Two years ago, I walked into my first director of marketing meeting in my new position as public relations manager, and it was terrifying. I didn’t know what to expect, and the meeting was held in a stately conference room, appointed with a huge white marble and oak table, large enough to fit at least 40 people if not more. Even the floor was one I’d never been on before, and couldn’t access on my own – I needed someone with the right access to get into the meeting room. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and I didn’t really know what was expected of me during this meeting. All I was told was that I was expected to attend, and on this occasion, my boss would be joining me to introduce me.
We walked up to the third floor, amid the maze of offices in a path I’d never remember and didn’t have access to, and landed in the room that was filled with faces I’d never seen before, about 25 of them. The room itself was intimidating, but I told myself no one could tell what I was feeling inside unless I showed them. The meeting began and my boss was introduced, and she in turn, introduced me. I smiled and nodded – I’m actually good in these situations, although inside I feel the fear many people do. Outside, though, I don’t think you would know.
I’m not sure where this outer confidence comes from. It’s definitely a learned behavior for me. As a child, I was on the shy side and didn’t like public speaking of any sort. When I had to make a presentation in front of the class, I felt like it was the worst thing that could happen to me. I remember this terrible uncomfortable feeling and fear creeping through my insides, taking over. That continued through college. When I had to take public speaking at UNLV, I dreaded each and every time we had to perform. I wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t great.
Eventually, something changed. I began to think of public speaking as something I’d probably have to do the rest of my life in one form or another, and it became less distressing. The uncomfortable feeling dissipated a little. I changed my major from international business to journalism, and by doing so, placed myself in a path where I’d be expected to chat with many different types of people often. And give more and more presentations as college went on. By the end I was better, but not cured.
My first real job out of college was at a business newspaper, and we had to sit in these meetings and present our ideas to the group, something I’d never done before. I’d never publicly presented a creative idea before and the thought unnerved me. I’d worked in high-paced customer service jobs, talking one-on-one with the public, and had become very adept at it, even when discussing hard topics with disgruntled guests, or shooting the breeze with celebrities and happy customers. I wasn’t shy by any stretch of the imagination anymore, but public speaking still made me nervous.
So, when I arrived in this director of marketing meeting at my new corporate job, a first for me, I felt that uncomfortable feeling rise up again, mixed with fear. At this point, I’d already given two eulogies, both moments I’ll never forget in front of large crowds. I’d spoken at a career day at an elementary school, spoken in front of a decent sized audience at my own book signing, and worked as a reporter for nine years. I wasn’t scared of public speaking anymore, and crowds didn’t bother me. So why did this particular situation?
Because it mattered to me. A lot.
I wanted to do well in my new position, and I greatly admired my new boss. I’d never worked in the type of environment I’d just stepped into, and I was running with the fire. After her brief introduction, I spoke, adding a few personal and professional details and expressed how happy I was to be part of the team. That was the extent of it. For the next few monthly meetings, though, I experienced nervousness before presenting. Then, eventually, I noticed the feeling went away again. If I’m prepared in what I want to say and present, I’ll do well. If I misspeak or make a mistake, it doesn’t matter. I’ll recover, make a joke and move on. And it will pass when the next person starts to speak.
So, the next time you’re in a meeting and there’s a new person there, smile and offer silent encouragement to that person. They may need it more than you even know.