From Online to IRL: Public Speaking (Ahhhhhhhhhh!)

Writer’s block?

I was trying to think of what I would post this morning, and there was nothing. Usually, I have no problem choosing a topic of focus. There is always something that comes up in the realm of our own personal finances that offers good fodder for a blog post. I didn’t know if I’d be able to produce anything this time around, and last night I closed my laptop, having given up. But this morning (it’s 5:09 now), I know why I’m stuck.

Anxiety about public speaking event

My brain is filled with the presentation that I’m going to give at a local public libray in a week and a half – November 7 (thanks to Brian at Debt Discipline for the inspiration!) – and there is no room for anything else. What’s with that? I know what I’m going to say. I’ve been writing about our story of debt reduction for over 4 years. I’ve broken the taboo around money talk multiple times and had countless conversations with colleagues, friends, family, and neighbours about all sorts of things related to it. I’ve spoken publicly at church and for a few classes at the school where I work. Why is this different?

Susan Cain and “stretching”

Well, it actually is quite different. Speaking is different from writing for one thing. Public speaking is different from conversation. And speaking in a familiar place to people you’re at least acquainted with is different from speaking in a room full – or not so full – of strangers. The saying is that variety is the spice of life, but I’m an introvert, and “different” brings on anxiety. I’m more into broth than spice.

I loved reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking. There were so many moments of recognition for me as I read it. “I didn’t know anyone else felt that way in that situation!” One of the concepts she wrote about was “stretching”:  “A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems.  And yet . . . we have free will and can use it to shape our personalities . . . We might call this the ‘rubber band theory’ of personality.  We are like rubber bands at rest.  We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so far.”
I could identify with that theory of stretching. The key is to find optimal stretch – and not to snap. I wrote about it when I first taught summer school co-op a few years ago and had to learn how to use a cell phone. (Yes, I am that tech-phobic.) So what about now? Is this a case of optimal stretch? Or is it a “snap” waiting to happen?

Why it’s worthwhile to “stretch” – despite the downside

Here are the symptoms of the anxiety that I’m having in the lead-up to this public speaking event:
  • I’m preoccupied. I’m not as present for my family or other people in my life.
  • As part of my efforts to get news of the event out there, I’ve sent out a general email at work. No problem, right? Just about everyone at work knows I blog about debt-reduction. But it’s left me feeling strangely raw and exposed.
  • I’ve found it difficult to carve out blocks of time to prepare for the presentation, so it’s bitten into time for work-outs and time for sleep.
  • I’m more inclined to crankiness and/or withdrawal.
  • There’s a steady gut churning. Not enough to make me double over, but it’s there.

I’ve experienced all of the above before, and I know it’s not life-threatening. It’s just part of the deal for me when I “stretch”. Cain never says in her book that stretching is easy, but she does say it’s worthwhile. Despite that list of negatives up there, I do think this speaking event is going to be a good thing:

  • I am passionate about taking the secret shame and suffering that so many of us have lived with because of debt, and bringing it out into the open. There is hope! And I’m excited about that fact.
  • I believe that as a debtor who has experienced financial distress, I am in a better position to address some of the issues surrounding the topic than the experts who typically do.
  • DH and I have had success in our efforts to improve our financial health. Our debt-to-income ratio (all debts ÷ take-home pay) has gone from over 350% at our worst (2010 – 2 years before our journey out of debt began) to under 90% now. We have something to share that might help others have success.
  • I do get a great personal satisfaction out of conveying and discussing ideas. I’m drawn to the sphere of speaking as well as writing.

So there you have it. Eleven days to go and counting. Sorry if you were hoping to find something here today to help you with prioritizing expenses or with working through a money conflict. My head’s not there for the next eleven days or so, but it will be again : )

Is there an area in your personal finances (or life in general) where you feel like “stretching”? Do you get anxious about public speaking? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of

24 comments on “From Online to IRL: Public Speaking (Ahhhhhhhhhh!)

  1. Public speaking or reading in front of a group was always a fear of mine while in school/college. I did not like to do it for fear of the ridicule I might face if I messed up, mispronounce a word, etc. I took a public speaking course in college and that was a turning point for me, I don’t remember much from the class, but think I just came to the realization that my voice, my opinion matter too, and I would not let others opinions have a negative affect on me.

