Speaking in Public
“I can’t do that!”
Yep, I remember when standing in front of even a small group of people would chill me to the bone. I can remember when I had to stand in front of the kids at school and read out of a book, it scared the crap out of me. I can even remember the book, ‘Tarka the Otter’ by Henry Williamson. I hated it. Writing something that was going to be read by anyone other than my teacher was a nightmare too. In fact I wasn’t that keen on him or her reading it either. But, I got through school with some O and A levels and ended up in college doing a city + guilds in Design for Print and a BTEC in Graphic Design. I worked at a company called IPMC (International Publicity and Marketing Consultants), hated that too. It was a translation company. They did loads of work for middle eastern companies, and a fair bit for companies in the far east. So not your usual alphabets, and this was in the days when you had to cut out bits of photographic paper and stick them on to artwork. None of your CGI then, god I feel old. Anyway, hated it. It was full of jumped up toffee nosed idiots who kept telling me that ‘the corporate way is different, we do it like this here’ I left them to it.
1984. Not the book, the year I joined the Army. I thought it would be a job for life and not so much of the corporate crap that I hated. I was almost right, I got made redundant in 1994. But I had the best 10 years of my life, so far. OK there were shitty bits, like getting shot at, blown up and stabbed, that wasn’t so much fun, but I didn’t join up to sit in an armchair did I? There was still this fear with me though, the fear of talking in front of other people. I had to stand up in basic training and instruct the rest of my intake how to iron a KF shirt. The most itchy material known to man, and the MOD make shirts out of it. Yeah, even in the army I still had to stand up and talk to people, usually about a subject that I had very little interest in or even a subject that was made up by staff to ‘test’ me. Like the time on my junior NCO’s cadre, when the corporal with the enormous chin told me I had to talk for 15 minutes on the sex life of a strawberry yogurt. I kid you not. Yep, still hated talking in public.
I left the army in 1994 as part of ‘options for change’ or redundancy as it’s better known. Various jobs later, still hated talking in front of any more than a handful of mates down the pub. Then something happened. I saved someones life, mainly because I was in the right place at the right time and nobody else was going to do anything. It made the papers, I made the papers, got an award and everything. After an interview for South today, or whatever it was called then, the journalist asked how long I’d been a public speaker and would I do a talk for some rich toffs the following week. Erm?
What was this guy on? “How long have you been a public speaker?” Was he taking the pi**? I hated talking in public and there he was asking me if I’d do another talk for some well to do types. It turned out they were the funny handshake brigade. So obviously I said “Yes”. What? hang on, wait a minute. I hated talking in public, then one thing happened and all of a sudden someone liked what I had to say and was willing to actually part with his hard earned, just to listen to me again? What was going on? I was actually looking forward to this talk. There were about 80-90 people, some quite powerful guys, all wanting to hear what I had to say. Yet all my life I dreaded this talking thing. What made this night so different? How was it that all of a sudden I wanted to talk? I wanted to talk, yes, me! The bloke who spent all his life avoiding having to speak to anyone, now they couldn’t shut me up. I stood on this stage in this posh hotel, and I spoke. Yep, I spoke for 30 minutes. That was only because someone else was coming on after me and the bloke with the badge in front of the stage told me to wind it up. So what was different? Where did my fear go?
I had found something I was passionate about, something that meant something to me, and something that I actually knew about. I found a subject that I wanted to share with people. I knew about this subject because I’d been taught it, I had actually had to use it, for real, in a high stress situation and it ‘floated my boat’. I had found something that I could do, I could do well, and something that could make a difference. I wanted to shout this from the rooftops.
Had I learnt to split an atom? Had I found a cure for cancer? Nope. I had found a passion for saving lives. It’s not rocket science, in fact I could teach anyone how to save a life quite easily, as I have since discovered. I was asked if I could share my skills with some people from the council, I said Yes! I was asked if I could teach some people doing the Mongol rally if I could help them stay alive, I said Yes! I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve done it on different continents, and in different surroundings. I’ve looked after people in jungles, and I’ve looked after people surrounded by ice, as far as the eye can see. I’ve talked about it a lot. I enjoy talking about it a lot. I enjoy speaking in public. I’m saying Yes all over the place, because I have a passion.
You may have read, or heard someone say “Find a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” It’s true. The reason I hated talking for the first 30+ years of my life is because I did not have an interest in what people were making me say. Now I talk about things I have an interest in. Now I talk about stuff I know about. I now am able to pass on this knowledge to others, and I think I do it well. At least, when people give me feedback afterwards, it’s always good. I have ‘customers’ come back over and over again. I get recommendations from people, and I love that.
If you are afraid, as I was, to stand up and talk, then find a passion. What makes you tick? It doesn’t matter if your audience is interested in it. If you are, they will listen. People can feel passion. Passion makes people sit up and listen, and when that happens, the magic happens, and magic is good. Passion makes the world spin, so find yours. Then share it. Say Yes!