The other day, someone (Vesy Ivanova) asked me about my method for public speaking – what I do to get myself comfortable enough in my own skin to get up in front of a group of a couple hundred people and present a concept or tell a story. I thought about it for a moment before I realized what I actually do.
I remember in college, there was this kid down the hall who had a guitar. It was his goal to play small gigs at the Memorial Union Building at UNH – a central gathering place that students called the MUB. I’m not sure how it came up, but he asked me if I would be interested in singing while he played. I had acted quite a bit in high school and wasn’t afraid of performing, so even though I’d never sung in public, I agreed. We went on to perform multiple times in the MUB, functioning as background music while students studied, drank coffee, gathered with friends or simply stopped for a moment on their way to or from class.
I remember prepping for these performances. I knew the words to the songs and I knew the chords and melodies, so my inner introvert was satisfied, but singing for people was such a new experience. How could I make sure that nerves or stage fright didn’t adversely affect my performance?
I went to the university library – which in those days was how we accessed the Internet – and found some videos of people performing in small coffee shop settings. I studied them, watched the nuances in how they acted, and created a new persona for myself – Confident Coffee Shop Singer. Whenever we would go on stage to perform, I’d put this person on. It took a few moments of alone time to do it right, but acting like another person worked for me, especially in the beginning. Even to this day when I get ready to present, I use a persona. I channel everything I want to be. I visualize. I practice out loud. And I reserve all my energy – because it takes a lot of energy to do this. And as I’ve gained more and more experience in life, the process has become easier and smoother.
My conversation with Vesy made me pause and think deeper about this process. Is it that I’m really putting on a new person, who’s not me at all, or am I channeling something or someone already inside me? Was this person ever not me?
I think we find ourselves in these situations a lot in life – the times where we have to put on a persona to get the job done. The job could be speaking on stage, presenting to a client, proposing to a boyfriend – it doesn’t really matter. But through this process of fake it ‘til you make it, I believe what we’re actually doing is bringing out the hidden, most special parts of ourselves that we tuck away. The things we don’t let people see very often but that are integral parts of who we are. Things that were already inside of us, but just need a little practice and polish. And the more often we practice wearing these different skins – bringing the inside out – the more a part of us they become. And isn’t that what evolution and growth are all about?