What’s the best way to be ‘okay’ with public speaking?

Sometimes I wonder why I went into journalism. Journalists are brave, bold; they love to network, have no trouble talking to people. These days, you will probably see me standing at the edge of a group, just listening; I do network, but this often takes time.

This goes back a long way; there was a time when this was not an issue. There were a variety of meetings – at events, when required to speak in front of people, etc – that lead to this, whatever ‘this’ is.  (After all, it’s not a fear. I don’t actively avoid talking in these days; it just makes me incredibly anxious.)  It was time to work away an irrational fear.

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The Science Gallery, London. 

First up: a Debut Careers piece. Written before this – whatever ‘this’ is – manifested itself, I learnt a lot. An article for The Guardian or The Observer talks about power, and how to use it. Stick three fingers in your mouth and close your lips; the power you need to be coherent is exactly what you need on stage, or in front of an audience. (This Piece never made it into ”my” piece.)

While researching I also remembered the influence of Cosmopolitan Magazine. They ran a piece about exactly this; editor Farrah Storr also authored The Discomfort Zone. Find it, and live in it. Sometimes I work quite well this way: go to Germany? Check. Interview the former editor of The Guardian? Check.

By this point I also felt…. well, angry, but for a different reason. There’s so many reports about this ‘anti vaxxer’ trend-based on totally redundant and dangerous theories. (And I’ve had experience of this in person, too.) But if you’re angry, sometimes it can envelope you, beyond all control. My approach with issues like this is to try and make it funny.

Poetry:

The Neurotypical Epidemic took shape in my head; I see the phrase “The autism epidemic” used on social media platforms somedays. (Yes, really.) I had to flip this ridiculous idea on its head for that reason. A friend who runs a monthly comedy night – Lava Elastic, reviewed here – said yes, ‘perform’ it in front of an audience.

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Previous Lava Elastic guests, Blanket Fort.

Malady Mag also got in touch with an opportunity. Would you be prepared to talk about your learning disability? Yes, yes I would. Even though that – something I have never done in front of an audience before –  scares the c*** out of me. I’d had an idea for a blog post that was requestioned for this speech; it is called The Reason I Jump, dealing with the cross-section of Autism and Journalism. (And yes, it gets the name from the book.)

On International Women’s Day, I performed The Neurotypical Epidemic. I was still recovering from illness, and had walked right through the unrelenting rain. Five minutes before, the host said “are you sure you want to do just one?” After all, it’s very short. I chose No Means Yes: Pick Up Advice For Women by Salena Godden. 

Malady Magazine: 

The next day I was at the Science Gallery in London; talking to people one on one as a ‘human book’ with a reading of The Reason I Jump, then speaking about Aspergers Syndrome on an informal panel, was something I had never done before.

Yes, I was terrified at times. You could probably hear it through me blabbering; by the end of the Malady event, my voice essentially gave out. (Still has yet to come back at time of writing!) I also sometimes felt like I didn’t have anything to add, simply because the other panellists were a stellar cast in themselves. (You also know you said something wrong when there is a collective drawing in of breath in the room!)

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What I learnt? Simply put; it shouldn’t matter, because by the end of the day, you probably will not be seeing these people again. They aren’t going ‘punish’ you – like they may have done at secondary school. Besides, audiences are just people too, come together as a group.

When it comes to networking, “you don’t ask, you don’t get” is probably best deployed here; I’ll be referring back to my own piece on Debut Careers from time to time for this reason.