Public Speaking: My Favorite Addiction and Why

by | Aug 29, 2018 | Empowerment, Leadership, Soft Skills | 0 comments

Is this excitement or fear in my eyes?? It’s definitely both. You see, I have a love/hate relationship with public speaking. On the one hand, being under the spotlight for 20 to 60 minutes is uncomfortable to say the least. On the other, it’s incredibly rewarding to share a success story that could help others achieve their own goals.

This photo was taken shortly after I received my speaker badge at the APPA Annual conference earlier this month in Washington, D.C. It was my first time speaking with APPA, but it was on a topic for which I have a great passion – empowering operations and maintenance staff through education and training. The APPA Annual Conference marked my 50th speaking engagement; most of these presentations have been at conferences and with healthcare organizations like AHA ASHE and its chapter affiliates. I’m not a distinguished keynote speaker by any means, and I still get stage fright up until the moment I start speaking. My audience has ranged from a 5-person panel to over 1,000 listeners. With every new speech, I learn something new about myself – no matter how many times I’ve presented on the topic or in front of that audience.

I’ve been public speaking since I was 6 years old, but my presentation topic has evolved greatly since then. My childhood gigs were with non-profit organizations like the March of Dimes and the American Heart Association and always took place at a fund-raising event. I spoke from personal experience, and the audience saw me as a success story – the outcome of their charitable donations. I was born with a birth defect that left me with several holes in my heart. Don’t pity me, though. It wasn’t but a couple of days after open-heart surgery that I was barreling down the hallways of the hospital on my little red trike and giving orders to anyone that would listen (I had not quite turned 2 yet). You could say resiliency is one of my strong suits. As an adult, the only evidence of my birth defect is a scar, a heart murmur, and embarrassing memories of these early speeches.

My very first public speaking event was in a banquet room at Bravo’s Italian restaurant in Ponca City, Oklahoma. I had memorized my 5-minute speech forwards and backwards. Nevertheless, when it came time to go up in front of that audience (MAYBE 50 people), I retrieved my speech from my purse, hand-written on a piece of notebook paper, and recited the entire thing from memory. When my mom later asked me why I took out my speech even though I had memorized it, I told her it’s because I wanted everyone to know I could read. For those of you familiar with Strengths Finder, “Achiever” is in my top 5.

As an adult, I take public speaking even more seriously. That young achiever grew up to be a full-blown perfectionist. I never bought into the concept of “don’t let great get in the way of good”. To me, resigning to “good enough” at any point in the process is defeat. Why not always aspire to greatness even if it takes a little extra time and effort? I refuse to settle for less than best – no matter the task at hand. Some might call me stubborn. I prefer strong-minded.

It’s not the anticipating eyes from the audience that gives me pause; it’s the fear of making a mistake – saying the wrong thing, or forgetting one of my key points, or uttering a dreadful “um” when I’m gathering my thoughts.

Spoiler alert: I’m human, and I make mistakes constantly. If you don’t believe me, just ask my kids.

Early in my career, I would overcome my anxiety around making a mistake by over-preparing. I would spend countless hours crafting and re-crafting my slide deck and then scripting out every word for each slide. I would tweak the wording and then re-tweak some more. I wanted to make the presentation perfect. Up until a year or two ago, this was the status quo for me.

What I finally realized is the presentation isn’t about the data – it’s about the story. I recognized that I get animated and excited in my speech when I’m actively telling the story. Once I learned to let go of hitting every bullet, fact, and detail, the anxiety went away. When the presentation became a story, then the pressure was off. Stories aren’t about the data, they’re about the people, the experience, and overcoming everyday obstacles. As a data junkie, it took some time to let go of the charts and graphs. But, I also learned that you can tell a story with data as long as there’s a human element to it. In fact, the right data can be extremely powerful in a storyline.

All stories are structured the same way with a beginning, middle, and end. A protagonist encounters a problem, s/he works to overcome it, and s/he achieves success it in the end. In my stories, the protagonist is almost always a facility manger, and the problem circles around limited resources, time, and access. Success is achieved by challenging the status quo. Since overcoming challenges in facilities management is my passion, the story is easy to tell.

Admittedly, I still have speech anxiety. HOWEVER, once I settle into the story, then I get out of my head and speak with my heart. I still prepare, but I don’t script out my presentation to the letter. Instead, I tell the story to family, friends, and colleagues until I get it right. I also lean on photos and graphics more than bullet points. By replacing the words with images, I’m forced to have a conversation with the audience and genuinely connect with them.

For me, public speaking has turned into a passion and an addiction to story-telling. I still have a lot to learn about myself and the craft – but, after all, learning is a journey and not a destination, right?

About me: I have been responsible for the development and management of over $370 million in specialized energy solutions and infrastructure projects. Since starting my career in healthcare engineering consulting, I have provided healthcare facility managers with the tools and resources they need to make data-driven, well-informed decisions that improve their energy efficiency, building performance, and facility operations. The most recent of these solutions is a healthcare facilities operation and maintenance training program, the first of its kind in the industry. 

Let’s connect: If you have a success story in facilities management, I’d love to hear about it and learn how you made it happen. 

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