That’s not to say that Rochester gives people anxiety (can’t wait for that email), but here is a quick story on dealing with anxiety as it relates to public speaking and personal fulfillment.
This past week, I was given the distinct opportunity to speak at the State University of New York at Brockport (about a stone’s throw away from Rochester).
As some of you already know, this was a great experience for me, which is partly because I actually lived in Rochester briefly as a child. I brought one of my best friends with me, and we had a myriad of adventures as I prepared to give what has become my longest explanation of the Pixar Theory in front of a large audience.
You see, the theory has evolved extensively since it was first published in July, so I was excited (and anxious) to reveal new information and updates to the theory that people would react to in real-time.
I had a lot of fun doing this, but there was also a ton of anxiety that came into play. During the trip, a lot of stress from work and different projects I’ve been working on weighed down on me during my mini-vacation (and yes, I consider speaking engagements my type of vacation), and it made me feel very anxious right before I gave the speech.
Somehow, I did manage to deal with it, and I’d like to lend my approach to anxiety that you may find useful. That said, nothing beats a professional opinion on reducing anxiety, which you can find here.
The troubling questions I was asking myself on the day of the speech included:
- What if someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to?
- What if I’m boring?
- What if no one shows up to the event?
- What if I forget something?
And so on.
The trouble with these questions is that they don’t have easy solutions. I could have very well shown up at this event and been a boring mess in front of one or two people. For me, anxiety is usually eased by solving the problem at hand, but sometimes, we don’t really have any control over what’s ahead of us.
About an hour before the presentation, I was interviewed by a radio station to answer some questions and just talk. I was sitting in that chair thinking about how exciting it has been to talk about something I love with so many people, and I started to feel encouraged by something by boss had told me on the phone earlier that day:
“You’ve done your homework. You know what you’re talking about. You’re going to own this.“
Sure, I still had expectations. I wanted to be liked, and I wanted a good turnout. We all want to control the effects of our performance, but all we can really do is control our performance. I can’t force someone to like or appreciate the Pixar Theory, and I can’t expect to be successful in every life event I’ll ever have. If I do, I’ll find nothing but uncertainty and anxiety in my life.
I decided in that moment that I was going to accomplish one thing: talk about something I love as clearly as possible. Sure, I was still worried about how I would come across, but I balanced these worrisome thoughts with encouraging ones, like:
- It’s an honor for me to be here.
- People are proud of me.
- I know and love what I’m talking about.
I stepped onstage and gave my speech. I had a blast, and the audience was pretty receptive. Some of the people in the front row were especially enthusiastic, which was fun to see. Afterward, I asked my friend how I did, and what he said was actually pretty interesting.
“You looked relaxed up there. You were likable, and I could tell you were enjoying it.”
As far as I know, anxiety doesn’t really disappear. I’ll no doubt feel anxious again at some point, and many of you will too. But what I learned about anxiety in Rochester is that you shouldn’t focus on the things you have little to no effect on. I learned to dwell on the things I can do, what I’ve done and the great things I will do.
What does this mean for you? I certainly know that public speaking isn’t something I exclusively get anxious about, but almost all of us go through this in different ways. Whether you’re nervous about your future, your current relationships or anything else that you value, keep these things in mind:
- Be prepared. Do things now to ensure you’re ready for what’s coming.
- Learn from others. Don’t get too comfortable and let yourself be inspired by those who are better than you.
- Practice. Don’t put yourself out there immediately. Unless you’re faced with something unexpected, become as familiar and well-versed with (insert life event here) as possible.
For more tips on public speaking, you may also want to read: 5 Ways to Nail Your Next Presentation
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