Taming the Beast

Jack says he had only been working as department manager at the logistics firm for a little while when he was invited to address the Top 200. He was reasonably well prepared and pretty calm on the way over. The shaking didn’t start till he heard his name on the loudspeaker. He was taken totally unawares by a strangled feeling as he took to the stage, the dry mouth, the dampness of his unsteady hand clutching his notes. Once he was centre stage, he avoided making eye contact with his audience, kept looking at his paper or over people’s heads. Then it was as if an animal was choking him and he blacked out. The next thing he knew, he was lying flat on his back.

Jack never wants to go through something like that again. The next annual meeting is coming up and he has decided to go on stage again, but this time he is working with a speech coach and going to do it right.

We talk about what affected his nerves the most. He didn’t have a problem with the texts and slides provided by the Communication Department. But when the audience started applauding right after he was announced, he immediately wondered “Who are these people?” “What do I have to say to them?” “What do they want to hear from me?” During that very long walk to the stage, he didn’t have an answer to any of these questions. Even before he went up the first step, he was embarrassed about being there and suddenly felt fat and awkward and foolish. So, from this angle, fainting was a welcome escape.

It is easy to conclude that he needs to focus more intensively on the preparations, devote more attention to what the audience is interested in, and give some serious thought to the essence of his story. He comes back with a preliminary draft and we go to the hall where he is going to give his speech in a couple of weeks, He strolls in nonchalantly and then breaks out in a cold sweat. Rambling and irritated, in the end he admits he is scared the beast is going to get the better of him again.

Now the thing is for Jack to own the hall and the stage. He walks around, gets to know all the nooks and crannies, he feels entitled to be all over the place, at the back, on the side, all the way up front. From any number of angles, he looks at where the audience is going to be, he walks into the hall to see the view from that direction, and again and again he goes up the stairs. The emotions keep overwhelming him, he feels physically rigid, the beast is there again. Then he has to force himself to stop – no matter where he is – take a deep breath, take a slow look around and decide what he wants to do, say, or show next. If he can do that, if he takes the time, he gradually starts to feel he can tame the beast.