The true terror began when I saw the room.
A friend sent me a photo of the room I was to be speaking in at my first national EMS conference just a few days before the event. As soon as I saw it the pit of mindless fear opened in my belly. Until that point, I almost felt as if I was preparing a program for someone else to present. That made it easier to quell the relentless voice in my head asking, “What if you mess up?” If you thought the world of EMS was small, I would call the circle of speakers at EMS conferences miniscule. Everyone truly knows everyone. If I blew it, this was the only chance I would ever get.
Previously, I had been encouraged to submit to other conferences, but I was not ready. Trepidation and doubt nailed my feet to the floor. Submission dates passed and the encouraging voices waned. I had no intention of applying to this conference either, but someone reminded me about the deadline the afternoon it was due: New Years Eve. I heard somewhere that what you do on New Years Eve is what you will do all year. I submitted, not thinking I would ever get accepted. Imagine my surprise when I received an acceptance letter.
Now was the time to put up or shut up. My chosen topic was The Silent Killer: EMS Suicide. I wondered why on earth I picked such a sensitive topic to talk about at my first event. I had previously had mixed reactions from different providers during discussions including quite a loud, angry discussion at what had originated as a fun outing.
Of course, I had writer’s block for weeks while I was supposed to be updating my presentation. Intermittently, when I thought of me in front of the audience, all I could imagine was disaster. A good friend encouraged me to close my eyes and imagine every detail to the perfect performance: what I would wear, how my hair was styled, what the Power Point would look like behind me, how full the room was, and most importantly: the positive audience reaction. Thankfully, I also had an honest mentor that when I thought I was done (YES!), returned my slides back to me with more comments. His suggestions improved my presentation exponentially. If you intend on moving up in this business, clinical or otherwise, you need to find a mentor in the area you wish to excel in.
The day to present finally came. I woke up with my stomach tight and my attempt at breakfast was poorly received. I didn’t go on for another 6 hours! It was going to be a very long day indeed. I watched some other classes and found my mind wandering back to my subject matter while I wondered aimlessly around the host hotel and eventually decided to review one more time. It comforted me to run through the slides and make notes like someone with OCD arranges their desk over and over.
About 20 minutes before I was scheduled to start, I went to find my assigned room and attempt to mentally prepare and put on the business face. I felt like an imposter when I walked to the front of the room to load my presentation. Everyone’s eyes felt like an accusation, “You don’t belong up there!”
The room started to get a little fuller and it was time to begin. I opened my mouth to introduce myself and the fear that had plagued me for weeks dissipated with every returned smile from the audience. I spoke and spoke, people nodding in agreement, smiling at anecdotes, silent when convicted. I shared secrets I only realized I had days before, the vulnerability uniting us, members of a secret club, no longer alone. I concluded and people came up to hug me and shake my hand. One young woman came up to me, speechless only able to utter, “ I just wanted to say thank you.” My friends surrounded me as I surrendered the lectern to the next speaker, the terror of just an hour ago growing into an indescribable high. And as I walked out of the room the joy and excitement bubbling from my heart I wondered, “When can I do it again?!?”
Maybe this is how you feel about public speaking. Maybe you think, “ I could NEVER do that.” Is there a topic you are passionate about? If you don’t talk about it, who will? I’m just a provider with an interest that stood up and said something.
What do you have to say?