Fake it ’til You Make it

Have you ever had someone tell you that they were surprised about some part of you? For me, it is that I am an introvert. As an introvert, I do not like big crowds. I also am not a fan of speaking to people I don’t know, but I am an educator and frequently not only teach, but also speak at conferences. I am a big believer in faking it ’til you make it. Public speaking is terrifying to me, but I do it all the time. Here is a story about my last experience:

My last conference speaking session was to a packed room of library staff at our state conference. They even had to bring in more chairs! Before the session started, I was shaking. I didn’t recognize a single person in the room. I wasn’t positive that I could remember my notes. What if something I said offended someone? What if I went under time? What if I went over time? What if something went wrong? Well, what if everything went right?

My topic was on workplace creativity. I had attended a session at that very conference the year before on a similar topic, but I left the session feeling like it was all fluff. So I decided to take a risk (one of the facets of creativity) and apply to be a speaker at the conference the next year. So I did…and it got accepted. I didn’t know if I was excited or scared out of my wits.

I got lucky though that I got to present my topic at an annual meeting with our trustees. I was the keynote speaker. Here was a group that I was familiar with, but I was still nervous. I had scripted out my talk, but it was a little short. My director told me that would be fine since it would leave time for questions and one of our other speakers might actually run over. Well, you know you are doing something right when you have a group of trustees taking notes on what you are saying. Plus, they had a lot of questions. That trial run gave me a little more confidence that my topic and content would be good, but I felt like it was a little too static. So I borrowed from another facet of creativity and improved upon the original. With a few tweaks, I interspersed a little humor and audience interaction into my talk.

That session with the trustees was small compared to the session at the conference. Honestly, I was surprised by the number of people who had started trickling in for my session. I watched as the seats all began to fill. The size of the room meant I was going to have to use the microphone (something I hate doing), which meant I was going to have to sit at a table at the front of the room since that is how the AV had been set up. I admit I have a loud Jersey voice, but it is not always loud enough.

The first five minutes, I was shaking, but my voice was strong. I had done this before, I could do it again. At one point, my iPad decided to restart which meant I did not have my notes. So I winged it. I told an anecdotal story to illustrate the point I had been making. Everything was fine. People were laughing. No one was leaving the room. I had made it to the half-way point and everything was still smooth. I kept my eyes on the clock. I was getting confident and I think that is where I messed up because my passion for my topic started showing. In the end, I skipped three slides and still went over by three minutes. Reading the surveys after the session, half thought it was perfect and half thought it was too academic, but overall, everyone liked it. I also received two offers to speak again. So it was a win.

But why am I telling you all this? In her book, Presence, Amy Cuddy talks about striking a Superman pose for just a couple of minutes. Hands on hips, back straight, chin slightly tilted, and feet set apart. By taking this confident stance, we are sending our brain a signal that we are confident. I wish I had remembered this before my presentation, but I didn’t. It was okay though because after I got started, everything worked out. The hard part is taking that first step. No one else knows that you are shaking up there. If you show you are confident on the outside, that confidence will kick in on the inside too. By the time I was into the flow of my presentation, I was confident. Heck, I even suggested bringing this session to another conference in the Fall. But, well, we will see.

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