    I am not the best speaker today, but not the worst. I’m confident in the material I delivery and have a good feeling sharing our debt story and tips will help those listening. That alone is my biggest motivation to keep at it.

    I’m sorry you are having anxiety about it, but I can only hope but think others hearing your story, the bad and the good will have a powerful affect on their own journeys. Wishing you luck and waiting for an update!

    1. Thanks for those wishes, Brian. I share your beliefs that each one of us has a voice that matters, and that our debt stories can help those listening. I will definitely provide an update when the time comes : )

  2. Just remember that God is with you and He will see you through this. I am also an introvert and back in the day I took a Dale Carnegie course to help me with confidence building. We had to do five minute presentations each week and I would feel as you do now; but I would pray a quick prayer before I stepped out into the spotlight and after the first few words, I forgot about the audience and thought only about what I was trying to convey. Take courage Ruth, you have a much needed message to spread and you will assuredly rise to the challenge.

    1. Thanks for saying I have “a much needed message” Nancy. I too took the Dale Carnegie course. Practice in public speaking is what makes it less scary. Each new venue is still a cause for anxiety, but I will follow your advice and take courage : )

  3. I think if you get the focus onto the people you’ll be helping instead of how well you’ll perform the stress might be reduced. Regardless of how well you say it (and I’m quite certain you’ll do wonderfully 🙂 ), the info you have to share will make a huge impact on those who choose to take your advice, and that’s a wonderful thing!

    1. It’s not quite “how well I’ll perform” – it’s more “Will I be ready? Will the tech work? Will it go smoothly?” But you’re right – putting my focus on the people I’m speaking to is exactly what I should do – whether or not my PowerPoint slides function. Thanks for the encouraging words, Laurie : )

  4. It’s natural to be a bit stressed about having to do something that you’re not familiar or comfortable with. Just try to find a groove. Look around, pretend like you’re talking to just one person, and concentrate on that for a bit. Move that target around and before you know it, you’ll be done and will have done great! Visualize success!

    1. Thanks, Money Beagle. Kind of cool – I have been visualizing success without even trying to. I’ll try that focus on one person. Who knows? There might be only one who shows up : )

  5. Oh, yes! I can totally relate to “stretching”, Ruth. And I can easily identify with how you are feeling right now. I’ve been in several public speaking situations over the past 3 years and, believe me, public speaking was never my thing. In fact, I used to go out of my way to avoid it at all costs. At first, I was very distracted for days (weeks!) prior to an event. Now, after practice, it’s just a day or two. Preparation was the thing that helped me the most. I found the days leading up to the event to be much more nerve wracking than the actual event itself. I was always surprised that I was actually able to relax and things just flowed after the first couple of minutes though. The one thing that kept me pushing to do this? I was passionate about getting my message across (I was doing presentations on self-preservation/self-defense to teen girls – sometimes over 100 people – and once on TV!).

    One thing that helped me – I had read that people aren’t judging you when you up there talking, but simply focused on the message you’re getting across (and what they can get out of it).

    You are so passionate about getting your message out there and sharing your story, Ruth, I know you will be great! You will see how much you affect those who receive your message and it will all be worth it.

    1. Good to know they’ll be focused on the message. I think it’s a good one: There is hope. And you’re right. I am passionate about it. Thanks for sharing your experience with public speaking, Amanda. And thanks for your encouragement!

  6. I’ve been considering reading that book, and now you’ve convinced me! I, too, am an introvert, but public speaking is strangely not a source of anxiety for me. (Get me in a room with a bunch of strangers for a cocktail party or a networking event, and it’s a different story, though!)

    I teach workshops on resume writing and interview prep, and one thing that I like to remind myself is that the audience has basically already bought into the notion that I/you/the speaker am/are/is an expert in the topic. You already have credibility in their eyes, and they know they need your help. For me, that helps build my confidence. I hope it will for you, too.

