For my next blog entry I am going to write about the first time I ever spoke in church. I know many people who struggle with speaking in front of people to this day and I often get comments about how easy it is for me to speak in front of people. I share this story so others might know that was not always the case, and that to overcome any fear we must understand and face it. I will also share a few other stories including the story of the first time I sang in front of an audience of of around 500 people, and then in front of a board room. Anyway, enough with the intro.
I was around 8 years old the first time I talked in front of a church meeting. It was a big meeting for the AUB church and had around 1000 people present (This is a complete estimate and may be way off). It would probably be comparable for most of my LDS friends to speaking in a big stake conference meeting. Around this age I also enjoyed singing and had around this same time sung, "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" in front of a smaller group where we had around 30-50 people.
It doesn't really matter what I talked about in this big meeting (I'm not sure I could remember if it did). The point I wish to make is what did I feel as I went to talk to this large group. Writing this is interesting to me as I look back; because, I don't remember being afraid when I sang the song in front of the smaller group. Most of which were family and friends who lived right around me. This comparison is critical because it gets to the heart of the fear in my mind, and may give some additional details into the fears of those that struggle with speaking in front of others.
As I spoke to the larger group I was completely terrified. My uncle had spoken just before me and we had talked about being afraid, we were around the same age and good friends. When it was my turn to speak I wanted to turn and run off the stage, and I was so scared that my legs were literally struggling to keep me up, as I stood at the mic in front of the large group. If I remember right I didn't say anything for some time until someone came up and helped me from the church leadership seated behind me. I made it through the talk and believe it or not once I got going it was much easier. Likely because I was focused on the talk and not being in front of everyone.
I firmly believe one of the things that has helped me feel comfortable speaking to bigger groups is reading the scriptures and knowing them. They teach, "If ye are prepared ye shall not fear." I also think teaching for many years has helped calm my fears.
When I think back on this I have a lot of compassion for those that struggle and who read their talks. I will go off on a short tangent. I believe reading talks is a great tool, and I also believe it is needed in many cases. I can speak well with or without reading a talk. There are times I will write down a talk and read it to follow a strict outline or to make sure I cover important material exactly. I have heard some say that reading a talk is bad and doesn't allow the speaker to follow the spirit, and I disagree with that logic. For those afraid of speaking (and anyone else for that matter) reading a talk is not a bad thing. The spirit can guide you on what to write and say whether a talk is written or not. That being said I'll get off my soap box.
As I think on what I have written, here are some questions that come to my mind. What was I really afraid of? Why was I afraid of it and how have I gotten comfortable talking in front of others now? I will attempt to answer these questions through the other stories I will tell and the following dialog.
I have always enjoyed writing music and more specifically lyrics, so when I was working for the LDS church for the first time in 2007 I jumped at the opportunity to write a spoof to the ICS Cultural Beliefs which was requested for an all hands meeting for the then 500-600 employees. I was accepted to write my song and perform it for the meeting, (and will gladly get the file to any interested). I got it all written and practiced it well. I left for the all hands meeting which was taking place in a large theater in downtown Salt lake City, Utah. And sung the song over and over as I walked to the meeting. When I got there, I did really well and a short time later was allowed to record a handful of my music at the church's recording studio. This was a big enough hit that I was also invited to sing my song in front of the CEO for the church.
When the day to sing for the CEO came I headed to the COB (Church Office Building) and up to the floor I was to meet with the CEO and directors with. Again I practiced well and felt ready for the challenge, but the closer the meeting got the more nervous I became. When I was at the meeting the CEO was unable to attend and so I sang for the directors. I made mistakes in the second singing I never came close to making in front of a larger audience because of fear.
So this brings me back to my questions. What was I really afraid of, I believe part of the answer was impressing those with authority, and part was wanting to look good or at least not look bad. But why would I do well with the bigger audience and not the smaller one... I believe I saw the majority of those around me as peers and not someone I needed to impress. The final thing that I think impacted me is not feeling I had the understanding those around me had. Why does any of this matter...? Because for me to conquer my fear I had to understand it.
I believe understanding the root of a fear is the first step to overcoming any fear. To explain this I will turn to another story.
Another good example of this was my fear of heights. I was terrified of heights most of my youth and up until I was 21 or so. One day I realized it was just as nauseating to look up a large building as to look down one. I then realized the distance was the fear for me not falling or feeling insecure. I started to reason... How could I get nauseous and dizzy if I was standing on firm ground looking up a building, I had to ask myself? I was then able to understand and face the fear of heights by going to the top of the highest building and looking down long enough to clear my head and let the fear go (I started on the ground and looked up first until I got over the fear). I also helped overcome this by flying in small Cesna airplanes and showing myself I need not be afraid, by watching the ground get further away and closer during take-offs and landings. The previous fear of heights has been overcome enough that I can walk to the edge of a cliff and look over, or many other things I never could do earlier in my life.
Back to my previous examples of the song and the speaking... With my feelings of needing to impress those in authority I learned I needed to change my views. I still have to work on this. Instead of portraying itself in fear it shows up in other annoying traits of mine. I personally believe we should always be re-evaluating our perceptions and changing them as needed based on the spirit and our experiences.
Although this entry is getting long I will add one more story to it. I recently came from the Salt Lake temple and met Elder Russell M. Nelson as I was walking. I felt the need to talk to him about a subject that has been on my mind a lot lately. The purpose of sharing this is not to focus on anything except the fact that in my mind as we talked my thoughts were not focused on impressing him, though he is one of the greatest leaders in the LDS church at this time. The thoughts on my mind were to find an answer (if possible), and to not interrupt his schedule at all if possible. The respect for others and their time being my key concern.
I firmly believe that we are all capable of excellence, and the achievements of others is not something to fear (or covet) but to praise. I had to realize that a position of authority is simply placed upon a person to allow them and others to accomplish specific things, and does not change who that person is. Except to the extent that we all grow from our experiences. By changing my viewpoint I was able to for the most part overcame the fear of speaking in public. By recognizing it and addressing the root of the concern in my mind.
What are some key take-a ways from this:
- Fears are typically caused by a number of things and not typically a single thing. Following is a small list I thought of based on this short review:
- Our perceptions
- A lack of understanding
- Concerns for the perceptions of others
- Not getting the big picture
- I had to understand the cause of my fears to overcome them
- I needed to know why the cause of my fears impacted me
- I needed to evaluate the cause and change my perceptions where they were wrong
- By doing these things I have been able to overcome most if not all of my fears
The purpose of this blog post is two-fold. First to capture my experiences and relate them to some of the struggles of my friends. Second to hopefully help some overcome some of their fears, or at least understand how I overcame some of mine. My wife has often commented that I am not afraid of anything. I don't know that that is true, but I do know that at a minimum I can control my fears and care for the things I need to work on. I contribute this in part to the things written here.
I cannot write all of the logic behind my perceptions and how I deal with fear, but I believe I have made a sizable dent in it with this post.