I am running an hour long session next week on Work/Life Balance and my gut is already doing some staccato stomach squeezes in nervous anticipation. My session is during The Unholy Hour: after lunch on the final day of a rather serious conference. How in Cadbury's name am I going to engage a room full of strangers when all they want to do is wear their screen-saver expressions, eat the last of the good biscuits and get a good head start on the peak hour traffic?
For some reason, I can goof off with friends, during meetings, karate classes and even on radio but the thought of actually standing up as the sole focus of attention, trying to convince the people staring at me (or are they checking out my Ayers-Rock-sideways arse? dog hairs on the bottom of my trousers? a king-sized boogie blowing in the breeze of my left nostril?) that I have some idea of the subject matter truly terrifies me. As Seinfeld once noted, most people nominated public speaking - over death - as their biggest fear in life. "So they'd rather be the one in the casket than the one still living, delivering the eulogy."
Imagining the audience naked doesn't work for me. It just leads to nightmares where it is me who is naked, normally behind a podium, trying my damnedest to hide the fact that I may be wearing a shirt and jacket on top, but have nothing on below the waist. Besides, wouldn't it be harder to entertain and engage a completely unclothed crowd - they'd certainly be much more easily distracted, surely.
Perhaps that’s why I’m enjoying writing from home so much. I can ration my time in front of strangers or even the need to ‘perform’ in front of co-workers. No need to dress like a professional, add the right amount of comment during planning sessions or have to speak authoritatively about some obscure part of government legislation to a member of the public I'd dearly like to shove under a bus. There's also no requirement to facilitate team meetings, convince senior management as to the wisdom of my ideas or be called on to answer a difficult question during a leadership seminar.
However, this session is about my book, and why I, the Poster Child for how NOT to achieve work/life balance actually found the ways and means to achieve it. All well and good, but how can I spin that out for 60 minutes before resorting to "Let's open it up to the floor," (and instead hoping the floor would open up to me and let me disappear forever), giving them a half-hour early minute or resorting to finding some funny YouTube clips that only vaguely relate to my topic? What if I forget what I was going to say? I'm not sure I can go noteless like Andrew Denton or be able to spin off some witty anecdotes in quick response to the situation. "Er, I seem to have forgotten what I was going to say...."Amnesia used to be my favourite word, but then I forgot it," heh heh, sweat sweat, blush blush......
Several years ago, I did a brain dominance psychology test at work and it revealed that I tended to perform pretty well in front of others, but suffer stress before hand, usually by throwing up before walking on stage. Too true, although 'throwing up' should be cancelled and 'crapping daks and farting like a flute' inserted instead.
Even during relatively innocuous occasions I've suffered at the hands of facing the public. Making the speech at Taka and Justine's wedding, my left knee shook so badly that the beads and sequins on the neckline of my dress appeared to be flashing, and after enduring a live telecast of 'Wheel of Fortune' as a 'lucky' contestant, I immediately regurgitated the complimentary chocolates and champagne the second I walked off the set. Even teaching high school students felt like a performance in front of a particularly picky and hostile crowd: how many times, in a work situation, are you faced with a fifteen year old looking you up and down and then asking sullenly, 'So how old ARE you, Miss Read?"
Back to now, or next week to be precise. How should I handle this presentation? Reliable old Powerpoint with some dot points and slightly humorous photos thrown in to keep them staring straight ahead and amused? Straight speech and copies of detailed notes to hand around? Minties and a mini group meditation? Or open up a stand with the sign 'Buy My Book Here' ??
Who knows, except the surety that I'll lose at least a couple of kilos in the hours before I start.....