The Beauty of Public Speaking, Part II
With the difficulty of that first lecture at Pace University behind me, I knew that I needed to get better at it because my nervousness beforehand was so profound. It reminded me of the first time I stepped on stage to sing front and center, not part of a group. When I tried the singing career, it was in a group and it was comfortable for me to not be the center of attention. When I decided that the music business was not for me, I had to know that I could do a show on my own. I did a one-woman show just to prove to myself that I could do it. It was terrifying. Performing always was. But it taught me, the more you do it, the easier it will get. I knew I had to approach this the same way. I went in faith. I never knew when I would be asked again, but I knew I needed to keep doing it to get better at it.
Later, I was asked to do a class for the New York Open Center. It was a three-hour lecture one Wednesday evening. I arrived early. Terrified again, but less so. I drank water en route because of that cotton-mouth episode the first time and had to go to the bathroom as soon as I got there. As I was walking back from the restroom I was behind two women talking about my lecture...
“Oh my God. I can't believe I am going to meet her. I love her and her
“Girl, I know. I could not wait to get out of work. I have been looking forward to this forever. Just to hear her story."
I was in shock, and I felt so foolish. I was afraid, and here they are anxious to meet and hear me. Me?! Seriously? They helped me believe in myself before I knew how to do it on my own. I was still scared but it was easier.
My next lecture for the Open Center was a seven-hour class on a Saturday. My tenure with them resulted in about 10 of those classes over a three-year period. Those classes were my training ground for television interviews, my book tours and The Oprah Show
. I just didn't know it at the time. See what happens when you step out in faith.
The biggest hurdle I had to overcome—whether I am making a speech, appearing as part of a panel, being interviewed on camera or selling on HSN—is to feel confident. That starts with how I look. I have to have the right clothes for the occasion. I must know that they look good, fit properly and feel like me. That is where my girl Tiffany Moore comes in. It is one of the perks of being whom I am that I truly appreciate. It took time for me to learn that this was a major part of the battle. Knowing that your clothes fit and flatter you does so much for your confidence. Up until I had a stylist, it was a guessing game, and those games messed with my head.
Before I get dressed, I have to exercise. Even if it is just a little yoga or some quick push-ups, sit-ups and dips. I have to feel bad-ass and ready to kick some ass. Then I shower, and I’m all about the scent or combination of scents that I need to get me through. If I am crazy nervous, I need something grounding and centering, like lavender, patchouli and Oud. If I need to feel like I own the stage, and I am the "ish," I need florals like rose, gardenia and tuberose. And if I want to be very "Michelle Obama," with a subtle swag, then it is a classic like Chanel No. 5 or my own combination that’s reflective of that. The clothes are set off by the right makeup, and I rely on Ketta Vaughn (N.Y.), Deana Hawk (Tampa) and Toni Acey (ATL) to hook a sister up. I have learned from these ladies that it is about bringing out what you have, hiding what you don't want people to see and disguising your stress, insecurities and fears behind some gorgeous lashes and beautiful lips.
I always have to have my music to chill me out. Sometimes I need to pray with Mary Mary, or funk out with Prince or maybe groove with James Brown. Whatever I need at the moment, my iPad, iPod or iPhone is always accessible to me with a library of it all.
Finally, before I take the stage, I pray to God to guide my words and still my heart, and I ask my Mommy to have my back.
As you can see from my own experiences, I think it is totally fine to be terrified when you’re speaking in front of people. The test is in overcoming the fear and in the end doing that which you are afraid to do. If you can do that, do it. It is the only way that the process will become easier to do. When I go out on stage, I know that I am afraid, but I also know that I can do it, and I know what I am doing but that process took years to teach to myself. However, if you keep trying and it doesn't get better or easier, and you find yourself bombing at it, then perhaps you need an alternate way to speak in front of others. I have given keynote speeches, but they are not my favorite thing to do and are still not yet my forte. I am getting better at it, but my favorite thing to do is a one-on-one interview, Oprah-style, onstage. That may be a good way to take a step toward standing up there, all alone, and a baby step toward the one-on-one is being part of a panel discussion.
Don't worry about being afraid, just work on pushing past it. When I go onstage, because of the processes I have put in the place and the rituals I have given myself, I know that I look good, feel good, feel strong, am chill, have done this before and can do it again. In the end, I am just sharing me and who I am—and I know myself better than anyone else in the world.
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