Public speaking. Well, speaking publicly in front of ten unfamiliar faces who are thought leaders in their respective industries and professions. These much older people have years of experience and I have to convince them that whatever I said was intelligent.
An alien spacecraft must have abducted me during my sleep and performed a brain transplant when I agreed to moderate the event last Tuesday. How hard could it possibly be, right? I just had to smile, nod, smile some more, direct questions to people and smile non-stop. Right.
See, the thing is I never thought I would have anything important to say that people would listen. Attentively, I have to add. Mostly, as many of you can attest to this, I get tongue-tied around crowds. My face would turn red, I would get all nervous and my eyes start wandering around, trying to a safe spot to bury myself under. I get literally hot under the collar and I start mumbling gibberish. Now this even happens when someone – yes, ONE person – looks at me attentively. I have never learned to deal with the intense spotlight. Until now.
I wanted to memorise some notes, along with a little speech about the topic we were going to discuss. But yeah, doing work after 7pm has never appealed to me so I thought I would just wing it. Along with a long impromptu praying session on the cab to the venue the next morning. Obviously.
Five minutes into the event, I was trying to match faces to the names, hoping I won’t mix any of them up when I had to address them later. But even looking awesome in a suit can only get me so far without making a fool of myself. That’s right. If you haven’t noticed it by now from my blog posts, the simple truth is I can never be cool.
My first faux pas was forgetting to invite these guests to start eating as we started the dialogue so everyone was politely waiting for someone to say they could start eating. The AWKWARD moment was as thick as the high-density volcanic ash cloud that settled after Mount Eyjafjallajökull erupted. The white hungry elephant in that room is mocking me still. So yes, remember to get people started on the food and drinks next time, I shamefully wrote in my mental diary.
Since this was a breakfast event, we had to eat and talk, sometimes all at the same time. Tricky. It’s a skill that was never taught in school. If it was, I must have been playing truant or sleeping in class. And I didn’t have time to Google for help. So I had to wait till someone was speaking, so I could shove chunks of food in while they talk, just in case I had to carry on where they left off. I didn’t want to be caught with ten faces turning to me simultaneously while my fork was midway into my mouth already cramped with food. So yeah, I am not going to tell you how many times that happened. Bite me.
Oh and I found myself smiling, nodding and listening intently at whoever was speaking for two and half hours straight. It helps encourage people to continue adding onto the discussion. But of course, I mainly did that because it keeps me awake. Hey, you try talking about serious issues about retaining and motivating employees at 8.25am, let’s see how you’d like it.
And then there were some who enjoyed listening to their voices way too much. They rambled on and on and on until I could see my entire future flashing out in front of me. In fact, my future said I was this close to ensuring the extinction of their lineage. After all, the rest were equally more interested in fiddling with the cloth napkin in front of them. No one would notice! Instead, I politely reined the talkative ones in while passing the baton to someone who hadn’t had a chance to speak yet. It’s finding a balance, making sure everyone gets an almost equal share of airtime. All with my mouth still FULL of food.
Even though the conversation was pulled to different directions at times, and there I was thinking “Ahhhhh, would this be relevant to them? Should I eat that last piece of fruit on my plate? When can I interrupt that lady who seriously needs to stay on topic? How can I get another cup of coffee?”
Turns out these people enjoyed it when someone, especially if it’s themselves, came up with something creative or a new idea that somehow relate to the challenges they are facing at work. Plus, asking everyone to summarise what they are taking away from the discussion at the end gave everyone a feel-good moment because they got to reflect on the intellectual things that were said.
Overall, I really enjoyed my first roundtable very much and I can’t wait to do the next one! I thought I would be nervous and fumble when I speak in public. But you see, I am one of those who like rising up to the [occasional] challenge.
What pleases me the most though was how everyone came up to me at the end of it and said things like, “Hey thank you, I really enjoy the discussion.”, “I didn’t know what to expect and this was a great insight sharing session.”, “At first I thought this was going to be a sales pitch, but this was better.”, “When can I look forward to the next event.”
But really, the compliments I got the most kick out of were when some of them told me how they love my outfit and they have never seen someone as well-dressed like me. Or they love my red Dr Martens. Yes, Internet, I am shallow like that.
Maybe they were just being kind but it really is a huge confidence booster for my next public event. So this is a big step up for me. I am really getting a feel for my new role now.
Yeah baby, I aced it alright.