Imagine it’s almost time for recess and a class of 1st graders (What’s that? Like 6 years old?), is having a reading session where each student reads a sentence of a book. Adorable and pretty normal, right?
Now, imagine the whole scene again, but one of the kids stumbles on a word … and the teacher immediately says: “If you don’t finish reading the sentence…NO ONE WILL HAVE LUNCH TODAY.”
Moment of silence…crickets…thousands of them!
Yeah, the student didn’t finish the sentence, but there was a happy ending…all the kids did go to lunch.
From that day on, this teacher ruined the “public speaking LIFE” of this poor kid. 28 years later and the P-A-N-I-C of public speaking is still alive.
Well, that student was ME. Yup, my dearest 1st grade teacher has absolutely NO idea of how traumatizing that day was. Maybe she was PMSing, or had a hangover, or her boyfriend dumped her for a breathtaking Victoria Secret’s Model….it doesn’t matter. The thing is, I have internally forgiven her and I’m over that for sure. As Jesus once said (and I’m not religious, guys, it’s just a quote): “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” She clearly had NO idea how that day impacted my life. Exercising compassion with those who have caused you pain is one of life’s toughest tests. But it surely helps you grow. If everyone was nicer to each other, well, I guess the world would be different than it is today.
Ok…that’s settled. No regrets, but the problem (aka fear of public speaking) is still here.
That day is still vivid in my mind. I still remember where I was sitting, the shape of the table, its location inside the classroom…I remember every single detail of that day. Dreadful and it changed life F-O-R-E-V-E-R.
Even though I was born and raised in Brazil, my parents put me in the American School. And as every great American School, public Speaking is very, very, VERY present.
When I was a bit older and started researching about “The Fear of Public Speaking”, I discovered I was not alone! Hurray! It’s actually the #1 fear worldwide, before death.
Ok, so that was comforting, I have to confess, but that didn’t help at all.
I remember countless embarrassing moments I experienced. In English class, I was called to read a simple, stupid paragraph, and guess what, I was unable to speak a single syllable. Not a sound came out of my mouth.
I had to present a project in front of the class, I stood up, walked to the front, heart pounding and body burning like hell, looked at everyone and…blah! The only thing out of my mouth was ridiculous prolongations of sounds.
What was going on in my head? “Shit, shit, shiiiiiit, SHIIIITTTT! What am I doing here? Why can’t I just talk in public like everyone else? Why is my body literally freaking out and I have absolutely no control? What will people say? What will the cute guy in class think? What will the bitchy girl comment? Will I flunk this class? Why, why why…”
For assignments that I had to memorize, it was even worse! On the day I had to present my memorized speech, to start off, I had a terrible time just pronouncing the first word. Then, as soon as I uttered the first two sentences …BOOM! I TOTALLY BLANKED OUT! Every single word that I had thoroughly memorized by heart and could recite it in the shower, while cooking, at the gym, watching tv, and even in my sleep, completely disappeared from my memory.
I started not sleeping well weeks before an assignment that involved some sort of public speaking. I also had serious stomach aches, like s-e-r-i-o-u-s aches, felt short of breath, the friendly butterflies in my stomach got crazy out of control, I felt dizzy… IMAGINE THE DAY OF THE ASSIGNMENT?
I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t speak in public, even though I was aware of where it all started. How did a silly airhead teacher do that to me?
Anyway, I went to a few public speaking meet-ups and events. Many times I literally hid myself behind someone not to be called upon. Note: This meant simply to go up, say your name and what you worked with. Come on!!! I couldn’t do that??? Pathetic.
I read books, I saw YouTube videos, I read blogs, I researched podcasts, I talked — but mostly listened — to people that had the courage to confess about this fear in common. After doing all this, I was so inspired that I was sure it would never happen again.
Until….yeah…the time to talk in public came again, and I froze, again.
It got much better after I left school. Not being in that environment helped liberate me, a bit, at least. But in college, there were still some tough times.
My friends in college didn’t really “get it” like the kids that grew up with me did. They all knew I was a very spontaneous, suuuper talkative, and funny. I could talk forever with them. I’m a Leo, so as every good authentic Leo, we love being the center of attention! I did! With a small number of close friends. When the scenario changed, and I was literally THE center of attention, with everyone staring at me and expecting me to read or present something…it all changed, and I was catapulted back to my 1st grade class.
The curious story that I always tell people about, is that I asked my parents a few times when I was younger “What’s my gift?”, since my brother’s talent was very evident. He is an outstanding designer. I never had a clear and obvious gift. Doctor? No. Lawyer. Nope. Athlete. I wish….hahaha! My parents never openly told me…since they wanted me to figure out on my own. I didn’t, LOL, and the last time I asked my mom…she said, “You still haven’t figured it out? You have the gift of communication!”
