Putting ourselves out there

Fears. We all have them. It is interesting to read about the most common fears (not phobias, that’s a whole other subject). There are the typical spiders, snakes and heights. Dogs I was a bit surprised about, but public speaking … not so much.

Why does talking in front of a group make people so very uncomfortable? It seems to be related to the “flight or fight” response. This natural process kicks in when we perceive a threat. But how can the groups of people the average person is called upon to speak in front of present any real threat?

The answer lies in our overactive brains. When we get up in front of a group, the brain starts running through the potential negative consequences, particularly to our reputations. “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if I tell a joke and nobody laughs?”

Your brain triggers the release of adrenaline into your blood stream. That’s when the physical reactions kick in, including a rise in blood pressure and the shutdown of your digestive system (leading to dry mouth or butterflies in the stomach).

If you face this fear, you’re in good company. Just a few of the public personalities who have been able to overcome fear of public speaking include Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Reese Witherspoon, and Richard Branson.

I too faced this fear but was able to overcome it, mainly through repeated exposure (kind of like classical conditioning). As a child, my parents enrolled me in a public speaking program, in which I had to memorize and then present a speech on a specific subject in front of judges. And of course I have had many speaking “engagements” during my college courses and in my 20-plus years as a magazine editor.

The result is that I am (mostly) comfortable with public speaking. A fear mastered and a skill set I actually use now and again.

So what should pop up recently but the opportunity to face (and hopefully overcome) another fear. I agreed to be an “on-air personality” in our Hydro Headlines weekly newscast. I have never done anything like this before. I have never stood in front of a camera to be video recorded and then “broadcast” to an audience, of any size. And although we don’t have millions of viewers on the HydroWorld.com website, we did have a respectable 139,770 page views in August 2014. So it can be an intimidating thought the first time around, especially for someone with absolutely no experience in this media.

It took me four takes to get this first video “in the can.” Not too bad, I suppose. The challenge for me is that, without a live audience, you are kind of talking to yourself. There is no particular person you can look at, direct your remarks to, or read their facial expression or body position. So, if I look a bit “flat” emotionally in this video, I blame my lack of audience. I’ll try to be a bit more vivacious next time!

The editors in PennWell’s Hydro Group put themselves “out there” every day, in the magazine articles we write or edit, the news stories we post on HydroWorld.com, the meetings we lead for HydroVision International, the posts we place on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, and the blogs we write for the website.

We do this because we want you to get to know us, as individuals and as a group dedicated to meeting your information needs in the hydroelectric power market. But we also want to get to know you. We want to hear about your successes and failures, your challenges and opportunities. Every one of the communication avenues mentioned above offers you the opportunity to email us, call us, talk to us face to face, or comment on something we’ve written.

Do it today! We promise we will be a receptive, nonjudgmental audience.

P.S. On the topic of public speaking, there’s still time to submit your abstract for the HydroVision International technical papers sessions or submit your name as a potential panelist during the panel presentation sessions. Just click here.

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Elizabeth Ingram is content director for the Hydro Review website and HYDROVISION International. She has more than 17 years of experience with the hydroelectric power industry. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethIngra4 .

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