Uncomfortable talking with groups

Last month, I was talking with a group of professional women about taking risks to advance their careers. One participant in the program, a marketing manager, said, “My director wants to groom me to replace him, but he’s a real extrovert. I have a hard time talking with groups.” Otherwise, she was confident she could do all other aspects of the job.

I understood her fear. Years ago, when I was in HR, I managed New Employee Orientations. I was fine welcoming everyone but stood in the back of the room when the program started. Overseeing was my comfort zone. The spotlight was not.

One day my director said she wanted me in front of the room starting with the next NEO. She must have seen terror flicker in my eyes because she said, “The only way you’re going to get good at talking with groups is to do it.” I knew she was right.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. Standing in front of about 30 people, it suddenly felt like my lungs were the size of two peanuts. My breathing was shallow and trying to sound natural was anything but. My discomfort was painful for me and probably more so for the audience. I wanted them to enjoy NEO, not listen to someone who couldn’t talk and breathe at the same time.

There and then I made the decision to stretch myself and get comfortable with speaking in front of groups.  (Next week I will share more about my process.)

Last month, talking with the group in Sydney, Australia, I was my natural, calm self, encouraging them, especially the quieter ones, to speak up. I don’t stress about it like I used to, thanks to years of practice, but I do sometimes get butterflies. And that’s okay.

At the end of the program, the woman stymied by public speaking thanked me for my peanut story. She said it encouraged her to work on overcoming her fear because if I could get as comfortable talking with groups as I have, she could, too.

She was right.

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