Lessons Learned: Autism, Anxiety and Public Speaking

Lessons Learned: Autism, Anxiety and Public Speaking

Last week I blogged about a huge risk I was about to take: reading from my memoir, From Turmoil to Triumph, in public, for the very first time.

I mean, first time speaking into a microphone – ever.

Anybody who suffers chronic anxiety like I do will know how terrifying this was. Top it off with the fact that it was my personal story, and that raised the stakes even higher. If it was for any other reason, I might have said I was sick and ducked out at the last minute. The anxiety of facing something like this was so overwhelming in the past. But I knew I needed to face my fear. My goal is to share my story to help others. I had a good reason to get up there. I was even a little excited about it.

Guess what? I survived! And I’m going to do it again!

I’m not going to lie. It was really hard. When I was sitting in the audience, waiting my turn, I was freaking out about how I was even going to walk down there and get up on the stage. I even started shaking a little up there.

Here are three lessons I learned:

Before: Read through it and practice it a lot. I did practice in front of my wife and daughter, and they gave me some pointers, but I was still making changes to the text – it wasn’t perfect on the page, and I had to make changes on the fly. In the future, I’ll make sure the text is just right, and then practice it many times to make sure I’m really comfortable with it.

During: When I first started talking, it felt like everybody was just staring at me, totally deadpan, and it was a little unnerving. It was a supportive audience, but the blank faces staring at me were challenging. I looked to my family and my friend for some reassurance. They were all smiling, and I knew I had their support. That was my comfort.

After: I was pretty wound up, and I wanted to leave as quickly as possible. If there had been a back stage door that got me straight home, I would have bolted out of there. But I made myself stay until it was time for us to go. I was glad to get to hear the other readers. I realized that I needed to give people more credit. If I screwed up, they would have understood. They weren’t going to rip me to shreds or heckle me. This was a really supportive crowd, and a good place to take this risk.

I have a book launch coming up and more events. If I’m going to learn how to do this, I need to practice in safe spaces. I’m grateful there are places for people like me to learn.

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