There's one thing that's guaranteed to get my heart pumping. It's not in a good way though. See the thing is, I often have to talk to groups of people. Normally, I think I'm pretty confident. I can hold my own, and say my piece, but put me in front of a group of people, all looking, all listening, and ask me to talk to them, and I'll fall to pieces. I'm not even kidding when I say it's the hardest thing I have to do.
If I have someone there beside me then it's better, they act as my safety net in case I say something stupid, or lose track of where I'm going, but if I have to do it on my own things get pretty unpleasant pretty quickly. I can feel the heat rising up my body, my cheeks start going red, and my armpits get that familiar prickly feeling as I start to realise the situation I've put myself in.
A few years ago I had to give a talk to a group of academics at Warwick University. I said had, but I did have a choice. I could have said no, and it would have been fine, and life would have gone on, but I decided to say yes, because I thought it would be a good experience. I remember thinking to myself that this would be an excellent opportunity to face my fears, to talk about something I know well and something I'm passionate about. It sounded like an excellent plan, and for a while I convinced myself that it would be alright.
That spell broke once I actually arrived at the university and saw the running order for the day.
I was first to speak. Before anyone else. Shit.
If I was first on then that meant that everyone would be alert. They'd be all perky, and ready to really listen to my talk. They'd be paying attention, and worst of all they'd be aware of the stupid things I'd inevitably say. To make matters worse I also found out that it would be filmed as well. My stupidity would be immortalised. On YouTube. For everyone to see.
As I sat in my hotel room, an hour before giving the talk I seriously thought about feigning food poisoning.
Of course I didn't. Instead I walked, as slowly as I could manage, to the place where the seminars were happening, and I did my talk. It was about community building and gender identity in relation to a website I help run (If you're interested, the website is www.genderfork.com) and well, you know that thing where people say it's never as bad as you imagine it'll be? It would be fair to say that that wasn't the case here. It was terrifying. I'm fairly certain I gave a pretty awkward talk, and you know that other thing where they say that once you get into it it'll be fine? That also appears to be a huge great big lie. I managed to talk for about 20 minutes, but I think that was more because I was stumbling over what I was saying than anything else. I still can't bring myself to actually watch the video they made of it.
I don't even know why I find it so difficult. It's just talking, and I do loads of that every day. I talk to complete strangers all the time and never have a problem, but put me in front of a group of them, and everything falls to pieces.
Maybe it's to do with the listening. Maybe it's because I have a group of people all listening to what I'm saying. That pressure feels pretty intense, and I'm acutely aware that I can't really get it wrong. Maybe it's because if I say stuff, and it is wrong, that people might believe what I'm saying. Maybe it's simply because people might actually want to listen.
I'm not used to people listening. I'm not used to being an expert on something, a go to person in a particular field. That feels alien to me, as I don't think I'm that important in relation to other people. Other people are more knowledgeable people, other people are more capable people. Why would you listen to me?
Or maybe it's because I'm afraid of being called out. Called out over something I've said, or worse, called out as a fake.
When I was giving that talk at Warwick Uni I felt like an imposter. I felt like at any moment someone was going to stand up and question my validity to be there, to question my credentials in regards to what I was talking about.
This wasn't a judgement on the people I was talking to, but rather a judgement on myself. I expect people to ask "Who is this person?", to comment about how I don't even have a wiki page, or about how insignificant I am in relation to those more knowledgeable, more capable people. I expect judgement and rejection, rather than recognition.
That I guess reflects in how I react to public speaking, and that's why I feel scared, and vulnerable. The confidence I have in every other aspect of my life evaporates when I'm in front of a crowd. My perceived expectations of them consume everything.
And yet, I still do it. I still push myself to speak in front of groups of people. Only yesterday I signed myself up for an open mic night. I'm going to read a piece I wrote about intimacy. It's way more personal that talking about community building on the internet, and yet, if I'm going to get over this fear, this is exactly the sort of thing I'm going to have to do.
And I do want to get over this. I want to get better at this. I hate not being good at this. I hate it more than actually doing it. That's the thing that will drive me to keep on putting myself out there, pushing my boundaries, speaking in front of strangers.
I hope one day, if I do it enough, that it'll feel normal. That I'll just stand up, say my piece, and not worry about all that comes with it. I'd like to move past the feelings of validity, and judgement, and just be alright.
Deep down, really deep down, I know I am a knowledgeable and capable person. It's buried under a landslide of insecurity and anxiety, but it's there none the less. I just have to let the constant erosion that comes from speaking in front of groups of people reveal it. And once it does? Well then, maybe, at long last, I'll be able to watch that damn YouTube video.