How I was able to Pitch in San Francisco (without freaking out)
My biggest fear… public speaking! I know I’m not alone, as survey after survey show that public speaking is the most common thing people fear, and that they fear it more than death itself!
With that said, growing up, my fear was so real, that I avoided speaking in public like the plague!
In high school and university, I would literally research what courses would require oral presentations, and choose not to take those classes. If the class was required, I would worry about having to do the presentation for months before it was ever assigned.
When delivering one presentation in grade 9, I was holding a poem I had to read, and my hands were visibly shaking the paper I was holding and as I felt sweat from my armpits rolling down my leg, all I could think about was what everyone else was thinking about me in that moment.
Yet, last week I actually flew to California to pitch to a room full of Venture Capitalist, and I’m the one who signed me up for it.
So, how did I do it?
Well, the main principle is based on exposure therapy, which is the main behavioural aspect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
At Tranquility, our coaches work with our clients to help them change their automatic negative thoughts and unhelpful behaviours. When it comes to anxiety, unfortunately, avoiding the things that make us anxious usually reinforces our anxiety about those situations.
So, the solution is to put ourselves in anxiety provoking situations on purpose! Sounds like fun, right!?
So, how do we do this without freaking out!?
One step at a time… you gotta learn to crawl before you can run!
Build a Step Ladder
The key with exposure is to do it gradually in order to build up our confidence with these types of situations. So, the way I structured this process was to come up with 8 steps that would allow me to practice feeling anxious, and build up my confidence for the big day!
Below are the steps that I came up with. It took me about 3 months to complete this process.
While completing my Step Ladder, starting at the bottom with the easiest steps, things went pretty well!
It’s not easy!
Not all exposures went smoothly though, and that’s kind of part of the process. For example, when I went to the first networking event, I felt quite anxious at the beginning, and quickly found myself at the bar buying a few alcoholic beverages (my social crutch). In CBT, these types of “crutches” are called safety behaviours. Although they may calm us down, we may not be able to rely on them all the time, or they may actually be harmful.
Thankfully, I knew beforehand that this may happen, sometimes going from one step to the next may be too much of a big leap. So, I knew what I had to do, I had to try this step again!
The next week, I went to another networking event, and armed with the knowledge that although I’m most likely going to feel nervous, I now know that the nervous energy usually calms down once I’ve had a conversation or two. And well, that’s actually exactly what happened!
To master the networking event, I decided to attend one more, just to make sure I was building up my confidence, and that one went without a hitch!
Once I got to the higher steps, where I had to start pitching, things got pretty difficult, but I had the experience I needed to understand that the nervous feelings are only temporary, and that I could handle them.
Now, am I saying that when I was in San Francisco, pitching for investment that my anxiety was gone!?
But, what I can say is that actually, I felt less anxious for that one than I did for Step 7: Pitch on stage in Halifax at Demo Day.
AND… also… that’s not the point!
The point isn’t that I still felt anxious doing something, the point is that I went from avoiding activities that require public speaking.
Also, now that I’ve been able to accomplish something with a 10 fear rating, it makes those 6, 7 and 8s feel easy! In fact, I don’t even think about being anxious at networking events anymore!
How’s this for progress?
This July, my brother is getting married. I’m extremely honoured that he asked me to be his best man. And guess what, I actually can’t wait to deliver my toast and speech!
Founder & CEO of Tranquility.app