Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Trust Yourself

Sometimes when I work from home, I watch a TV show from the States with my lunch: Millionaire Matchmaker. I quite like seeing on what basis people had chosen partners, with limited success and are therefore seeking help. One of these young millionaires, had been hurt in love and was hesitant to trust again. He had heard a great message though; ‘don’t look for the love of your life, be ready when they show up’.

This applies to so much of life. Not being ready, means we don’t see stuff that’s available to us or we say ‘no’ when the thing we’re turning down could be a great opportunity. Anyway, this time a few Fridays ago, sitting in this exact spot at my ‘desk’, in the beautifully refurbished Clissold Park cafĂ©, I answered a blocked call. I was friendly and completely honest with the BBC journalist who’d rung, out of the blue, asking me if more brides are speaking at weddings. ‘I'm not the best person to ask – all my clients for wedding speech coaching thus far have been men’. But I chatted about the stuff I know well and how I unprepared I’d been when I spoke at my own wedding. I’ve learnt from experience and teaching others, what a difference getting some coaching can have. ‘I’ll go and chat to the people you’ve suggested, but if we need you, would you be prepared to come up to Media City in Salford for BBC Breakfast tomorrow?’ Then, in giving my answer, ‘Of course!’, I knew I was ready.

And then the fear kicked in. The somersaults the stomach can make…churning away with adrenaline. I returned a call from a friend and stayed focused on listening to his current dilemma. Then I said what was going on at my end; ‘Amazing!’. It made it real.

I had in fact, to wait for two hours, whilst the reporter did her research and came to a decision as to whether they needed me or not. My thoughts repeatedly cycled round the following: ‘…of course I’m up to it, I’ll handle it effortlessly, just like the phone call – I know my stuff’ and ‘Goodness, I hope that this is just a trial run and they don’t need me to come…’ and ‘OK, I want to do this – but I’m terrified – I know what I could say… maybe I’m not quite ready this time…’ I called other friends and fellow creatives – I’m an artist too – and talked about the invitation to be visible and being ready when it comes! Another friend was about to sing at a high profile film event. I rang around & got some good suggestions on being around cameras (ignore them). The right people were there on the end of the phone - with their experience when I needed it.

These calls do come apparently out-of-the-blue after a while of getting ourselves ‘out there’ and we can never know when. I carried on normal life, by getting to the bank and doing the necessary food shop. I washed my hair in any event. I ate some lunch, just. Then the phone rang and I jolted.

‘So yes – we’d like you to do the interview on the sofa – it will be c 8.30am and we’ll organize hotel, train, taxi etc… What time do you need the train to be?’

This story is one I will tell for a time to come. I know that I couldn’t have networked, planned or even elbowed my way to being on the BBC Breakfast sofa. I knew in my bones that I was up to it – and I knew too – that I was utterly and intensely afraid, I obsessed about the things they might ask me and they things I might say. Over and over. On a loop. The cortisol/adrenaline combination was intense. I had a client preparing to speak at his wedding, that evening: I prepared for his session and packed my overnight bag. I knew from much experience of trying too hard, that the best plan was wear clothes I feel relaxed in. I took a couple of options. I got snacks together: I know I need things to crunch on when I’m jittery. It was a case of putting all I know into practice. Prepare yourself. Get your own needs met. I planned the journey to the train and awaited my speaking client… he was late. I prayed to the type of higher power that I can believe might be out there… and put one foot in front of the other.

The groom did a good speaking session: we planned together how he might enhance his telling the story of meeting his soon-to-be wife and include the guests from around the world. I left the house, picked up the train ticket without problem and got the train. All was smooth running till about 3 am when I woke and stayed awake…drank tea, watched TV, this time to distract me from the tape loop in my head and rested using the Alexander technique lying on the floor and meditating, 'Please God give me any kind of a break.'

So how did it go? I woke c 7am… fuzzy headed. I showered and started warming up my voice by saying the Serenity prayer aloud. I wrote some stuff down. I went to collect breakfast and brought it back to my room. I ditched the coffee, which was foul. I took my ‘surviving a scary interview experience kit’ with me and made my way down from the 16th floor of the Holiday Inn, to walk across the piazza to the BBC building. Shaun the Sheep-alympics were being set up by a group of volunteers. All the while – with a slightly surreal sense of myself. Is this really me – about to go on live TV?

I got to reception and chatted to the guy… My best survival scary experiences strategy is to talk to everyone…help to make their day. I was met and taken to make-up. I consulted on my shirt ‘in or out?’ and then we (I was on with a Toastmaster in full regalia) were miked up and given our studio instructions: ‘follow me and sit where I place my hand’. My stomach is turning over now at the memory of it. The thing about ‘there’ and ‘here’ is that there is a very fine line. It can get crossed in a moment. Suddenly, I wasn’t watching the breakfast sofa interviews, I was one. That changes my perception of it from hereon in. The gap between the two is huge yet also insignificant. I passed Jon Amici, a great speaker in his own right, coming from his interview and I chatted to the copper they had on to talk about ‘training police in politeness’, in the green room.

The thing is – I think – that the fear of being seen to fail, the fear of humiliation is the essence behind our adult fear of speaking in public. We all want to be noticed – and heard – yet being truly seen, is very confronting. We feel naked. We will be ‘exposed as a fraud’. It’s so common to hear this fear expressed by people who have achieved some ‘fame’; being known for something they do: just waiting to be spotted as a fraud.

So here I was, with all the terror of being seen to fail, to stuff it up; by family, friends, speaker colleagues – any of whom might say, ‘I wouldn’t have done it that way…’, not to mention the potential millions of strangers. Right now, not in a few minutes or hours… I was going to be asked to speak. I had to draw on the message I have for others: the reason we practice speaking off-the-cuff over and over, is so that when the time comes, we can truly trust ourselves. We learn to trust that our brain, magic computer that it is, to supply us with the right things to say.

To be present, was the best thing I could do. I breathed out, focused on the presenters, I smiled. I knew to listen and react as though I was chatting to any of you. Like I do with friends and clients, time and again. Inside I was the kid age 10, who’d burst into tears after going on stage, to give flowers to a soloist at the end of a concert. I'll always be the shy person who learned to be ‘at the front' as a teacher in inner city schools & a trainer of adults. Somehow becoming visible, coming out of the ‘cave’, is my path. 

Yet as a ‘recovering shy person’ and introvert, it takes much willingness and a lot of courage. (I'm so grateful to Susan Cain for the work she’s done on bringing us introverts some recognition.) It seems that being on TV is just like any other situation: all that is required is that I 'show up' to the best of my ability. Prepared, present and willing to say what I have to say. I even enjoyed it!

I have huge empathy for what it takes to be seen. I feel very grateful to have found simple ways that have encouraged me and many others, to come out of our shells: we all gain from hearing what you have to say. I can help you too. 

And how did Radek, the Groom speaking in English, Polish & Latvian, get on a week later? Well, it seems:

“The speech went so good! I got really good feedback from everyone, I made everyone laugh and made my parents and my new wife cry. Thank you so much for all your help. Your tips and coaching helped me enormously. In the end I went with the index cards and decided to trust myself. It worked brilliantly.”