This post first appeared as part of the ‘Paths and Perceptions’ Advent blog series curated by Kate Griffiths-Lambeth in 2014. I liked it then, and having had a few speaking events through 2015 and a few scheduled in 2016, thought it was worth republishing.
Someone asks you to speak at an event because:
“I* saw you speak at another event and you were very good”
(*Someone I know saw you)
You accept. Why wouldn’t you?
The path. It’s mapped out.
Synopsis by this date. Please.
Photo by this date. Please.
Content by this date. Please.
We WILL film you. Are you OK with that?
There’s one perception…people see your videos. You’re very good. They say.
In reality, I can’t watch them, my own voice repels me and I just think about what I could have and should have said and done.
2 minutes later.
Or so it seems.
Lights so bright that you can’t see the audience.
You look down at your notes, trying to memorise the first minute of the presentation.
There’s a perception that you’re not engaging with the audience because you’re making sure your content’s right.
The reality is you’re nervous and don’t want to let it show.
Remind me – Is it OK to show nerves?
You look around, trying to regain your composure. You can’t you look at your notes again. You shake. You feel yourself sweating and people believe you’re focusing, preparing yourself mentally.
What happens is your throat tightens, your mouth goes dry, you struggle to control your heart rate and breathing
You hear an introduction. It describes someone you don’t recognise. Have you really done all those things? What will they expect of you now?
They think you are confident and in control.
You think that it can’t be good to be thought of like this. You’re humbled by the kind words and unsure of how to respond you start to speak. Why are the first 3 seconds always so tough?
You tell a joke – it’s meant to lighten the mood. Most people laugh.
They think you’re a humourous person. You amuse people.
You relax for a millisecond, relieved the funny line you’ve used a dozen times before works again. A millisecond later you hope you’re not being thought of as a comedian.
Your images, 12 feet high behind you, work their magic. The audience is enthralled.
They think – you must spend hours finding the right images.
You spent hours finding the right images.
The audience is silent. Are they engaging?
They’re listening. Intently.
Are they waiting for you to make a mistake?
Your slide doesn’t advance. Without skipping a beat you fix the problem. You’re so well versed in making this work.
They haven’t seen you crash and burn so many times before that you now know YOUR slides in YOUR device work well.
Why should you trust other people’s equipment?
Your content is slick. Your delivery professional.
They haven’t seen the hours of practice round your living room, on trains, in the shower, in bed, whilst washing up, between meetings. Is it a reasonable price to pay for the stress it will cause on the day?
The obligatory question time afterwards is straightforward and all the questions get answered fully. Your topic knowledge is extensive.
Or is it that you were asked a similar question last time? Is is it always the same questions? The presentation must be missing something if the same questions keep being asked. You have to vary what you do next time. If there’s a next time. You hear applause. They appreciate you.
You wonder, is that applause as loud as last time?
People congratulate you. They say nice things.
You don’t hear the praise and seek out the criticism. Criticism is easier to accept and manage.
The loved the content and that it was tailored to that specific audience.
You spent hours making sure you crafted varied content tailored to that specific audience.
Don’t they realise you spent hours putting that together? Twice.
A week later.
Feedback sheets are full of praise
You are a great speaker.
You agonise over the fact that some people didn’t feed back.
Do they want to say something critical but don’t have the willpower?
You receive another speaking request.
You are going to set off on another path, agonising over content, your neuroses, your exposure.
It’s a good job you enjoy it. Why wouldn’t you?
Paths and perceptions.