The other side of the Mic

On Tuesday I put myself through an ordeal.  I had never imagined it would go down like this.  Pupils dilated, heart bouncing rapidly, throat dry, bile rising.  My top button was too tight, suddenly my bra was too tight, everything was making me want to vomit, the smell of cigarettes, the sip of water – or wine, if I’m honest. 

Two weeks earlier, the marvelous Andrea Gibbs had asked if I would share a story at her monthly Storytelling night Barefaced Stories at the Bird.  My immediate reaction was to want to say ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ but I caught myself.  Was this so different from what I had been asking other people to do for the last 3 – 4 years of my career?  It was not.

I knew the formula for a good story, the arc, the twist, the point of no return.  I knew that behind each good first person story was the vulnerability, a shared humanity.  But as I was readying myself to get up on stage that none of this had prepared me for sharing an intimate story among a group of people who were avid story listeners.  I felt sick.

I had always heard reporters and journo’s thank their talent for being brave, for sharing their story with the world.  I thought it was a token comment, sure, a sacrifice of time and information and not much more.  Standing on the other side of the microphone revealed the poignancy of that gesture.

 I recall a much bandied article released five or so years ago which claimed a poll had determined that people fear public speaking more than they fear death.  So what’s the risk here?  My story looms. It creeps closer, over weeks, nerves piling on nerves. You worry about blanking. You worry about that awful, shifty stir around a room that has not been made to laugh or applaud or say "ah" at a scripted moment. You worry about spontaneously passing out, or being sick, or doing something that will be remembered by everybody present forever.

The fear is not the speaking, it is about what other people will think of you.  The audience is not crying for blood but for a connection.  But also: "Let me see the real you, even if it's flawed and you make mistakes." And the stake is that you put yourself out there and no one wants to take it.  It was my turn to be in that place and I just have to suck it up and do my best.

This story was performed live at Barefaced Stories and aired on Weekends with Andrea Gibbs on ABC Local Radio.

Watch the proposal video: