Being asked to speak at the Tate is kind of a big frikkin’ deal. I decided to ignore the fact that I’m actually petrified of speaking in public and jumped at the chance. My talk was part of a project called Visual Dialogues – I was to speak about an installation by the artist Mona Hatoum and how I related to it as a blogger.
The piece was a bunch of kitchen utensils on a table, behind an electric fence. All the utensils were connected with wires and had an electric current running through them accompanied by an intermittent buzzing sound. It all sounds very weird, I know, but when you’re there in person and see the kitchen, which traditionally represents home, family and safety, looking like a prison, it does have an effect on you.
After initially worrying I wouldn’t have anything to say about the piece, I’d finished writing my talk by Friday and spent the whole day going over it. I was nervous even just saying it to myself in the mirror – and I’m a great audience! – but tried to push those thoughts to the back of my mind.
I woke up on Saturday morning and my nerves had me in a death grip. I felt sick and wracked with self-doubt. Once I forced myself to get up and had my dress, heels and lipstick on, I felt a little more prepared. I went over my talk one last time in the mirror – I had it down. Off to the Tate I went.
I don’t know if you know this but, A LOT OF PEOPLE GO TO THE TATE ON WEEKENDS! Others were part of this project giving talks; poets, an athlete, a musician – sadly I didn’t get to see their talks before it was time for me to do mine. I walked into the room, the sound guy handed me a mic and said ‘there are a lot more people here for this talk than there were for the others.’ Great. Thanks guy. I mean, not that I was crapping myself or anything, but hearing that, seconds before I hit the stage, almost rendered me speechless.
And then it happened…
I felt my nerves but started my talk. I got about a paragraph and a half in, I felt the crowd were with me, they seemed engaged and interested. And then it happened. I was coming to the end of my sentence and it just hit me….’I have no idea what I’m meant to say next.’ My stomach dropped. I’m sure all the blood drained from my face and I most likely had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look. ‘Um. I’m sorry’ I said, as I scrambled through my papers to find where I was supposed to be. A room full of people watching. I felt like I could hear a clock ticking really loudly and everything else was quiet. Except that damn art installation which wouldn’t stop buzzing! And did I mention, we’re at the TATE?!
I struck up again and tried to get back into my stride. I’d get going, start feeling good, start feeling like I had the crowd on my side again, then it would happen again – complete blank. Me frantically searching through my mind and my papers to try to find the words.
By the end of the talk I’d found my groove, even managed to make the crowd chuckle (thankfully at one of my jokes and not at what a raging baffoon I looked). And then it was over. People clapped, many people came up to me afterwards and told me how much they enjoyed it and all I wanted to do was cry. I was so disappointed in myself. I had it down in the mirror! I was so mad for not doing as well as I wanted to.
See, I’m not shy by any means but I really am quite a solitary person. It’s usually just me and my computer and I guess the screen provides quite a safety net for me. I’m not used to speaking in front of lots of people and the very thought of it terrifies me. I was petrified on Saturday and totally out of my comfort zone but here’s the lesson: I want to be good at this. I want to do more public speaking and the only way I’ll get good at it is to do more of it. So, I just have to feel the fear and do it anyway. I’m bound to have a few train wrecks on the way, but it’s all part of learning. I can’t beat myself up about it and I’m sure it played out much worse in my head than it was in reality.
And so with that under my belt, I get back in the saddle. Feel free to join me for the ride!