up just for that purpose (thank you, Susan!), and when she'd see me faltering, she'd yell out a question: So, Gina, tell us about qi! I won't always have this luxury, but I've learned how not to give my attention to people who look bored or shift my focus to trying to impress them.

- Making jokes. So far, levity has not been inappropriate, and while I've learned that making fun of myself can be overdone, if I can get a chuckle out of the room, we all feel a little better.

- Granting myself permission to breathe. Again with that choking thing. Sometimes I still lose a thought mid-paragraph, and I've learned that nobody dies if I pause (even close my eyes for a sec), take a breath, and recover my place. That was hard at first because you tend to perceive that 'sec' to be a half hour....

- Getting clear on how I want to feel. Danielle LaPorte, author of The Desire Map, makes a very helpful distinction between visualizing what you want to see happen (as in, specific circumstances) and how you want to feel.

I could say - all affirmation-like - I want everyone to jump up, applaud, rush to the podium to shake my hand and sign up for all my stuff, and otherwise put a lot of energy toward influencing their behavior.... which hardly ever works.

Or, I could ask myself, what is the feeling state behind that picture? I want to feel competent. I want to feel confident.  want to feel encouraged. I want to feel satisfaction that I have something of value to offer. I want to come away with, as Bill says, covered in 'gig dust', like when you know you nailed it.

And then I would ask myself, okay, so what can I do that's within my power to more greatly ensure I will feel these things - even if it goes far differently in reality than what I imagined???

An inquiry along those lines often changes how one prepares for and takes ownership of these situations.

- The previous exercise was about reclaiming personal power (that, no matter what, I can still decide to come away feeling good about what I did).

So is qigong.

Whether there is anything to the whole 'energetic body' thing, I don't know, but I do know there are certain physical movements that just convey psychological states to the mind. (And, as a certain TED talk by Amy Cuddy demonstrated, certain postures can actually change hormone levels.)

I've shared two of my favorites in this video. (Gratitude for my friend, Judy M, who shared one of these exercises...)

So, we'll see how it goes. My history has told me that when i have fun with it, value what I'm doing and what I have to offer without taking myself too seriously, it usually goes well.

Or, at least, no one gets hurt..

What sort of experiences pull you off center, and what, if any, practices do you find helpful to face them or recover from afterward?

Please share in the comments below!