PUBLIC SPEAKING PAIN

Yesterday I finished the first week of my face-to-face classes to become an adult educator. It was a tough week of learning and trying to absorb new information, and doing things outside of my comfort zone.

The class was small with about twelve students of differing ages and backgrounds being taught by a knowledgeable trainer. Everyone had similar challenges in balancing studies with life commitments, and so they were supportive and helpful with one another. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of.

Despite some experience with public speaking in previous jobs and volunteering in classrooms, I get nervous standing in front of a group and talking.

It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to children or adults, I’ll still react the same. It could be a bunch of staring lizards and I suspect I’d still get the shaky hands, tremor in the voice and sweating.

On the first day of classes, we had to do introductions. Say your name, why you’re there and what you want to improve on. If you wanted to elaborate further, you could talk about a hobby. There were talking prompts on the board. Sounds easy right? You’re talking about subject matter that you’re an expert on…you.

There’s just something about having the focus of your peers and standing in front of a room that automatically has my pulse racing and my hands wringing. I got through it but internally berated my performance, dissecting it to pieces. I wondered how others felt despite everyone seeming to sail through their introductions.

The next few days, the trainer got us doing one on one, small group and class activities. There were fun learning tasks, short quick “energisers” (quick games to refresh during the arvo slump), and public speaking tasks.

It was rather clever how the trainer worked on building group rapport to create a supportive and comfortable environment for us to do talks. Initially, the trainer got us to do micro public speaking tasks, increasing the time and complexity as the days went on.

By the last day, we had to give a lesson to last twenty minutes that involved a resource of some kind and ideally involved class participation.

I used a PowerPoint presentation on customer service and looked at some of the worst scenarios I’ve experienced. One example involved a customer double parking his Mercedes-Benz in front of the pharmacy and demanding I did his prescription quickly because he didn’t want a ticket. That was used to explain the entitled customer.

After each slide, I tried getting audience participation by asking them their ideas of how I chose to respond in each of the scenarios, using multiple choices as options. It generated some interaction but nowhere to the extent of other people’s talks.

I also got a couple of people up to role-play a scenario but that didn’t work too well. I think I needed to work on my lesson plan and found better ways of generating fun, practical and engaging activities. What I learnt from watching other people do their presentations was that I needed to make my delivery more engaging.

I knew that I’d be more critical of myself, and how I thought I performed wouldn’t necessarily be accurate, so I asked the trainer for her feedback.

Hand tremors, sweaty armpits and hands, shaky voice, racing pulse and jitters aside, I needed to know how I “presented” to others.

The trainer opted for the sandwich method. You know, one good comment on either side of a constructive comment.

“You’re really professional and presentation was great. You could smile more. You look stern, a bit serious. You could inject a bit of humour to lighten the talk. Otherwise, it was good.”

I need to work on my delivery. The problem is, I’m pretty sure smiling isn’t possible when I’m in fight, flight or freeze mode. As for humour, does laughing at your own jokes count?

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IN A JAM

Back in my day as a university student, some twenty odd years ago, everything was paper based. I read from textbooks that were heavy as bricks and thick as the tree trunks they were made from. I would read, highlight and put sticky notes on printed papers. I went to face-to-face classes where lecturers would drone on and lull me into deep sleep. The only technology I owned was a computer that composed of a microwave-sized monitor, a hard drive that took an age to wake from sleep mode and a bunch of floppy discs. Yeah, yeah… I’m old. 

These days everything is cloud this or zoom that. While I wouldn’t call myself a tech noob, I’m not tech savvy either. Learning as a mature-aged student on cloud campus is challenging. Not so much that I can’t use the technology but rather I’m not used to this form of learning. Reading off a screen for large amounts of time and using software programs to take notes seems foreign to me. It doesn’t seem right, like eating a carb-free burger (i.e. burger minus the bun). Push comes to shove I could do it, but do I really want to?

For one of my research units, I have to write a literature review. What’s that? Don’t ask me, I still haven’t quite figured it out yet and it’s due in just over a week. All I know is that it involves a lot of research of journal articles, reading said articles, note-taking and then writing something. I’m at the reading stage and I’ve found reading small print on a screen difficult for my already deteriorating eyes. So tonight, I decided to drive to the university to do some printing at the library. I think printed papers are the way to go for me. It’s a shame a few more trees will perish as a result, but if it means a pass…

You know what’s different about being a mature-aged student? You don’t have the same misplaced confidence and care-free attitude as the average twenty something year old student. But most importantly, you don’t have the same time pressures. As a mature-age student, you’re likely to have work, family or life commitments that takes priority. So by the time I got to the library, it was getting towards closing time.

It didn’t help that I have poor night vision or that I drove around in circles looking for the University multi-level car park. Eventually, I found my way to the library using their app. I still can’t believe how advanced things are these days – fancy app and everything!

I managed to find a computer, figured out how to print my articles and located the printer to collect the prints. The only problem was half way through its mammoth print job, the printer spasmed and died. Flashing red lights appeared and I thought I saw smoke billowing from the vents.

