For the month of February I have been exploring my experiences with selective mutism. My last post was about my interpretation of communication – and the ways we communicate without speaking. Today I will be representing my local Toastmaster’s Club in our area competition. My speech is about my experiences with selective mutism, and is entitled, “From the Heart.” In this post I will explore my feelings surrounding this speech – and how I deal with my anxiety today.
My decision to become a speaker
Four years ago I joined Toastmasters. I had been ignoring the ads for years, and also my lazy daydreams where I often found myself standing on stage, speaking to people.
Truth was, it scared me beyond belief.
How I could believe that I would ever be able to succeed in the speaking world was beyond me. I knew my past, and I felt that was what defined me.
I was quiet. Shy. Uncomfortable in groups of people.
I didn’t feel like I was born to speak. Yet I had this yearning inside of my heart, and it was becoming stronger.
My first Toastmasters meeting was beyond scary. I pushed my fears and anxiety aside and made myself get up to speak. I also volunteered to perform my first speech at the following meeting.
I knew if I didn’t do this I wouldn’t be going back.
As a ‘competent communicator’
Four years later, I’m still there. My club considers me to be an ‘accomplished speaker’. I have received my ‘competent communicator’ reward, I have spoken on stage to hundreds of people, and today I will be speaking in the second round of the annual Toastmaster’s International speech competition.
The speech that got me through was entitled ‘From The Heart’. It is a speech about selective mutism. In all the time I have been in Toastmasters I have found my speeches almost impossible to prepare for. I know I need to do it, but as soon as I think about the opening line, my mind pulls me in about one hundred different directions. I cannot become clear on what I need to say; the structure of my speech is beyond my comprehension.
My usual tactic has been to shimmy something together on the day of the speech and ‘wing it’.
I have often wondered why my speeches receive the praise they do. “You obviously prepared well!” I often hear … but my prep is literally an anxiety ridden, pressure filled day of desperately trying to nut out some kind of basic outline.
I still find it almost impossible to prepare for speeches, because of my anxiety.
From the Heart
The speech that I performed in front of my Toastmasters Club – and won our competition – was one that I literally planned on the spot. I stood up, knowing only that I wanted to share my journey of speaking with my audience. I sat down knowing little of what I had said. I was congratulated for a ‘brilliant speech’.
Yesterday, plunged once again into the whirlwind of anxiety and pressure that prevents me from preparing adequately for a speech, I wondered how I could repeat my last speech. I have no idea what I said in that speech!
My anxiety was high.
My self esteem was low.
Everything was putting me off the task at hand, and I found myself questioning this direction in my life. Why do I want this? What am I trying to prove? Who am I trying to impress?
I reminded myself of the gentle pulling in my heart – the urge to speak that I had felt for many years, and the idle daydreams I often had where I always found myself speaking on stage. I started to notice that as I thought about this, I felt a little better. For an instant.
Anxiety was back – pulling my attention away – and I was starting to feel like a nervous wreck.
And then it hit me.
I needed to speak to my anxiety the way I would speak to it in my children.
Gently. Nurturing. Allowing.
I needed to help the anxiety within me to show me what it was trying to tell me. We needed to work together to overcome this craziness.
If I am going to continue in this direction with my life; if I am going to find opportunities to speak in my community and beyond; I am going to have to find a way to make the preparation more pleasurable than this.
This is how it happened. I spoke gently to the anxiety within me, and I breathed into my feelings. I felt a glimmer of excitement in my fears. Out of my anxiety I could sense a rising passion. My self doubt was becoming belief – and I realised that, like it or not, this is what I am here to do.
I am here to speak – and it scares the very breath out of my body.
I am doing this
I don’t know how my speech will go today, but I have made peace with my reasons for wanting to do this. The anxiety that I feel, I now realise, is born out of the passion I feel and my will to succeed. I want this – but I am scared that I might not make it.
I cannot make this fear I have of failing hold me away from walking in the direction of my dreams. The praise I have received so far has come on the back of badly prepared speeches that didn’t make me feel proud. I’m wondering what I might be able to achieve if I actually allowed myself to do this properly?
As scary as it is, this is the direction my Heart longs to travel.
Open, vulnerable public speaking.
My speech preparation this time around hasn’t been comprehensive – but I’m feeling better about it than I usually do! I will fill you in on the ‘how it went’ tomorrow.