I have battled my fear of public speaking for as long as I can remember. In high school I really wanted to be a part of our school plays, but my shyness prevented me from succeeding in more than bit parts or being behind the scenes. I kept trying though because I loved the atmosphere and eventually participated in competitive speech during my senior year. While I have never been good at extemporaneous speech, I found the “individual events” to be exactly my thing. I memorized a ten minute monologue where I played four different Russian characters from the play “Fools” by Neil Simon. I did well at it, but still the nerves would overwhelm me beforehand. I would feel sick to my stomach and shaky. Even though I had it memorized, I still would freak out.
In college I started to come out of my shell. I joined Alpha Phi Omega and found a great group of friends who shared my love for community service. Within this group I was affectionately called “Al” due to the large number of Jens, Jennifers, Jeannes, and Jennies. I even had a theme song “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon. This awesome group helped me thrive. I became president of the chapter for two years and it was a blast. I ran the chapter meetings and did my best to follow Roberts rules of order while still making it fun. After graduation I remained involved and went on to give presentations at conferences on the local, regional, and even national level. I still got nervous, but it didn’t prevent me from being involved. I just never got comfortable. I figured I was just going to have to learn to live with the nerves.
As my engineering career progressed I held leadership positions, gave presentations, and spoke at public meetings. When my company urged me to take a Dale Carnegie course, I was not at all excited about it. Despite my anxiety about the prospect of speaking in our group every day… I soon learned a lot of tools that made meeting new people and coping with conflict in my job significantly easier. I found some confidence and made new friends. It was a great experience and I learned so much from the readings we were assigned. To this day I use the same skills I learned during that course.
When I began my genealogy career I knew that speaking and teaching was something that I wanted to do. My first experience was in 2013 when I gave a beginner’s workshop at a local library. As always I was nervous, but I forged forward and I believe that my enthusiasm for the topic would make up for it. I had a lot of fun doing it and so I continued pursuing speaking for groups. While I have a number of national, regional, local, and webinar under my belt I was still feeling the nerves!
Then something changed.
I encountered an unusual phenomenon this year at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference… none of my normal public speaking jitters! For years whenever I knew I would have to speak in front of a group I would get an upset tummy and feel really nervous. I am not sure what exactly I was afraid would happen, but just the thought of standing and speaking really freaked me out! So what changed? Have I gained more confidence? I don’t know what changed, but I have now experienced what it is like when I have enjoyed public speaking. I have found how very interesting my fellow genealogists are! I genuinely have come to enjoy getting to know my audience.
So imagine my surprise when after 20 years of forcing myself to speak publicly, I suddenly had fun and didn’t feel the nerves! It might be a fluke, but recently while listening to “The Genealogy Professional” podcast, Blaine Bettinger described this very experience! Perhaps there is hope that this phenomena will continue. Have you ever experienced something similar? I’d love to hear about it!