On speaking in front of strangers

At the end of 2018, I made a promise to myself, after much urging from my former manager slash coach, Anna Cosic, that 2019 would be the year I conquer my fear of speaking in front of strangers.

I’m not exactly afraid of being on stage or being in front of a crowd. On the contrary, I enjoy it immensely. I did theatre when I was younger and I have unrealized pop-star dreams. So whenever you put me on stage (or just in the front of a meeting room) with a microphone, I’m pretty much in my element.

But I was afraid to speak in front of strangers because I was afraid to talk about… well things. My own opinions. My own learnings. Things that have to come from my own brain and heart.

I was afraid that whatever it is that comes out of my mouth will be so ridiculous that I would just be wasting people’s time (or worse money). You would think that somebody who has no qualms singing Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer in front of a crowd would have no problems with ridiculous things coming out of their mouth.

But I was in the middle of trying to figure out what’s next for my career. So I needed to try new things. Take bolder steps.

And speaking in front of people about Product Management (among other things) seemed bold enough to me. So I did.

And now, it’s December 2019. One year later. And I’ve accomplished the following:

✅ Spoke in front of a crowd to pitch for a community I was building
✅ Spoke in meetups about Product Management in both Barcelona and Lisbon (woohoo internationaaaaaaaalll)
✅ Started teaching a course about Product Management
✅ Did my first ever international conference in Lisbon
✅ Started a group with friends where we are giving workshops to other women to help them grow in their careers

Not bad, eh? So what changed? A lot! Especially the things I let run through my head.

Public Speaking is not an American Idol Audition

If I look at it from a different angle — I’m absolutely not afraid of airing out my thoughts and feelings in public as long as it’s on (virtual) paper. It didn’t matter so much to me who could potentially be reading my thoughts about living in Barcelona, or how stressful being a Product Manager can sometimes be. They could be my manager, the mayor of Barcelona, or the person who invented the role Product Manager, and I still wouldn’t mind. I was from the generation who wore our hearts on our sleeves on LiveJournal after all.

If I wasn’t afraid of putting my brain dump out there for potentially thousands of people to read and then judge, why was I afraid of speaking in front of a crowd that’s barely even 100?

My problem was, I saw public speaking as an American Idol audition; that if I wasn’t “good enough”, I would be judged harshly and that’d be the end of my career. Except I had 0 idea what good enough meant. So I assumed.

🤦‍♀️ I assumed that good enough meant that I knew everything there was to know about a certain topic.
🤦‍♀️ And that what I was sharing needed to echo what was being said by every thought leader imaginable.
🤦‍♀️ I assumed that I had to tick off all the boxes in the heads of every single person in the room.

Of course, with those as my criteria of “good enough” — every time I spoke in front of people felt like getting a no, even from Paula Abdul who sees a butterfly emerging from a cocoon from every 👏 single 👏 audition.

So I redefined my “good enough”.

the secret to my courage is beer

To be ‘good enough’ is not the purpose

Fresh from one of my post-speaking crisis, my manager asked me, “What do you want to get out of doing all these?”

Good question.

Speaking in front of strangers, talking about the things I’ve been through when it comes to Product Management or growing in my career — why in the world would I voluntarily do that? Especially when being judged is what I’m most afraid of in the world.

Well — I wanted to share with other people what I’ve learned over the years.

When I started Product Management, I had no idea what being a Product Manager really meant. It wasn’t until I moved to Barcelona 4 years ago did I really learn how to be one. And not without tears, frustration, and a whole lot of embarrassment. Up to now, I’m still learning.

Long story short, it caused a lot of ruckus on my leveling at work, problems with my non-promotion, among many others.

Imagine the impact all of that had on my confidence.

So that’s why I started teaching, presenting, sharing — what have you.

I didn’t want more people to fumble around like I did. I figured, if by sharing everything I know, things other people have taught me too, there’d be at least one more person out there who would go to work the following day a tad bit more confident about themselves and what they do than they were the day before.

And THAT is what I wanted to get out of doing all these.

Which brings me to my last point.

Personal Perspective >>> Expertise

I used to be so afraid of being judged as not good enough by other people. Not good enough to share what I know. Or what I know is not good enough to be shared.

Until a trainer in a workshop I went to said that we didn’t need to have PHDs to be allowed to stand in front of people and share our stories. And how our own perspectives, our own personal experiences, are so much stronger than repeating theories other people have written. Because they were ours. 🤯

And holy moly expletives I shouldn’t publish goes in this sentence.

It made a lot of sense. And if I were sharing MY story. MY experience — then everything I would be talking about IS good enough.

Which meant that:

🙋‍♀️ It didn’t matter if I didn’t know the topic from all its possible angles well enough write a book about it.
🙋‍♀️ It didn’t matter if I wasn’t echoing what the thought leaders of the world were saying. (Which is great because I didn’t agree with half of them 🙊)
🙋 And it absolutely didn’t matter if I wasn’t ticking off all the checkboxes in the heads of everybody who was in front of me

And it all goes back full circle to WHY I’m doing all of these in the first place.

I wanted to help people feel better about how they were doing their jobs and feel more confident about how they’re progressing in their careers. And my way of doing that was to share what I have learned — throughout my own journey and my own mistakes.

Of course my story will not echo any thought leader’s opinion. Of course it will not tick off all of the boxes in people’s heads. Because it’s not supposed to in the first place. Because it’s personal. And that’s the beauty of it.

And besides, you know what — I do have an expertise. In my topic. Because I lived it. And it’s high time I own that.

And always looking to our Lady Beyonce for inspiration

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

I wish I could tell you that my confidence reached Master level after all that realization. That I just nailed every speaking opportunity since then. That I never had to battle impostor syndrome ever again.

Nope. At least not completely.

I still see every speaking or teaching opportunity as an American Idol audition.

EXCEPT.

Except this time I’ve stopped seeing every single person looking at me as Simon Cowells just waiting for me to bomb. I started seeing myself as Kelly Clarkson instead (because let’s face it, she’s the only one who had a career that mattered out of all the season winners) just one song away from becoming a legend in Pop Music.

More importantly, I started focusing on WHY I’ve chosen to stand in front of a lot of people to speak in the first place. I will never get a 100% agreement on what I have to say and that’s ok. But if there’s at least one person in that audience who will walk out of the room after I’ve spoken, thinking they’ve learned something that will help them tackle their own worries — then I’m going to stand a little taller and sign up for the next opportunity to do it all over again.

Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk. 🎤

p.s.
I also practiced a lot, took presentation courses, and volunteered as tribute as much as I can to learn how to speak better. 💪

I like to write about Product Management and sometimes my feelings. Currently living in Barcelona. And still trying to save the world before HAMMER TIME! Stop!