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I Was Terrified (to Deliver This Talk)

Hi there, it’s Ruth Sherman, CEO and Celebrity Speech and Media coach, but you don’t have to be famous to work with me. I was so nervous. No, really, super nervous, like I hadn’t felt in a long time. So here’s the scoop. I attended this event with Suzanne Evans and Larry Winget. Suzanne is my coach and Larry is a well-known motivational speaker and Suzanne is a terrific presenter and speaker, too. Larry earns 30K per speech and he’s been doing it for 25 years.

This event was terrific in so many ways, but what really made it stand out were the activities. These were all learn by doing. So we walked in to register having been warned that registration would take a 35, 45 minutes and to come camera ready. First hint. During registration we were systematically and quickly shuttled through several different activities. First was makeup. I didn’t need any of that. Then, we were right into a photography line for a headshot. After that, we got in a short line and we were handed a laminated script to review – it reminded me of my old theatre and commercial audition days.

This was for a quick video, which was fun and, frankly, a piece of cake. The next two days packed with information and demonstrations. Larry gave his main keynote and dissected it for us to show us how every, single word and story was planned. It was fascinating. Suzanne told some amazing stories with and they both explained why they were so important and how to do them. We completed work sheets and handed them in.

Then, the 3rd day and the final evening, right before dinner, we were given an assignment. We were told that we’d be doing a 1-minute speech in front of everyone and we’d be judged and given a score. We’d be cut off after that 1 minute. So besides the time limit, there were content restrictions that had to fall within certain parameters.

So, of course, I licked my lips and went back to my room. I had M & Ms and Pringles for dinner and got to work. Now I know what you may be thinking, You may be thinking, “Ruth, you do this all the time. Couldn’t you easily come up with 60 seconds worth of speech?” Yeah, I could and I did. But it also had to fit those content rules and I always like to get an A. So I reviewed what I had and came up with a minute’s worth of material. I’ll tell you, I wasn’t crazy about it, but I felt I only had a short time to review, to polish, to rehearse it out loud, to time it, and then, dress up — oh, forgot to tell you that we had to look stage-ready.

As I sat there in the room with everybody, with my colleagues, and the judge, I found myself getting more and more nervous. My heart was beating like crazy. I also was ruminating on the content that I wasn’t crazy about, that I’d prepared. So, at the last minute, I decided to change it. I realized I needed something funny in there somewhere, make it more entertaining. So I silently went over a new script in my head (I know, I tell people that doesn’t count as rehearsal, saying it in your head, that is) and timed it with my my smart phone and I said it “out loud” in my head and I had said it out loud in many, many times, so I knew how it would come out.

Of course, my turn came sooner than I was ready and I felt the fog descend. The fog is what I call that out of body experience when you’re there, on-stage, but you’re not there. It’s like you’re on autopilot. I was ready. They handed me the mic, queued up the clocks, and just as I was about to speak, Suzanne and Larry walked into the room to “observe.” Oh. My. God.

The next thing I knew, I was walking back to my seat. Seriously, I’d had like a mind-melt. I really felt like I needed a drink.

Now, I got a perfect score. Which surprised me because I was so nervous, I didn’t feel I was at my best. But because I am so practiced at this, because it is muscle memory, and I have experience, I pulled it off. And, as I tell my clients, stage fright is helpful, but only if you’re prepared, and having experience is being prepared. So even my not the best was better than most. In fact, speaking to a number of people after that, I was surprised to hear they didn’t practice. They went to dinner. They just don’t know what it likes, or what it’s like, or what it looks like on the other side of that experience and rehearsal.

So that’s my story of extreme stage fright. It was kind of good to feel it again, actually. And it was also good to know that this stuff works.

And it can work for you, too.

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