Defeating Demons And Finding My Voice

10/02/2011 at 7:27 pm (Uncategorized)


If you told me, even a year ago, that I’d be talking at an internationally recognised conference I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I’m not sure if I’d be at all confident if it was put to me in quite that way before I agreed to do it. Yet over the last three days, I have been advising retailers on how to improve their eCommerce websites. I did this over four seminars for Spring Fair 2011 at the Birmingham NEC.

It might be hard to believe for those who know me, but I’ve never seen myself as a good public speaker. I’ve covered my awkwardness and shyness when I was younger in a previous post, but some confidence issues have never completely left me. Yes, I have played guitar and sung (not always spectacularly) on stage, and that’s fine. In fact, it seems comparatively easy. There’s a persona that you can hide behind. Talking is quite different.

I see my voice as one of the primary elements of my personality. Now and again certain words come out with a West Berkshire twang, sometimes met with a humourous aside. Other times I speak with a mumble, as though I’m unable to lift my ideas with any gusto, resulting in sentences that are laboured and poorly thought out. And ramble? Rambler could be my middle name. But it isn’t.  It’s James.

So how did this public speaking thing start? I have made a speech once before, as best man. It was a blur and I hadn’t actually prepared a speech. I thought it best to wing it. About quarter of an hour before my speech, I decided to make notes, and remember who to thank for particular things for the wedding. I’ll be honest with you, it wasn’t brilliant.

From memory, and also based on what I’ve been told since, people laughed. Especially as I threw my half an envelope on the table (the groom was scribbling his speech on the other half, and then spilled champagne on it, rendering his pen scribbles incoherent) I said, “this is pointless!” I understand that a few family members some rows back thought I said, “this is bollocks.” I’d like to think that’s where the biggest laughs came from.

It did nothing for me as a public speaker, and solidified the fact that I was rather shambolic.  That’s how I felt for many, many years after. So how did I get the confidence to speak on a catwalk stage to people I didn’t know? It is about self esteem. I hate to say it, but so many of us really don’t have it. Mine falters now and again, mainly from jobs where I’ve felt… well, put it this way, they weren’t for me.

Eventually you end up trying to keep your head above water, scrambling to maintain some sort of expectation. You feel like you’re letting people down, and you sink ever deeper. I’ve been there, I’ve lived that. Would I have got up on a public stage to talk confidently about the business I’m in? Hell no! I often say I’m very lucky to have the job I’ve got, but I did also push myself to get it. I was rewarded with a feeling that I am respected, that I have skills that I can bring to the company.

I don’t want to sound like a corporate puppet, because that’s not what it’s like. The point is that sometimes companies push you to go a certain way, but you have your own skills and abilities. Because the two don’t meet, you can feel like you’re doing something wrong, or even that you feel stupid. I know full well it’s not always possible to just walk out of a job, and all circumstances are different; paying bills, the rent, or covering the mortgage and feeding the family means that we are often tied to jobs we don’t enjoy. I’m not insensitive to the fact that a lot of people are struggling to even find one right now.

This takes me to my next point. The people around you in your personal life are just as important, if not more so, than what you do for a living. Again, this where I feel particularly grateful. I’ve often talked about my core of friends that I’ve known for years, and I have a great deal of support from my family. Over the last year, I’ve met people I could never have hoped to meet – primarily through Twitter – and this has opened my experience drastically. All my family and close friends I see myself reflected in, and I feel lucky.

So when someone pays you a compliment, just accept it and say thank you. Don’t wave it away, don’t feel embarrassed, just take that compliment and think about it to yourself. For years I ignored all the good stuff, and spent ages listening to all the niggly little negatives that I invented. Chittering in the back of my mind were demons of my own design.

It takes time, and I wish everyone could feel happy in their own skin, able to hold their head up high and just do it. Me included. While I was able to do my talks this week, I have still so many hang ups, so many confidence issues, and they form who I am. I just have to decide which ones can be overcome and which ones I just have to live around. Either way, I’ve come this far, and I’m pretty much okay with how I’ve turned out.

I do remember that the demons are still there, they always will be, but I feed them less and less.

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6 Comments

  1. Dragonladych said,

    Well done! That’s really not an easy thing.

    I was lucky, I had the perfect job when I was a student, I worked as a tourist guide. That’s the best way to get rid of any remaining shyness:)

    • peacockpete said,

      I imagine! I think it helps when you can do these things when you’re young, yes. Still, at least I know it’s possible to learn it. 🙂

  2. Fairywishes said,

    I think it’s great you did it. I’ve found the compliments you’ve paid me really helped, and for some reason I’ve learnt to accept them. I think you’re wonderful and make me laugh as well as being caring. I would think you did well and that it takes you to the next step in your career. Good luck with it all. x

    • peacockpete said,

      Thank you for that, Elly! It isn’t easy to take a compliment sometimes, I know. I really appreciate those kind words. x

  3. Originalsteve said,

    I think you did a great job and I am very proud of you for doing it with such confidence!

    x

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