I have to agree. I’m great at that. I love people. I love talking to people. I‘m curious about their stories, their culture, their experiences. I become friends with a bench if I’m alone with it. I can talk forever about the most random, interesting, funny, serious topics in the Universe. In time, I found out that my gift was: I’m a natural networker.
Now, HOW hilarious and contradictory is that, right? A remarkable networker that CAN’T SPEAK IN PUBLIC. Ha! Funny, I guess, not to say, tragic.
After college things got even better, even though I did, and continue to have issues at work. Speaking Engagements? Ugh…they terrify me.
In 2014, I started a very unique content platform called “Behind the Scenes NYC”. The idea was to talk about the best and most unique off-the-beaten-track places, events and brands in NY. A selection of tips far away from the touristy scene with the objective of engaging with the local community and disrupting the status quo of NYC’s tourism. Small detail: I was doing it for the 1st full year from my room, in my mom’s house…in São Paulo, Brazil.
I went back to NYC that same year with my sister, for Easter, and on April 20th we had lunch at Dziupla — a Polish restaurant — where out of the blue I said: “I will be living in NY in 1 year.” My sister replied: “Wow, that’s fantastic, but how will you do that?”, my answer was simple: “I have no idea. I just know what I’ll be living here in 1 year.” Important detail: I did not have in mind the date of April 20th!
In September I came back to NY, hired my lawyers, and 5 months and 780 pages later I moved to NYC as a Freelance. Cherry of the cake? I bought my plane ticket before my massive Petition was approved. My Lawyers said that the earliest I’d arrive in NY would be June/July, but I had already purchased my ticket for 2 months earlier. A “random” date just came to my head. The date? April 19th, 2015.
Happy ending: It all worked out and I actually landed in NY on April 20th, 2015 — exactly 365 days after I said I’d move to NYC in 1 year! Yeah…I’m pretty good at manifesting some serious, ass kicking sh*t!
I’ve been here for almost 2 year and EVERY-SINGLE-SPEAKING-ENGAGEMENT I was invited to participate, I thanked the invite, but declined.
So, last December, one of the guys from a great platform focused on sharing stories about “Passion”, called #BeSomebody, reached out inviting me to participate in a simple Speaking Engagement. The event would have 11 speakers, talking for 1 minute and 11 seconds. Sooooo quick, right? Painless. I decided to accept, and the suffering, stomach aches, nights of no sleep, etc, all came back. I could NOT believe it, but I decided to go on and not turn down the opportunity.
“Let me face my Demons”, right?
Want to know WHAT happened in the night of my Speech? I had it all completely memorized! The topic was “Passion”, so something super easy to talk about. I had rehearsed with a friend and felt super confident. Wow! Fluent! Super authentic! Smooth! Passionate! I had it all! I even started with a joke that said: “When I was invited to talk today, I almost freaked out just thinking about Public Speaking, so guys, please bear with me!” Always a good idea to start with a joke or a personal remark to make people feel compassionate, right? At least, it’s one of the technique’s I had learned…
I was the 5th speaker up. I was introduced by the host, and walked on stage with a huge smile, feeling like a Queen! After the 1st sentence….SH*****TTTT, I froze. I had cameras on my face, strong lights blinding me and over 60 people staring. Suddenly I hear this guy yelling from the back: “WE LOVE YOUUUUU!”…and I broke down in laughter.
I laughed and said “Ok Guys, let’s take it from the top.” I finished my Speech and everyone clapped and yelled in excitement at the end! Phiuff….
You thought I was going to say I nailed it, right? Well, no.
Last week I was home and watched Warren Buffet’s documentary. It’s fantastic! At one point he mentioned that he was a lousy public speaker, but worked on it, took courses, coaching sessions, and concluded: “If I hadn’t taken action, I would never have become what I am today.”
I was speechless and couldn’t believe he had public speaking issues too! He’s always been on my list of people to meet, at least once in my life!
Moral of the story? You will screw up, bad, very bad, horrifically bad, countless times before you overcome the fear of Public Speaking. I haven’t gotten over it…yet, but the most important thing is to WANT to get rid of it and really face this Fear.
For some people the art of Public Speaking is natural (lucky crowd!), but if you’re not one these lucky guys, like I’m not, let’s laugh about it and have fun in the process of self-improvement! This will certainly just make things easier.
As I said, this is Fear #1 in the World….so we’re definitely not alone!
Fernanda Paronetto is the Founder of Behind the Scenes NYC. Two years ago, she decided to change her life and follow her Passion. That meant leaving the comfort of her home country of Brazil behind and moving to NY. Fernanda has worked for Kimberly Clark, Vogue Magazine, Quintessentially, Iguatemi (the largest luxury shopping center group in Brazil) and now is an entrepreneur in the NY start-up scene. Today she is one of the top influencers disrupting the NY tourism’s status quo and engaging with the local community in unique ways!
Originally published at medium.com