Public speaking is one of the most common fears to plague mankind. And it doesn't help when three other people talk before you who all have letters in front and after their names. I only have letters in my name.
The few days beforehand were a sea of calm because I didn't think about it, otherwise I wouldn't have done it. My subconscious threw me on a train from London to Cambridge with no more than a few scribbles in a notepad, and I only thought ‘oh crap’ when I sat on the stage in front of eager faces. Faces that were looking at me. The only time I could recall having more than two faces looking at me at once was in a job interview. Or when I've looked at my reflection in a mirror facing a mirror.What I would have given to be in a job interview.
I sat on stage and listened as three intimidatingly intelligent people took it in turns to talk about anxiety and stress. Nerves invaded my whole body and made me feel ill, so I threw the contents of a bottle of water - one that had kindly been placed under my seat - down my throat. Although, it did make me feel special to have been given a bottle of water.
But I told myself it was fine, that the anxiety I was feeling was a good thing. Maybe my dilated pupils and shaking hands would make my talking about having anxiety more believable.
My turn came around ten times quicker than I'd expected. I walked over to the podium and awkwardly clawed at the microphone, repositioning it in an attempt to postpone having to open my mouth.
The only words going round my mind were the scrambled contents of a joke I'd thought of to start my talk with. The only problem was that the rest of my speech had ran out of the lecture hall and left me behind, desperate to do the same.
But the words all came out in some sort of coherent order, and I didn’t fall over/pass out/cry/die. I discovered that talking to a room full of people who are focused on what you're saying (or pretending to be) is a peculiar feeling, and one that I wanted to have again as soon as I sat back down.
Then the audience asked questions. One person wanted advice on how to deal with a panic attack. There I was with my usual air of self-doubt, heightened by the experts and professors sitting next to me, forgetting that I had years of experience with something that warranted me to talk with some degree of authority.
After the talk, a few audience members came up to me, and one asked my advice on her own anxiety disorder. And in that moment every struggle I'd ever had felt like it had been worth something.
Some people could talk to a room full of people as if it were empty. Others, like myself, have nightmares about it. But if you have something to say that you want people to know, and you have passion behind what you're saying, fear is as easy to swallow as a free bottle of water.