Is watching too many TED talks making me anxious about public speaking?

Full admission: I’m an ‘inspiration’ junkie.

If I’m not on Audible listening to the latest self-help author (often for the second-time around, whilst taking notes) or pinning inspirational quotes to my Pinterest ‘Life’ board, then I’m flitting between the ‘Be Inspired’ channel on YouTube or whichever TED talk in my recommendations looks like it’s going to be most life-changing.

I just can’t help myself: I love to learn, especially from incredible, ‘successful’ people who have done interesting things.

So when Mr. G and I sat down to discuss my recent anxiety wobble, and my admission that I’m beginning to feel anxious again about my skills as an entrepreneur/public speaker/go-getter-type person that I feel I need to be…. you can imagine my horror, when he proudly proclaimed it was down to all the TED talks I was watching. (Gasp!)

How can this be?! Because, according to him, I spend so much time watching the greatest speakers in the world and nowhere near enough time watching ordinary, everyday people where the potential for flops and vulnerability is much greater.

And you know I think he’s right!

When I had Cognitive Behaviour Therapy nearly a decade ago, my therapist and I uncovered the fact that much of my anxiety came down to the fact that I had completely unrealistic expectations of what I could and should be able to do. With my phobia of public speaking, for example, I believed that if a presentation wasn’t flawless – if I didn’t look, sound, move just as I imagined I ought; if I showed any sign of vulnerability or weakness; if someone in my audience looked disengaged or judgmental; then it was basically crap and I should be ashamed. Yikes! 

Such was my old way of thinking – and I really have come a long way away from this, now knowing that it’s actually beneficial to be vulnerable; that it’s okay to make mistakes; that being me is much more endearing than being ‘perfect.’

Yet, I am beginning to feel anxious about public speaking again.

And I think…. that somewhere amongst the TED talks, led by the best minds and well-practiced public-speakers in the world, my subconscious decided that this is what a presentation should look like.

In the same way that a child soaks up negative attitudes from parents, despite their best efforts for that not to happen, my subconscious soaked up these unrealistic expectations and used them to reinforce those neural pathways of perfectionism.

So as much as I love my speaking role models, I’m going to spend less time with them. I’m going to take more time to watch ordinary people doing courageous things, including the times when they get it a little (or a lot) wrong. Some Dragons’ Den pitches are already springing to mind…

Because having high expectations are great, but allowing your brain to see things in terms of ‘perfect’ or ‘crap’ really isn’t.

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