Now, most people can follow instructions and figure out simple troubleshooting problems by themselves without too much difficulty. I however, got nervous when I heard an announcement over the speakers saying they were closing in fifteen minutes. I started panicking and fumbling around trying to find the source of the printing problem. 

When I saw the side profile of a dude in a blue shirt with a tie and wearing a name badge walk past, I called out “Hello, do you know how to fix printers?”

Unfortunately, he replied with “Nuh” and walked off. You see, he couldn’t have helped me because he was a security guard and not a library administrator. I might have noticed the difference had I not been in such a flustered state but then again, being observant has never been my forte.

Slightly embarrassed, I went to the front desk in search of a librarian for help but they were closed. Beyond the desk were some admin rooms and I could see the silhouette of two men. With nothing to lose but my printing, I called out for help.

“I haven’t been at uni for a long time, and I didn’t want to break your printers so I thought I should ask for help.” You know how I ramble when I’m nervous? Well, you can bet that I did a massive word vomit. 

The young man who came to assist looked at the flashing words on the printing screen and said (quite condescendingly) “It has instructions so you just have to read and follow it.”

I bet if I could mindread, he would have thought “These bloody boomers and their moronic IT problems!”

And I would have vehemently protested with “I’m not a boomer, thank you very much!”

Was it a surprise when he couldn’t fix the “simple” problem? No. Did I feel slightly vindicated that he couldn’t “follow the instructions”? Yes.

He gave me a shrug of the shoulders, told me to reprint on another printer and get a credit from IT the next day, then he went home.

Annoyed and determined not to be beaten by a stupid printer, I attempted to give it another crack. Seriously, how hard could it really be? If I could put together an IKEA product (those things are brutal), I could fix a stupid printer. And did I fix it! I stuck my fingers into its body like a field surgeon removing shrapnel and pulled out the jammed paper. I might have done a fist pump and yelled out “Oh Yeah Baby!” too.

The point of this story is that if I had taken a calming breath and refused to allow my anxiety to consume me, I would have been able to use my problem solving and critical thinking skills to deal with the printing problem.

Imagine what I could do if I didn’t just cave to this beast at every whim and used higher level thinking instead? Most likely, I wouldn’t have asked a security guard to fix a printing jam.

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ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

Anxiety is my tormentor, an insidious beast that loves to creep out from the darkest corners of my mind, causing immeasurable destruction in its wake and leaving me in damaged pieces. I’ve been stripped bare emotionally and drained of confidence on so many occasions that it’s hard to believe I’ll ever feel whole again. It’s a draining dance of one step forward, two steps back. Sometimes in my darkness hours, I recklessly wonder if I should continue. Luckily, these thoughts are rare, and my family keeps me grounded. 

This week has been hard. The beast reappeared bearing unwanted gifts – three to be exact. Three panic attacks that left me gasping like a fish out of water, unable to draw breaths deep enough to ease the screaming desperation of my mind and the burning of my lungs. Death by suffocation is a scary thought.

I suppose I should have anticipated these panic attacks. I’ve got too much on my plate and stressed to the max.

My brother’s wedding is in three weeks, and I’ve been playing arbitrator between my brother and our parents – there’s been a lot of in-house fighting. There’s been bruised egos, drama divas, shattered illusions and a heck of a lot of screaming.

I’ve worried about securing and undertaking 200 hours of professional placement, only to discover from the lecturer that I’m in the wrong course – an oversight by the enrolment officers and lecturer. I feel let down and unsupported by the university. Not sure what’s to happen now. 

I have a kinder meeting tomorrow about my four-year-old son and I’m praying that his teacher doesn’t give me negative feedback. I’m worried about my eight-year-old daughter and her issues at school. 

My mother-in-law has been having radiation therapy for cancer these last five weeks and we’ve supported her and my father-in-law with cooked meals and company. Seeing her unwell has made me feel emotional and I feel the worry emanating from my husband. 

I’m still on my stupid low-carb diet and losing weight but it won’t make a shred of difference for my confidence when I’m at my brother’s wedding and faced with snide or condescending remarks from an uncle or aunty. The possibility is real. And despite disowning my dad’s family two decades ago, I’m loathed to admit that I’ll probably crumble under their cruel comments.

Everyone has had a cold this week, and I’m still not fully recovered from mine. I’m not sleeping well as I keep waking throughout the night to check on the kids. The image of my four-year-old choking on his vomit still burns in my retina, and I haven’t quite dislodged those feelings of mother’s guilt.

It’s really no wonder that I started getting panic attacks. Strangely, I think not blogging/writing has added to the stress. I stopped blogging to relieve myself from the expectation of weekly posting and instead of helping, I took away the only outlet I had to vent and feel centred.

So I’m back but not really back back. And before anyone asks… I’m ok or at least I will be. This is a bump in the road, a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things. So I guess I’ll keep doing this dance until it becomes two steps forward, one step back. Eventually I’ll get there.

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