Twice in my life I have sat and hidden under a table and cried.
The first time, I was six years old. We had just moved to Peterborough, and I was starting a new school with a new teacher and a class full of students that I didn't know. It want my first day at my new school and we were all sat on the carpet, I remember moving further and further back as more kids arrived in class and sat on the carpet, and I found myself under a table. Once there, I cried until the teacher noticed where I was hidden and came to rescue me and introduce me to the class. Miss Durwood didn't mention I was under the table, nor my tears, she just introduced me, found me a friend and that was that, no biggie.
The second time, I was 17 years old, yes really. I was 17 years old, I was completing my A levels and I had to stand up and give a presentation to the class. I'd spoken in front of groups before, but I avoided anything where I had to follow a script. I just couldn't do it. I'd been sent off to rehearse to different rooms along with everyone else in the class, different rooms, different corners and different things to rehearse. As expected, I stood up, started well, forgot what came next, froze, went into a panic and somehow found myself under a table again, for the second time in my life, under a table, in tears at school surrounded by my classmates.
A year later and I had to deliver presentations as part of a selection process for a management trainee scheme. I kept rehearsing, I kept forgetting what to say, I kept panicking and I knew that if broke down in tears, froze, or ended up under a table I would not be seen a management trainee material and I would not get the job.
I stopped rehearsing, I tried to focus on remembering the key points, and I took my own timer and I spoke. I watched the clock whilst maintaining eye contact as much as possible and for the most part I winged it. I forgot one of the key points but I survived. I survived, I delivered the presentation and I got the job. I did not end up under the table, I did not freeze, I did not cry.
And since then, I've been winging it for every single presentation I have delivered, every speech I've had to make, every webinar I've ever hosted and every podcast I've ever recorded. I threw the rulebook out the window that tells us to prepare, rehearse, talk to ourselves in the mirror or pretend the audience is naked. I don't have a problem speaking in public, I have a problem with remembering lines and I panic if I forget them.
When I was completing my Psychotherapy qualification we had to remember, rehearse, and be recorded delivering a scripted intro the session. The teacher focused my mindset on success, I even had some hypnotherapy to try and help me remember exactly what I needed to say, and still I went blank, I panicked and I could not remember what to say. So I forgot about the script and I delivered it how I'd delivered it with all of my practice clients - I passed the assessment. I did it my way, remembered all of the key points and passed the assessment.
I can speak on stages in front of 10,000 people, and I never freeze, panic, run off stage or cry under a table. I've found a way that works for me. I speak from the heart and I deliver great talks, I'm told inspiring talks to large audiences, but I never, ever prepare a script. If I can get away with it I never prepare a powerpoint. I don't have flash cards. I don't rehearse. And I get asked back to deliver talks time and time again.
I don't have any magic hints or tips, I don't have a formula for success, I just removed the part that made things difficult and I started to do it my way.
For many of us, having to play by the rules confines us. It removes our personality, our strengths and our skills and it can stick us in a box where we feel trapped and unable to be our true selves. This can be one of the greatest barriers to our success in our roles, not just to public speaking, but to many other areas of our work and career.
The trick then, is finding our own way, being ourselves and doing what works for us. Scripts I learned, are for those who can remember exactly what to say, who want to be totally prepared and well rehearsed. I just want to add value, and I can only do that by being me.
Where in your life would you like to hide under a table? How can you set yourself free?
Kelly is an Executive Coach and Global Empowerment Coach for Leaders and HR Professionals at kellyswingler.com. She leads and coaches with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can all love our roles, find balance in our lives and so that we can all change the world of work for the better.