All alone on the stage – eek!

I had to give a short presentation at work today and I didn’t enjoy it one bit.

Like many people, speaking in front of a crowd is not my favourite activity. I’m not terrified and my voice doesn’t shake like it used to, but I felt really flat after today’s effort and I resolved never to speak in public again unless I was absolutely forced to.

I should have good presentation skills as I used to be a teacher. I’m also very good at talking, just ask my family, but there’s something about being out the front in a darkened room that makes feel uncomfortable and exposed. I feel that people are going to discover that I’m a fraud and I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

Who’s in the room?

Your confidence as a presenter can be affected by a range of things. For me, it matters who is in the audience. Today there were some pretty important people in the room (including my boss, and I mean my big boss, not just my immediate manager). This made me feel especially nervous especially as I couldn’t see the people at the back. It was a big room.

I don’t know about you, but I really hate not being able to see the people that I’m talking to. If you can make eye contact and watch their body language, you’re more inclined to make jokes and off the cuff remarks. You can also think on your feet.

Are they with you or against you?

When I spoke at my son’s wedding I really enjoyed the experience. I was really relaxed (I’d had a couple of glasses of wine so that probably helped) but I was also really happy and I knew  that the crowd was on my side. Today the environment felt more hostile and less supportive. That’s the reality of work I suppose. Not everyone is on your side. It’s a competitive environment.

Be as prepared as you can

I suspect that the pre-conditions for speaking well are the same as they are for any other type of performance. You need to make sure you are well-prepared, comfortable and moderately relaxed (but not drunk). A few nerves are ok, but not so many that your brain stops working. Try to have an early night the night before you speak and practice your presentation with an actual human being, or failing that, a furry companion as your audience.

If that fails, just do your best and move on

My resolve to never give another presentation again as long as I live didn’t last as I realised almost immediately that I have to deliver a short presentation at tomorrow’s team meeting and another one the day after. It’s part of my job so I can’t avoid it. I’ll just have to do my best and keep in mind that it’s not the end of the world if I’m not brilliant. I’ll save my best performances for weddings and funerals. IMG_0148

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To be or not to be

I always a struggle a bit at this time of the year. I think it has to do with being on holidays. The heat doesn’t help and neither does the availability of excellent white wine. It all contributes to a state of ennui (one of my very favourite words) whereby I am reduced to reading trashy books and sleeping a lot. It’s fun, but I also worry about the fact that I’m not making any progress towards my goals.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I don’t really have any concrete goals, so I’m not even sure what I was hoping to achieve last year, but I’m plagued with the idea that I should have made more progress. Someone once told me that I was an over-achiever which I find hilarious as I’m chronically lazy. I tell myself that it’s okay to have a rest and a break, but I worry about my inability to focus on anything or make a decision about what I’d like to achieve in the next 12 months.

It’s a first world problem I know, but I suspect that by not setting any goals I am effectively protecting myself from failing. It makes perfect sense that if I don’t try, I can’t possibly fail, but I can still fool myself into thinking that a brilliant future awaits me if only I had the time and money to pursue my dreams. 

The reality is that the only thing holding me back (apart from fear of failure) is deciding where I should focus my efforts. It would be great if a great big sign descended from the sky to let me know what I should do, what things I might find interesting, but not too difficult to master. Alas, there is no-one to make such a prophecy so I’ll have to resort to trial and error.

I’ll be going back to work on Monday so no doubt I’ll be too busy to worry about re-inventing myself or deciding who or what to be. Once again, busyness will be my saviour and I can go back to daydreaming about writing that best-selling non-fiction book on a topic yet to be decided.

The unfaithful blogger

It’s nearly the end of July and I’m conscious that it’s over a month since I posted on my blog. I feel a bit bad about that. I know that I usually use the excuse of “I’ve been busy” when I haven’t posted for a while and although this is true, there are plenty of times when I’ve been busy but I’ve still managed to write fairly regularly.

The real truth is that when I stop writing I can almost feel my confidence draining away. Those mean little voices in your head say things like “what were you thinking? Why would anyone be even vaguely interested in anything you have to say?” I’m not sure if you suffer from the same problem, but once I stop writing I find it increasingly hard to convince myself that I have anything new or interesting to offer.

On the other hand, I still find articles I’d like to share and I feel that perhaps someone out there in the world just needs a little boost, so today I’d like to share this article from the Book of Life on the Origins of Confidence. 

There are a couple of ideas in this article that I especially like. One is the notion that we have a variety of voices in our heads that speak to us. Some are kind and gentle and some are mean and critical, but we can choose to listen to the supportive voices. Typically this is the voice of a beloved parent or perhaps grandparent. This is the voice you should listen to. This voice doesn’t tell you that you are awesome. It just tells you that you are capable and you should give it a try. It’s the voice of the friend who knows your innermost secrets and loves you without judgement.

The other idea is that if things aren’t going to well at work you shouldn’t assume that this makes you unloveable or less of a person. The degree to which we succeed in our endeavours at work or at home isn’t related to what kind of person we are. It’s just work.

I heard a nice quote the other day that said that people don’t remember us for what we do or say, but for how we make them feel. I think this means that if we are kind to other people (and ourselves), that’s how we’ll be remembered. I like that idea.

Ordinary things

As I write, the neighbours are sitting on their verandah eating dinner together. Mum and dad and two kids. I guess it’s a bit unusual in this day and age to see such a stereotypical nuclear family, but nevertheless it’s lovely to hear them as they sit in the autumn air laughing and chatting together while they eat. It’s not perfect, the kids bicker and try to wrestle one another in an effort to avoid eating their vegies. Dad has to lay down the law about finishing their dinner before they are allowed to leave the table.