    Another thing I stress when talking about interviewing – which is anxiety-provoking for most people – is that you don’t have to FEEL confident, you just have to project confidence. Think about how a confident public speaker would act, and mirror that. You might be shaking on the inside, but if you stand up straight, speak at a normal volume and pace, and smile, you’ll probably fool most people listening.

    Good luck!!!

    1. A little “fake it ’til you make it”? I like what you have to say about credibility. I am definitely not a money expert, but I am an expert when it comes to the experience of paying off debt – even very imperfectly. If I have convinced you to read Quiet, I’ve done a very good deed! I hope you let me know what you think of it.

  7. I used to have to give monthly seminars to newly arriving military members. It was really difficult for me. I was too self conscious, which of course means I was too focused on myself. You, dear Ruth, are a brave woman, full of faith. Focus on the faith and the fear will have to flee since they cannon coexist. You are in my prayers! 🙂

    1. It is true that self-consciousness is a focus on oneself. As Laurie says, I should consciously be making my focus the people listening. And you are right – perfect love casts out fear. Thank you, Kay : )

  8. I’m an ISTH myself and read Susan’s book and especially liked the action lists.
    I hate public speaking to large groups, small groups is okay for a small period of time. I have never listened to myself on a tape recorder so I have no clue what I sounded like afterwards, but, normally after the first few minutes I am better.

    Public speaking is a gift and a great opportunity to convey a message. Congrats on the opportunity. the other advice from the previous comments is sound too!

    1. Like you, I feel better once I’ve actually started the presentation. It’s this lead-up to it! Ugh! But with practice, I’m sure even this lead-up anxiety would lessen. Thanks, Josh!

  9. As a fellow introvert, that book sounds like something I need to read 🙂

    I am not a fan of public speaking but what I’ve noticed is that the lead-up is always worse than actually being up there and talking. Once your presentation gets going, you’ll find your natural rhythm and do fine.

    Good luck Ruth! You will be AWESOME!! 🙂

    1. Yes to the lead-up stress. I’ve just got to live with that for the next week-and-a-half and not let it take over. I hope you read Susan Cain’s book, Mackenzie! It is one of those books that can be a life-changer. Thanks for your encouragement!

  10. Oooh, even the thought of public speaking makes me jittery. I know I CAN do it, but I don’t ever want to. Of course every time I feel too chicken about it, I remember my “big brother” chastising me – “You know your stuff, what are you worried about? When you know your stuff, it doesn’t matter who you’re talking to. I just briefed the VPOTUS the other day and it was no different than briefing my boss, because I knew what I was talking about!”

    Well, heck, put that way, I do feel like a bit of a doof worrying over a simple chat to the people. 😉

    Going to FinCon was my big stretch this year, doing a podcast with Jessica Moorhouse was my stretch the year before that. Normally my stretches are in the day job but now I’m trying it in other areas instead.

    1. Some people don’t understand anxiety. It’s all a matter of logic – as in “You know your stuff …” But of course it’s not as simple as that, and fear isn’t logical. First year at Fin Con? There you go! You are stretching too. (I haven’t dared to try that stretch yet.) And your brother! Briefing the VPOTUS (had to Google that) is no small deal! Thanks Revanche.

      1. That’s true, some people don’t understand anxiety, but he understood me. In that moment I needed a way out of the anxiety loop and his blunt approach tends to work for me. Like when I’m overreacting to something, someone can point blank observe that my reaction was disproportionate to the event and 99% of the time, that stops me short and lets me shake it off. Not an approach to use with most people, though 😉

        Best of luck!!

  11. I have no doubt you’ll do an awesome job at your speaking event, Ruth! Your experience, passion, and knowledge will make it a great event for you & your audience.

    I used to be so shy, I could barely carry on a conversation with one person if I didn’t already know him/her. Now I regularly teach a church home group, and even taught 250 women at a conference in India! So you really can get more and more comfortable as you stretch!

    1. A conference in India – that’s sounds amazing! I’m with you in knowing that you can get more and more comfortable with “stretching”, and I certainly look forward to that comfort in this case. It’s the fact that this is a significant first that makes it a source of worry. Thanks for your optimistic predictions about my presentation, Kalie. I hope your’re right : )

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