Summer in the Maritimes (where I live) is beautiful but brief, so I try to get out for a swim in the ocean every chance I get. And when I say “swim”, I mean leaping awkwardly through icy waves in my stretched-out orange and black bikini before my toes go numb.
And, when you’re not twenty anymore, just showing up on a beach in a bikini can be enough to freeze the blood a little. HELLO, world, here I am. Unretouched. Unfiltered. And incredibly Imperfect. #wokeuplikethis
Weirdly, showing up online to share my business is a LOT like busting out my bikini for beach season.
I live on the rocky east coast of Canada, so I spend a lot of time navigating between culture on this side and that side of the Atlantic. This mostly comes down to where I shove my “u’s” (yes, I spell colour and neighbour that way), but today I stumbled over my own assumptions thinking about something basic: conversation.
Basically, I wanted to write an article about “banter”, because I think a little light-hearted joshing can help break the ice when you’re in awkward meetings (like a job interview). Here in North America, “banter” usually means a friendly, playful exchange in a “witty or teasing manner”.
Press conferences are tough. I can testify that it’s HARD to deliver any message (let alone a coherent one) in front of a wall of twitchy television cameras. But last week Serena Williams proved her GOAT (greatest-of-all-time for all you non-millennials out there) status by delivering a one sentence volley that effortlessly made headlines.
First of all...Serena was speaking right after a hard-fought loss in the Wimbledon finals (WHY do we insist on interviewing athletes right after they compete? Lord, just give them a bubble bath and let them binge watch Game of Thrones, for god’s sakes). But even though she must have been freaking exhausted, Serena tackled each question like a pro.
Developed in the 1990s (or 1970s, or 1850s, depending on which story you believe), “elevator pitches” are short, snappy project descriptions designed to be delivered to busy executives on the move. Smart solution for our time-starved era, right?
Well, maybe. If you’ve ever tried to deliver your own elevator pitch, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. I love to blab, so I always struggle to be buttoned up and “concise”. Before I know it, one sentence turns into twenty, and soon panicked folks are tapping on the elevator buttons and ready to bolt. Say goodbye, big-launch-of-my-dreams.
Even though I’m a grown-up (cough*middle-aged*), I still check for monsters under the bed before I go to sleep. And yes, I KNOW it’s ridiculous. (It’s all Idris Elba’s fault: I blame a creepy episode of Luther that haunted my dreams.)
I’m freakishly timid at the best of times, so I’ve learned to navigate the world with some illogical safety precautions and a few Hail Marys. But handling fear is not just about crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.
Seriously, these sweatpants are beyond nothing special. 10+ years old and totally unflattering, with frayed hems with paint splotches on the thighs that I tried to disguise by colouring with a black magic marker. Ugh.
(And don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about...I know you’ve got some stretched-out, faded and please don’t ring the doorbell outfits hiding in your closet, just like me...)
There’s nothing I hate worse than that nagging pit of UGH in my stomach when I have to do something that terrifies me. And, since I’m the timid nerd who is essentially terrified of everything, I usually feel some version of ugh every single damn day.
I know exactly how crappy it can feel to be nervous before you stand and speak. Whether you’re talking to five people or five hundred, it can feel downright daunting to share your thoughts in front of a crowd.
Confidence is a tricky beast that I’ve spent a lifetime struggling to tame. I was never blessed with a reservoir of easy pluck, so I’ve mostly had to muddle my way through stressful situations that other folks sail through.
And yes, I’m a cynic, so I get annoyed by wishy-washy, Instagram-friendly #inspirational quotes. Instead, I love this Mark Twain classic:
Meeting someone’s gaze is one of the simplest elements of human communication. Like breathing or devouring cupcakes, looking in someone’s eyes is an automatic response designed to help us connect and engage.
I wish I had more confidence. I used to think this all the time, wishing that self-esteem could be injected into my bloodstream on demand, like a neon green serum for superheroes or action movie stars.
But superheroes (unsurprisingly) don’t have to deal with the mundane complexities of modern existence.
I’ve always struggled with where my public life ends and my private life begins. My default setting is to be hidden away in a hammock with a good book and some iced tea, but my weird career choices have brought me more than my fair share in the public eye.
I really LOVE sleeping. If sleeping were an Olympic sport, I would be a gold medallist (and I’d happily snore my way through the medal ceremony). But this year I’m tossing and turning more nights than usual, suffering through dumb nightmares about missed math exams (ugh ugh ugh).
I always rebelled against improving my posture, thinking it was an outdated obsession of Edwardian grandmothers and the nuns at my elementary school. I’ve spent decades proudly slumping in defiance, convinced that I was waving the flag of individual freedom.
Even though I left Catholicism a zillion years ago, I still have rituals and superstition lodged deep in my psyche. I blame my Irish heritage (yes, I’m the one who tosses salt over my shoulder and crosses myself during thunderstorms). So is it really a surprise I have a serious set of rituals to prep for all my public speaking gigs?
There is a place in the world for overly-dramatic pop ballads, and Eric Carmen’s hit 1975 single “All By Myself” is a classic (probably immortalized best by Bridget Jones, lip-synching to Celine Dion’s fabulous re-make).
But I’ve learned that we’re rarely truly alone, even when we’re miserable.
Most people who do public speaking are guilty of ignoring our biggest and best asset: our VOICE.
We’re so used to talking every day of our lives that we forget how easy it is to strain our voice, throat and vocal chords...until we’re popping lozenges and squeaking our way through our keynote presentation.
Words are powerful. I’m reminded of that a lot. A while ago, a speech from Meryl Streep introduced me to a great quote by Carrie Fisher. In the middle of a passionate critique of current American politics, Meryl asked us to “...take your broken heart. Make it into art.”
These were the taglines on a million “self-help” books I’ve digested over the years. I loved the idea of creating shiny upgrades in my life, but lifestyle changes never seemed to last. In no time, I’d return to my messy life with a cupcake in one hand and the TV remote in another. Was I too lazy? Too dumb? Too undisciplined?
I appreciate the genius of mathematics (and yes, I know that numbers are what makes the world go round). But I’m definitely not a fan of "analytics are everything" proclamations, saying that all we should do is crunch the data to get more likes, more views, more everything.
Shout out to all the introverts (actually, I guess that’s a bit of a bad joke, since introverts stereotypically don’t do a lot of shouting).
Anyhow, if you are someone (like me) who scores a little higher on the Introvert scale, you might find it tough to speak up and grab attention. Spotlights, stages, TV cameras? UGH...let’s run in the other direction, and hide.
The trick to becoming a great communicator (a.k.a: a big freaking deal) is all about getting some serious practice. But if you’re a regular Jolene without access to a stage, spotlight or camera crew, how can you build skills and learn how to speak up with confidence?