When I was thirteen I used to be a petrol head, a Perry Piston, I loved riding dirt bikes. So did my brother. He was two years older, stronger and more competent.
One weekend we were doing what we loved best. Riding. Honing our skills. Hour upon hour in local forest reserves. I hadn’t seen by brother for the past hour. That changed moments later when he appeared directly in front of me as we both converged on a blind corner from opposite ends.
All I remember was putting hands to my face and the feeling of going over the handlebars and the indistinct and painless sensation of impact.
I had blacked out and coming to I was on the ground looking up at a ring of faces. Their focus was on my left elbow. It was shattered.
Next day in the hospital, after surgery to rebuild my elbow and hold it all together with a six-inch screw – which I still have to this day – my brother visited and the first thing he said was, “why did you let go of the bars?”
He had kept his grip on the handlebars and steered his way around me. I had let go of the bars and put my hands to my face instinctively to prevent myself from being hurt.
To prevent hurt I went protective. My brother to prevent hurt went confrontative.
Last week I was speaking on stage to a room full of people. Afterwards, three people in three separate conversations said that they appreciated my talk. Followed by, “I could never do that.” Their point underlined by crossing their arms or putting their hands in their pockets.
I’m very aware of this every time it happens.
They are fascinated and scared. Much like walking to the edge of a cliff for a look. Even discussing it brings up feelings. Crossing their arms is their subconscious physical response to protect themselves from hurt.
Just like I let go of the bars to prevent the hurt, to prevent the hurt they imagine they will feel if they say something wrong, they too were letting go of the bars.
I said to each of these three people a phrase. I got this phrase from this wonderful book called Speakership by Matt Church, Sacha Coburn and Col Fink. When I said this phrase I could see the penny drop, the light go on, the cogs start turning their head. They were challenging their long-held catch cry that I DON’T do public speaking. All of a sudden NO didn’t mean no anymore.
That phrase was ‘fix nervous with service’. For most of us, our fear of public speaking has ourselves at the centre of the discussion. It is all about us and our feelings. If we change the focus to helping other people, if we think that by getting up there and speaking it would make someone else’s life better in some way, if not getting up there was more of a selfish act that denied someone else benefit, then the dialogue about you and public speaking gets opened up again, not shut down on cue.
This is what I saw in these three people’s eyes last week.
Don’t let go of the bars like I did. Go into the possibility of public speaking like my brother did: with his eyes wide open. You will likely find that your fears of crashing and burning on stage are all imagined.