The terror and joy of public speaking

I’ve just completed a speaking event at a conference. Anyone who’s ever spoken to a roomful of strangers will understand exactly what I’m talking about: it was hell.*

Before a conference, I dread it. And when I say dread it truly mean dread it. I see the date in my diary thundering towards me like Satan’s juggernaut. There’s no escaping it; time is coming to get me.

And in the moments before I go onstage I wonder – I always wonder, every time – what would happen if I just ran from the building screaming. I mean, would anyone really care? It might yield some interesting tweets from delegates (and of course it’d ruin my career) but that’s about the worst it would get.

At least, in those moments this is what I tell myself.

In these moments I desperately wish I was at home, with my lovely familiar things around me, curled up on the sofa – my lovely sofa – watching ‘Phil Spencer: Secret Agent.’ I don’t know why I always think about Phil Spencer but I do. Maybe it’s the way he confidently assures the freshly-emigrated that open-plan living really is the only way forward.

And then it’s almost time to go onstage.

And then I worry about the PA system; the laptop; fire alarms.

I’m convinced I’ll throw up. Or my skirt will fall down. Or I’ll suddenly start twitching. (All have oh-so nearly happened so these fears aren’t completely irrational).

And then, finally, I’m doing it. I’m onstage, and I’m actually speaking. Out loud and everything. I am coherent, professional. I’m riffing on a roll. By then I’m too embroiled to actually feel anything because I’m concentrating hard; summoning, relying on in my need to impress. To not fail.

Although to think about failing, to even name it in my own mind, is to summon the essence of this genius cartoon by Gary Larson.

We’ve all been Roger. You can see tennis champs becoming Roger when they keep serving double faults. Snooker players who pot the cue ball are all being Roger. Footballers sky-rocketing a penalty: Roger.

Oh yes, we’re all very capable of being Roger. But not me, not now, please not now. Just let me speak and finish the presentation without being stalked by failure, of the terrible risk of humiliation and shame.

And afterwards, my God afterwards when it’s over, I am grateful beyond words that it’s truly, finally over.

I am joyous.

And I experience a lightness of being probably only experienced by people who have been, but are no longer, profoundly constipated.

It is over. And I have survived. I’ve been enriched by the challenge. And I’ve grown.

For me, conference speaking is something I enjoy in retrospect. And that’s where I am right now. I bloody loved it. Every second of it.

I’m proud I spoke at that conference. Will I do it again? Of course. And will I be terrified?

Almost certainly yes. Yes, I will.


* Not strictly 100% true.


Want to hear some examples of me sort-of speaking in public (ie in pre-recorded audio meant for public consumption)?? Click here.

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Emma Clarke

Emma is an award-winning voiceover, broadcaster and writer. Want to find out more about Emma?
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