No More Pencils, No More BooksEarlier this week, I returned to my alma mater to give a presentation to a class of senior business students.

Yes, you read that right: to give a presentation.

Me. That girl (well, woman) with panic disorder.

How did I do it?

Well, to be honest…I’ve always loved public speaking. I’m one of those oddballs who looked forward to the opportunity to raise my hand in class & ask questions. I DJ’ed a radio show for four years in college — and speaking through a microphone to an audience of complete strangers was thrilling.

I felt so connected to the world in front of that microphone…even though, in reality, I was locked in a tiny foam-padded radio studio tucked deep within a giant brick building labeled “COMMUNICATION.” (Physical isolation doesn’t always equate to mental or emotional isolation, I guess. But I digress.)

I have incredibly fond memories of the public speaking class I took as a college sophomore. On Impromptu Speech Day, some of my classmates slunk down in their seats to avoid being selected to speak about a random topic on the fly.

But I sat up straight and tall. I raised my hand, even. I loved the challenge of formulating a coherent 3-minute speech with only ten seconds of preparation. It was exciting to me.

And now, despite my myriad anxiety problems, public speaking still excites me.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say speaking to a group of people is easy as pie. It still makes me nervous. It still requires a lot of preparation, rehearsal, visual aids, and…well, coping mechanisms. There are so many “what if’s”: what if I’m boring? What if I run out of breath and I can’t talk any longer? What if I get lightheaded and need to sit down?

I could go on.

What if I feel sick to my stomach while I’m speaking? What if someone in the audience starts laughing when I’m trying to convey something serious? What if everyone will pretend to like my presentation, but then walk outside of the room/hall/auditorium and make fun at me?

And, for the sake of beating a dead horse, I’ll throw you a few more.

What if my PowerPoint slides don’t load properly? What if I start sweating? What if I lose my place on the outline I’ve created for myself? What if my mind goes blank? What if I pass out? What if I start shaking so badly I can’t point to my notes on the projection screen? What if I feel the urge to run out of the room?

I can easily cast all of these worries aside with a few cognitive coping mechanisms: I don’t feel sick right now, so I’ll set this worry aside until I actually feel nauseous. If someone laughs, they’re probably laughing at something other than me. If PowerPoint mucks up, I can easily apologize and use backup handouts instead.

But wait — there’s more: If my mind goes blank, just launch into the next topic. I can return to whatever I missed later. If I start shaking or get lightheaded, there’s no embarrassment in sitting down or pausing to drink some water. If I feel the urge to leave the room for a few minutes, I can have a small activity prepared for the students/attendees to work on while I’m gone.

So, why in the world am I capable of speaking to a large audience yet not capable of driving long distances alone or buying a full load of groceries by myself at the local Wegmans?

Maybe I’ll never know.

But today, I’m going to block all of the “can’t do” activities out of my mind and focus on what I can do.¬†Perhaps my distribution of fears doesn’t make sense, but whatever: I can speak in front of an audience. I can do something that many other people are afraid of. The excitement outweighs the anxiety.

And crushes it.

What do you do well? Do you ever surprise yourself with your own skills? Do you spend more time thinking about the tasks that you can’t complete than the ones at which you excel?

Creative Commons License photo credit: derekbruff