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Yup, public speaking still terrifies me.

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

As a speaker on female leaders and visibility, people expect me to be comfortable in the spotlight. I probably look like I am.

It comes as a surprise to many when I unpack the process of nerves I go through every time I have a big speech coming up.

Here are some of the things I experience:

  • Fingers-in-ears-la-la-la denial that the speaking gig exists, leading to unwillingness to work on my speech (I have to hire one of my team to coach me, or I won’t prepare properly).
  • Tummy churning nights imagining frowning faces staring blankly at me as I speak. Yes, they’re both blank and frowning.
  • Fantasies about a major disaster shutting down the whole of London so that the event is cancelled and I don’t have to do it. I picture myself saying: ‘oh gosh, how terrible, I’m so sorry we can’t go ahead’ and then later, ‘oh no! It’s rescheduled for that day? I can’t make it. Not poss. Damn…’
  • Reading the bios and talk titles of all the other speakers on the programme and feeling like a foolish, stupid little girl in comparison (otherwise known as impostor syndrome).
  • That waiting-for-the-gallows feeling as the speaker before me finishes up. I’m staring at my notes, not really taking them in, wondering if any part of my speech is still lingering in my head.

Yes, I experience these things.

When I tell other female leaders this, they’re often reassured and emboldened.

They understand that I’m scared, they see that I have multiple opportunities to back away from the spotlight – and yet I get up and give it a damn good shot anyway.

The truth is:

We don’t need to feel confident to get our voices heard.

We don’t need to wait until we feel comfortable to speak up in a meeting, to put ourselves forward for a speaking gig, to post a video stating our vision.

We don’t need to wait, in fact we mustn’t wait.

It’s the very act of bravely flinging yourself at something scary that gets you ready to do it.

You don’t need to feel confident and you don’t need to feel ready.

I see this time and again with women’s leadership programmes I run. Don’t think you can speak with gravitas? – Get up and do it. Don’t think you’ve got a vision? – Get up and have a go. Don’t think you could deliver a kick-ass speech at the House of Commons? – You may just prove yourself wrong.

Last week I was at the POWERful Women Energy Conference hearing how only 7% of board seats in the Oil & Gas industry are held by women. The view from other industries isn’t much rosier.

How many more women could we see in positions of visibility if we’re simply more willing to put ourselves forward for opportunities? If we didn’t let the nerves make our decisions about whether we speak at that event, but said ‘yes’, before we feel ready.

We have to realise that our nerves around public speaking – and other acts of visibility – aren’t a good reason to avoid speaking up. If we don’t, we’re not doing our part to shift these numbers.

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

The UK’s leading inspiring speaking expert & best-selling author. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a multiple-award winning public speaking coach, founder of Ginger and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson).

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