Growing up my Mom always had to make excuses as to why her adorable little girl, dressed in a bonnet and rubber boots was so quiet. My Mom would say, “Oh she’s just shy, she’d love some cake!” My Dad on the other hand would give me the glare, and then tap my shoulder until I spoke up. To speak or not to speak was the question. Either way, Mom made sure I got some cake, despite the disapproving look of my Dad.
As we get older though, we can’t take Mom to work. If you need to speak up either because you run a department, or because you’re an employee who is leading a project, then you just do it. You get up, you speak, and sometimes you flail around until you get comfortable. I unfortunately had to learn the hard way how to speak in front of large groups.
I was an introvert, and I needed to be an extrovert in order to climb that ladder. I realized this during my first office job, when I was screamed at by the owner of the company, in front of the entire company. I believe the words stupid, incapable, and idiot were used. But I don’t remember, I saw flames rising from his head, and I cowered down into my chair. I knew what was right and what was wrong, but I was too scared to speak up. I made a plan to find a career path where I could grow and feel confident about speaking.
That’s what attracted me to healthcare. I wanted to learn, and I wanted to be an independent woman. I would practice what I was going to say by doing research, saying speeches in the shower, and giving myself a pep talk before heading into the office. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still panic inside and sweat a little before speaking in front of a group, but these steps helped me overcome the fear of flames:
People will Listen
Before you get into work remember, people will listen to you. You are the expert that day, and that’s why you are up there speaking. And, they might even appreciate that you are up there instead of them. So give yourself a break!
Pep Talk Yourself
When you get up eat a good breakfast, give yourself plenty of time, and brush your hair. Tell yourself, “Self, you are freaking amazing today. We got out of bed on time and we remembered to brush our hair.” Repeat to yourself positive messages, “I am smart. I like myself today. If I mess up that’s okay, at least I am not speaking to Congress.” Oh, but if you are speaking to Congress, YouTube their bloopers, they are pretty hilarious and I bet you’ll do great!
Prepare your Agenda in Advance
If you are running a meeting come prepared. Let the group know what you are talking about in advance. These talks shouldn’t be a surprise. If you’re teaching something, bring some handouts to break the ice or send out the curriculum ahead of time so your group can prepare.
Breathe and Smile
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, slowly. Smile at the group. Make eye contact. Stay positive. I can’t say this enough, if you are nervous don’t let them know. Keep smiling, it’ll lighten the load you have on your shoulders and show them that you are confident.
Listen to the People
No matter how much planning goes into your meeting, training session or speech, you might get interrupted and asked tough questions. Bring a notepad to your meeting and plan to write some important questions down, to be answered with a follow-up email or call. All questions are good questions, if you have the answer, even better!
And don’t imagine people in their underwear. That is a terrible, unfortunate idea that someone had. I don’t recommend it. I tried it once, and I couldn’t get out of my head, “What if so and so is going commando…oh my gosh, but they are in jeans, wouldn’t that….” You can see how easily my mind wanders huh? Picture them in hot pink track suits if you need some humor to bring out your confidence.