Despite the fact that I work in comedy and have a previously illustrious career in marketing and public relations I am, like a lot of people, desperately insecure about speaking in public. I must emphasise 'insecure' because this is key. This fact threatened my enjoyment of delivering a talk for TEDx Whitehall Women at the end of May.
I love the whole idea of public speaking - preparing the talk, visualising how it will all pan out on stage, getting that first laugh and then the heady elation when it's all over and the crowd applauds. In those moments I fantasise about being a slimmer, more youthful and articulate version of myself. Yet add a roving camera or two and a film crew into the mix and I start to fragment inside. I am not confident about the 'real' me being on show to the world.
I am not alone. A New York Times survey in 1984 placed death third in a list of people's biggest fears. The first two were walking into a room full of strangers and speaking in public. So the whole TED phenomena taps into our inner fears and, as somebody who sends people out night after night to perform stand up, this was a rite of passage for me.
TED and its following of TEDx independently organised events are akin to the comedy circuit in structure with a variety of performers and speakers talking for anything between five and 18 minutes. TED began in 1984 as a conference in California where 'Technology, Entertainment and Design' converged, and content covers all bases from science to business to global issues in more than 100 languages. I really wanted to be a part of this worldwide vocal community despite the fact that I am most comfortable helping other people to fulfil their dreams to perform.
I have honestly eschewed my own public persona in favour of some of the best new female comedy talent on the circuit over the last 13 years. They are the real life blood of Funny Women. I am a happy 'backroom girl' and enjoy a reputation for encouraging 'first timers' on to the stand-up stage. I am used to being upstaged by the brilliant performers we bring through the Funny Women Awards and workshops, which is exactly how it should be. If I had wanted to be a comedian myself I would have done it.
In this particular case I am extraordinarily grateful to the wonderful team behind TEDx Whitehall Women, who encouraged me back on to the stage to share some of my ideas. Last year they also booked me to speak at a couple of conferences and now almost a year on I have rediscovered some of the confidence that inhabited the 'Old Lynne' who in her heyday even had her own fashion and beauty strand on cable television!
What happened to me is common. I got married, had two kids, worked my socks off to run a business and keep a family on their toes and somewhere along the way 'Old Lynne' disappeared. Add in a dose or two of confidence killers like disappointment, failure and regret and you've got a recipe for being the conference wallflower - that is attending and not speaking!
So when plans for the TEDx Whitehall Women event this year got underway I had a momentary out of body experience when I heard myself volunteering to speak. What I hadn't bargained for was the pressure I would put myself under. Apart from content, slides and trusting my own abilities to perform already familiar material drawn from my everyday working life, I wanted to look good too.
There, I've admitted it! I am not even particularly vain but the fact that this talk was being filmed put an overwhelming pressure on me. Much energy was taken up deciding on what to wear and 'faffing' about cue cards so that I could recite quotes from an important piece of research. I think in retrospect these distractions were all part of my anxiety ritual and when it came to the big day none of this mattered.
So, it's done. For better or worse. TED taught me to embrace what I am and be myself - the two things I tell my comedy students all the time. I am older and a great deal wiser than the ballsy 30-year-old-television-presenter me and feel comfortable in my knowledge and experience. I talk about what I know and what I have learned along the way about how women and men think and operate differently drawn from working in comedy and beyond.
I am back on the horse and will be speaking in public again next week on Thursday 18th June at the Inspire Women conference in Liverpool organised by This Lady Loves. Details HERE. See you there!
You can also watch my talk for TEDx Whitehall Women about 'the power of female humour in the workplace' HERE.