Lose Stage Fright Over Your Lunch Hour©
by Melissa Lewis
While teaching a two-day Speaking Confidence program to a group of 25 government secretaries, I wanted to give them practice using their personal experience to help others. So I gave them a simple assignment to ponder over their lunch hour: Think of a lesson theyíd learned and share that lesson with the group when they came back.
A petite woman named Judy nervously came to me as the group was disbursing. Judy begged me to excuse her from this exercise. "Please! You donít understand. Iím terrified! I canít possibly get up and speak in front of all these people," she pleaded. We talked for a few minutes and, with compassionate encouragement from me, agreed to think in a hypothetical way about the possibility of maybe doing the exercise. With a long face and a heavy heart, Judy slouched off to lunch.
When the group came back, I said, "OK, itís time to hear your lessons learned. Who wants to go first?" To my amazement, Judyís hand shot up! "Well, Judy, come on down," I said.She marched to the front of the room like a woman on a mission. She whipped around and, with a determined but gentle poise, she looked out at her colleagues and spoke. "After 30 years of marriage, my husband left me for a younger woman, which was devastating. To make matters worse, he took all our money. So there I was alone in my mid-í50s and practically penniless. (Long, poignant pause.) But, Iím happy to say that today I am literally a millionaire. Thatís because, out of necessity, I learned to save and manage and invest my money. But none of you should have to learn it the way I did. So take out your pencils, girls. Iím gonna show you how itís done!"
Judy Blew Us Away
She was funny, passionate, authentic, driven, feisty. She shared the mistakes she made, the resources she found, the lessons she learned, the gifts she discoveredóall with a magnetic power that held us transfixed. The moment she finished talking, everyone leaped up in a joyful, exuberant standing ovation.
After everyone settled down, I asked, "Judy, what on earth happened to you? An hour ago you were quivering, saying you couldnít possibly speak. Yet youíve just held this room spellbound for 10 minutes. What happened?" She paused for a moment and said thoughtfully, "It never occurred to me until today that I could HELP people from up here. All my life I thought that public speaking was about following rules and performing and getting everything right. It had never occurred to me I could just stand up and help people."
As Judy discovered, all the posturing and performing is unnecessary. You need a desire to help your listenersóthatís it! Any time you speak to a group, itís because you have a message that can help them. Perhaps you can spare them some pain (as Judy did), tell them about a resource theyíve been missing, help them take advantage of an opportunity, explain something thatís been confusing them, make their jobs easier, save them money or time, increase their efficiency, boost their morale, solve a problem, etc. The audience doesnít need to be impressed or entertained. They just need YOU and the wisdom you have to share.
As Judy learned over her lunch hour, itís just about helping people.