07 Nov How the KEEN Digital Summit cured my fear of public speaking
After my two-step tango with a multi-billion dollar juggernaut that spanned 3 countries, 6 cities, and 4 very confused parental units, I received the unexpected, and arguably unearned, offer to speak at the KEEN Digital Summit in Nashville. The conference is comprised of awarding winner journalists, social media darlings, magazine editors, public relations strategists, serial entrepreneurs, and now, it appears, a dipshit, unemployable blogger.
While the invitation brought with it a sense of accomplishment that I was finally making progress in the online world, it also forced me to confront my two biggest fears. The first, that I must finally confess to label of travel blogger as my official job title on the event’s program for simplicity sake. This is new and uncharted territory for me, as my typical response when asked what is my chosen profession is to abdicate the responsibility of telling what I do to my nearest compatriot, or in the case of being left alone to my own devices, a few words of uncomfortable, sarcastic deflection and mumbling, hoping that the seemingly interested party loses interest at what I actually do. And my second greatest fear: donning the microphone in front of a crowd.
I do not tell this secret lightly, but it must be told: I get the shakes when I get in front of a podium. This, of course, is not a surprising detail to the average person about an average person. Public speaking is said to be people’s greatest fear – even over the most definitive of truths: you are going to die. But what makes my case particular jarring, for my narcissistically inclined self anyway, is the fact that people believe I would be a natural public speaker. Put me at a table with Jack Daniels in one hand and the even the most distracted and disinterested of ears I will enrapture with a yarn about a mysterious murder in Cuba, dashing through the Austrian Alps in a strange toboggan with Alpine men dressed as the ghoulish Krampus for a holiday extravaganza, or even as simple as recounting my daily duty of cleaning up tiger excrement and fur balls courtesy of my latest travel job. No – I will confess my secret of all secrets. When the time comes for me to actually stand tall and bear that unbearable electronic device, I shutter to think of myself in the room full of people sitting in wait, expecting me to rouse to the same level of willful exuberant storytelling as I do at that table with the Jack clenched in my hand.
The word ‘fraud’ is a scary yet completely plausible outcome when online personalities collide with real people in the real world. It is the Kryponite bloggers rarely speak of. The unholiest of unholies that keeps us up at at night, and well liquored up when we attend conferences.
I somehow weaseled my way out of the required speech class in high school. I don’t know how I did it – probably using the same skill I wield at the table with the Jack – but what I do know, deep at my core, is that that room terrifies me.
Nonetheless – at the end of the day – they, our collective imagination of grandfatherly advice, dictates that we must face our fears or forever be ruled by them.
You must face your fears.
You must rise to the challenge.
You must embrace the unknown.
And if that fails, there is always the old standby of imagining everyone in their underwear.
Note to future public speakers: imagining people in their underwear does not really work and should be used with extreme prejudice. If you happen to be speaking at a conference in say the Southern Mediterranean, you may find yourself suddenly more aroused than able to make speech. Alternatively, if you find yourself in America, you may feel such a sense of disgust that you may never in fact be able to eat again much less make coitus.
Wait — What would Johnny do? Make a run for it? Or stand his ground and take it like a man?
Nay – for my first foray into public speaking I just relaxed, took a deep breath, and just as words were about to dribble out of my mouth…
Hey thur suga pie, ya’ll want a whiskey or a bourbon or sumthang before ya’ll go on stage?
Salvation arrives in mysterious forms when visiting the Bible Belt.
My role as a public speaker at KEEN may have been one of my shortest lived jobs to date – a whooping 45 minutes, with of course my fellow, much more distinguished panelists (magazine editors, business owners, adults and such) pulling weight when I had to hem and haw and pretend that I actually knew what the hell ‘Creating Killer Content Across Multiple Platforms’ actually meant.
But the important thing is that I now know I can take that dreaded mic in front of a half-asleep, half-hungover crowd and rabble out the words needed to form some semblance of English prose when the time comes. My deep seeded fear of sputtering incoherent incantations of social media buzzwords like ‘pivot’ and ‘synergy’ subsided as I eased into my new job as a public speaker and nodded my head along in knowing fashion. But what I am left with, what I am most relieved to learn and what I am most excited to say, is that I no longer need Jack to muster the courage to take on that crowd.
For who needs Jack, when you have a Dickel.