Have you ever found yourself sitting in a circle of people, perhaps a business meeting or some group, and they have everyone in the group, one at a time, introduce themselves? They want you to say your name, where you’re from maybe and say a little bit about yourself. These situations told me early on that I had an incredible fear of talking in public! It blew my mind as I have never had a problem getting in front of an audience and singing, it is the open mouth, let words fall out thing that I couldn’t handle! Ironic that now I am an on-air personality at a radio station, and I have been for a little under 20 years. How in the heck did I make that happen? Speaking in front of people terrified me!
I worked for a merchandising service company as a district manager. With the company, all of the field personnel worked from their home; I did just that for seven years. With the new job in a new state, the company hired a new Vice President, Bob. He would be over the entire west coast, fortunately for me, he happened to be in the same city that I was. We decided rather than both of us work out of our homes; we would get an office where we could hire assistants to help us. For the first time in a long time, I had a place to go! After seven years, you do miss human contact when you are working at home all the time. Trying to get the mailman or UPS man to come in for coffee doesn’t work; I didn’t know anyone!
Bob didn’t know I had a fear of speaking, so it was a funny coincidence when he offered for me to take the Dale Carnegie public speaking course. I knew it would force me out of my comfort zone, but it also teaches many powerful ways to help attendees succeed in business. I have always jumped whenever I had a chance to improve myself; I hadn’t thought about Dale Carnegie. Heck yes, I will take the course! Happily! I’m sure I couldn’t have afforded it myself, so I registered and got started right away.
I was thrilled to see that out of the 40 or so participants, 40 of us were all terrified of speaking in front of others. At least we would be in it together. I got to be good friends with some of the other scaredy-cats; we would practice our speeches together.
In the course, they taught us right out of the gate how to memorize names and lists of things. I still use the methods to this day, especially when I make a mental list of what I need at the grocery store. If someone heard me talking to myself, they would question what I was doing as I am talking about a carton of milk on top of a horse or a loaf of bread stuck in a gate. Weird, yes, I know.
They gave you solid fundamentals for successful speeches and homework after each lesson in the 8-week course. You were to go home and create a speech based on the specific homework and come back the following week to give your 2-minute speech. The most important part was making sure all of the important points were covered and you remove any of the unnecessary fluff. It makes it a short yet very effective speech.
It was a few years ago, and I have no recollection of most of my speeches, but I will never forget the last one on the night we would graduate. I came out of the back of the room with a hanger situated over my head sticking about 12” in front of my face. Hanging from the hanger was a string and a hot dog. As I moved forward to the front of the room, clearly I could never catch up with the hot dog and that would be the point of my speech.
I talked about how the hot dog represented my life. I had a dream, a thing I was supposed to be doing, but I never caught up with it. All of my life to this time was the vision of what I wanted to be doing yet it would always remain 12” in front of me. This woman who knew she was supposed to be doing something incredible with her life was constantly just like the water in a toilet bowl, just circling around and around and around. I would always work at a random job and keep a paycheck coming in. I wasn’t quite sure what exactly I was supposed to be doing, but I knew it had to do with public speaking! Me, the big scaredy-cat!!
My speech went over so well that night I won the award for the most outstanding speaker. The award itself was one of Dale Carnegie’s books, signed by all of the people in the class. Getting this award came at a great time as it was the final night and I needed a push, anything to get me “in front” of people again. I certainly couldn’t force myself on my own.
After graduation, the course leader asked if I would be interested in coming back and being a graduate assistant for future courses. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, as I knew it would help me push myself over and over again to practice what had been my biggest fear.
As a grad assistant, you demonstrate to the new students examples of speeches and show them how to do the memorization skills, which always impressed those witnessing it for the first time. I had eight more nights of speaking to a group, and I relished every moment.
My career with the company came crashing to an end about six months after I finished the course. The company had been taken over by a competitor, and once the sale was final, all upper management was let go. For me, this was another exciting moment in my life. When doors close for me, windows start flying open all over the place. I have always known; these drastic changes are not the end of something but the beginning of my next steps.
I’m always excited when a door closes, and it’s time to move on. Life is forward moving. I don’t look back, I don’t worry about what I could have done differently. I await the next challenge and go forward with every ounce of my being.