I find it really comforting in a way I can’t describe, yet here I am trying to describe what’s around me. Things that are ordinary but nice.

A few days ago I commented on the post of a fellow blogger who was concerned that she was writing about ordinary things. No great dramas in her life, just the day to day observations that go with raising a family. I told her that she shouldn’t worry about being ordinary. That what was ordinary to her could quite well be interesting and meaningful to others.

I meant what I said, but I have to admit that I avoid writing because I’m scared that people will find it ordinary or just plain boring. I also avoid writing from the heart because to reveal one’s inner secret’s and vulnerabilities is very scary, even though I know it’s also what makes us human. I love reading posts where people reveal a little of themselves and the way they see the world. I love the sense of connection that comes from recognising that other people have the same fears and interests as me.

So at this Easter time, here’s to you fellow bloggers. You inspire me. Please keep writing and sharing your ideas. You never know when you might strike a chord or touch a heart.

Confidence is the key

As a teenager, one of my favourite books was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a dystopian story set in a world where women are progressively disenfranchised and reduced to the status of servants. This is achieved by freezing all of their bank accounts and charge cards. One day they can access the automatic teller machine and the next day they can’t. It’s as simple as that.

Atwood has written a new book with a similar theme called The Heart Goes Last. This book tells the story of a struggling couple who take up an offer of working in an experimental prison where people spend half their time as guards and half their time as prisoners. It’s a fantastic piece of writing in the true sense of the word. The novel also features sex robots called ‘prostibots’.

In an interview with the author, she says that she always has lots of ideas about what to write and that she usually chooses the most outlandish idea to focus on. Not because she wants to make it hard for herself, just because she likes a challenge.

She says that people without ideas shouldn’t write.

I found this a bit confronting as I’m always worried about not having ideas, but I don’t really think the problem is not having ideas, it’s more about convincing yourself that an idea is stupid before you’ve even started exploring it. I’m pretty good at talking myself out of things. It’s less risky that actually doing something because no-one can criticise your work if you don’t produce anything.

The problem is not lack of imagination, it’s lack of confidence.

What people seem to need most coaching about in the area of creativity is not ‘optimizing’ their imaginations—it’s their confidence. And that’s because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we are all specialists of some kind, and that you can’t really be a writer unless you’ve got something like a master’s degree. Obviously, we want dentists to be trained, but writing is human storytelling and everybody does it.

Margaret Atwood on how technology influences creativity

This really leaves me with nowhere to go in the excuse department. There’s no reason not to write. There’s no reason not to begin. It’s all about starting isn’t it?

I am not a brand

I have recently discovered the joy of listening to podcasts. I have several favourites that I subscribe to including one called SHIFT  that covers quite a few of my areas of interest. SHIFT focusses on using social tools at work and how this impacts on organisational cultures.

The presenters of SHIFT are Megan Murray and Euan Semple and the podcast is essentially them chatting about a theme. A recent episode covered the topic of conflict (Episode 35) and how to manage difference and dissent at the workplace. A good subtitle for this episode would be ‘how to write the perfect passive aggressive email’ but it was also about how to be yourself and how much you can be yourself at work. There’s a point at which you need to restrain yourself from give voice to your honest opinions about projects or the actions of others as it can definitely be career limiting.

One of my favourite parts of the podcasts was where Megan Murray was talking about being real and she says…

I am not a brand, I’m just a person trying to participate in the world.

I really like this statement. I’m think putting it on a sign and hanging it over my desk. People already think I’m a bit weird, so it wouldn’t matter.

It reminded me of a situation years ago when I went to a professional development day with other educators at the local technical college. I was teaching on the welfare diploma and we did a round table introduction at the beginning of the day. As we went round the table person after person described themselves in relation to either their qualifications or their professional life, or both. When it came to be my turn I was so annoyed at them all trying to show off and outdo one another that I just said ‘my name is Margaret and I am a person’. Quite a few people laughed, but one person told me later that she never forgot me making that statement and it reminded her that being a person was enough.

It’s a bit like that lovely moment in the film Notting Hill where Julia Roberts says to Hugh Grant… “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her”. I love that bit and I think it’s okay to be just a person.

We seem to be constantly encouraged to develop our brand, to make it consistent and make sure there are no cracks in the image, but surely the cracks are just the vulnerable bits of ourselves that make us human and loveable?

Blogging challenge: day fourteen

It’s a myth that creative people are lonely reclusive types, or that they don’t need friends. All the creative people I know have lots of friends and some of them are quite outgoing (in a thoughtful kind of way).

The kinds of relationships that creative people need can be classified into three broad groups and today I’d like to focus on the first group – supporters.

Supporters are people who admire what you do and provide you with positive feedback, regardless of what you do or how good or terrible your work is. They tend to be uncritical about your efforts and think that whatever you do is fantastic.

I am lucky enough to have some friends in this group and it’s great if you can find at least one person who fits this description. This is the person you should turn to when you are feeling low because they will give you total unconditional support.

Do you have anyone who fits this description in your life? I think that for most people, that person already exists, but maybe they are too shy to tell you or maybe they don’t know that you need their support. It can be helpful to talk openly about what you need. If you have a conversation with someone who you think really admires and supports you, let them know how important this is to you and you might find that they really enjoy this role and become even more supportive.