How I broke the ICE on stage and got comfortable..!!
I had a bad history of stage appearances. Not that, if I reached on stage, someone was gonna come to me and eat me alive, but yeah, that’s how it felt to me. Apart from that what all I felt when I was on stage is tough to describe, but let me make an attempt to the same.
Symptoms were as follows:
1) Looking down at the floor or up on the ceiling,
2) Dry lips,
3) Itchy throat,
4) Elevated heartbeat,
5) Trembling legs,
6) Sweat dripping all over me,
7) Lower than normal voice (I’m already known for not speaking much loudly)
I’ll come back and add more if any other thing pops-up my head, but right now, apart from someone eating me alive, these 7 points I mentioned above were the key highlights of my mental and physical state whenever I stepped on any stage addressing even a crowd as small as 4–5 people. Yeah, I know 5 people might not sound big to you, but for someone who has stage fear and paranoia, for them it is a LOT.
I tried a lot to improve and the harder I worked on it, more anxious I became. End result, the situation didn’t improve at all. Then one day, one of my colleague asked me to join a club known as “Toastmasters”. He told that it was something related to improving on stage fear. They help you. To be honest, I said yes but it was scarier. Imagine someone who is already sh*t scared about being on stage, knows about the problems he faces and is trying his best to improve but has been failing since years. Now if you ask that person (me) to stand in front of 15–20 people and talk and in return you get feedback from few of them from the crowd. Dude, I felt like having a cardiac arrest. It was like I’ll drop dead right away. Whenever I was made to go on a stage, people had to force me and ensure that I don’t escape.
Well, you guessed it right and around 6 months passed by, but I never stepped into that club or discussed about it with anyone. I even stopped making attempts at my speaking skills thinking it is futile.
But then one day, the unthinkable happened. My lead in the office bunked a meeting and I was left with no other option but to present the whole feature alone in front of architects and leads across the globe, along with many directors and senior directors in the meeting. If it was in my control, I’d have cancelled the meeting, and I almost did it. But I had to take it forward. To my surprise, apart from initial goosebumps, once the technical explanation started, I totally went into my zone and was able to handle everything pretty nicely. Another similar incident happened after 2 weeks. That’s when same colleague pointed out to me about what was happening again and again.
Colleague: “Dude, did you notice what you just did?”
C: “You handled the meeting alone and didn’t seem to be under any pressure.”
Me: “That’s because I knew the topic, hence I was comfortable.”
C: “So, considering you read so much and your knowledge base is pretty big, what if you go on the stage of toastmasters in front of 15 people with the same mindset and forget who they are, like you did in these meetings?”
Conversation pretty much ended there and then somewhere in January 2019, I inquired about this club and attended few of it’s sessions. It was a real nightmare to attend first few times and I couldn’t speak for even 2 minutes about the things I knew. But slowly, I started to understand the scenario and with practice, I got to know how to enter my zone. The crowd was never the same. New people kept coming and going. But every single week, I was there on stage. Improving slowly and steadily. By June 2019, 6 months after I officially became member of Toastmasters, I had improved significantly.
Finally someone asked me to start giving speeches and get things moving officially (Yes, there are official speeches as part of Toastmasters curriculum). The club’s Vice-President asked me to address the public and give my first speech. It’s called “Ice-Breaker”.
The agenda of the speech was supposed to be my introduction. I had to talk about myself for 4–6 minutes. It was really really freaking crazy. I am no-one. What should I be talking about myself for 6 minutes? But that wasn’t it. There were other demands too. My speech has to be captivating to the audience and along with good content, I had to focus on having a good flow to the speech, hand gestures, stage presence, voice modulation, eye contact, etc., etc., etc. Whatever you could think of, I had to keep that in mind. And last, but not the least, I need to be well within that time range of 4–6 minutes. I was told that a good time to end the speech was somewhere between 5 and 6 minute duration.
When I came to know about all of this, I was like “Wow”. Who am I? Some president or what that I have to hold the audience like this and all this has to be done without any podium to hide behind and no speech paper in hand.
Then the inevitable day came and as I couldn’t think of anything else, I just presented my exact journey from “how I was so reserved, introvert and afraid of stage” to “how I am still reserved, introvert but not afraid of stage”. Initial part of the speech, obviously I was panicking somewhere, but then I slowly managed to go back to my zone. Surprisingly, the speech got a good response. Content was appreciated (I will share the content some other day maybe) for the flow. My eye contact and hand gestures were pretty decent (way better than I expected). Ladies and gentlemen, that was one confident moment of my life. From the day I joined toastmasters, until now, I can tell you that I have improved a million folds.
Me 8 months back and me right now; all I can say is Toastmasters has been a game changer and now I know how to present myself. Since then, I have been offered the post of club Vice President. I have presented my club in other organizations. You might wonder what I was missing? I think what was missing was that before joining here, I failed to see that there are other people like me who are also learning to recover from stage fright. Until then, every time I stepped out, I saw confident people around me. But toastmasters was a channel to meet like minded people who have overcome that fear and knew how to bring me into comfort zone, even when I couldn’t speak for 2 minutes on stage and used to get goose bumps in those couple of minutes. There, it was a group, who had every level of speaker from whom you can look up for inspiration to people; with whom you can discuss your fears; to people whom even you can help as a mentor. You’re everything at a single moment. Plus you won’t feel awkward if you fall down because you see that there are moments when the best ones are struggling and at the same moment, there are these “supposed to be newbies” who are flourishing, leaving behind the champions in the room.