Getting better and words

Last Saturday, I chaired a panel and it was my 798th public speaking thing since records began in late 2012. A week or so before that, I had a meeting over a writing project I profoundly want.

Let me quantify that word. For ‘profoundly’, read ‘I was shaking before the meeting’. Before that panel last weekend, I was so nervous I felt sick.

There have been two events where –– and who knows why? –– I wasn’t at all nervous beforehand. They both went fine. Can’t even remember them, I just remember they went fine. All of the rest, all of then, follow the same two steps.

First, I’m nervous. Then the event starts and the nerves turn off like a light switch and I am so completely in the moment that reasonably often, a third step follows. A third step where it goes very well. In those 798, I’ve only had three disasters and I fully blame myself for only two of them. Can’t count how many went very well, never think to count how many go well, but it’s obviously a high enough number that it raises an obvious question.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that I’m unhealthy in this nervous worrying and I’ve not a single hesitation in thinking I should lighten up.

But the question is whether it’s worth it. That meeting I shook before, this panel I felt ill with nerves over for weeks, are they worth it?


You bet your life they are

Talking and not talking

In the middle of a six-hour workshop yesterday, I stopped to explore a thought about an issue that had been coming up throughout the day. “I offer,” I said, “that it is the people who can communicate, who can write and talk, who find it the hardest to do.”

I think I’m right. I was running the workshop for the Federation of Entertainment Unions which means for members of the NUJ, Equity, the Musician’s Union and the Writers’ Guild. Something like 20 or 25 professional freelancers in London. I adore – no, I love – running FEU workshops because of these people. The only stock a freelancer has, really, is time and these people choose to spend a working day with me.

Now, whenever someone elects to spend time with me, I’m honoured. I just had a thing where someone came within a pixel of flying over from the States to see me. As much as I would’ve liked to meet her, I was immensely relieved when plans changed because I get anxious enough when someone crosses a room in my direction.

But with the FEU workshops and these freelancers, it’s a business decision. They want something the FEU says I can give them – yesterday it was about blogging – and they’re here to get it. No playing around, no messing, no idle thought about maybe one day doing a blog. I think of it as playing with live ammunition: they need something, I have to show them whether blogging does or doesn’t do it, then I have to get them what they need to start.

If I talked bollocks for the first hour, I expect all 25 to walk out. If I speak brilliantly but they realise blogging or whatever isn’t what they need, I expect all 25 to leave early and get back to their work.

And actually, maybe no more so than yesterday because this was a really impressive group. Grief. One guy has his acting career but actually he’s really focused on social issues like care homes. One journalist is a Libya correspondent. And one is the woman who made that documentary about suffragette Emily Davison which showed she didn’t choose to be trampled to death, it wasn’t a suicide plan. I got to shake hands with someone who owns the sash Davison wore in that gigantically important moment.

So this was a room full of talented people. Talented creative types, people who apply their talent and their skills all the time. People who actually I picture as being on their feet and in action even though we spent most of the day sitting down.

And yet the thing that kept coming up over and over was that each one of them finds it crippingly hard, paralysingly hard, to talk about themselves and their work. These are people who for a living talk or write or act or perform and this was a difficulty you could see pressing on their chests.

I don’t have a solution and I do have the same problem. But I didn’t quite tell you the whole quote just now. This is what I really said:

“I offer that it is the people who can communicate, who can write and talk, who find it the hardest to do. And that it’s the people who can’t, who won’t shut up about themselves.”

Please don’t point out that I’m writing a blog about one sentence of mine, one thought. This isn’t me talking about myself, it’s you and I having a chat because you’re exactly the same, aren’t yoU?