With all that’s happened in 2020, it kind of shocks me when I realize that this is the year I spoke at a conference for the first time. It seems like ages ago. But in February, I spoke at my first conference and it was an amazing experience. However, in the weeks leading up to the conference, I was terrified.

My biggest fear: how would people respond to it/me?

I’m an introvert who does my thing online for churches (and for me, when I have a break from the churches) and does well when I meet with people one-on-one.

I’ve also been told that I speak well when I’m in front of people, but it’s not something I do all the time. Which leads me to…

#1: STEPPING OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE IS GOOD

You’re probably thinking, “No kidding, Crystal! I already know that.” Good. I do, too.

My dad has always told me that. It’s something I’ve always carried with me: what am I doing to step outside of my comfort zone? But it’s one thing to know that intellectually and another thing to remember that when you’re doing it, especially if it’s a decent-sized step out of your comfort zone.

Stepping outside of our comfort zone is good. And if what you’re trying really isn’t for you, that’s okay. You’ll learn that in this experience, but you’ll also have had the experience and have learned other things through it.

And if you love what you’re doing? Then you have something to pursue in your future.

#2 KNOW WHAT WILL MAKE THE EXPERIENCE EASIER

By this I mean: what can you do in advance to make sure the experience will be a better one for you. This will look different for each person, but for me it looked like this:

  • I spoke in the morning and there was a session I was interested in attending right before mine. However, it was early enough that I knew I’d have to rush out of the hotel in order to make it to that session. I didn’t want that added stress on an already stressful day and right before my session. I wanted to set myself up for as peaceful of a morning as possible, which meant crossing that session off of my list. It also meant taking time instead of racing out the door in the morning to catch the last shuttle. Instead, I took an Uber so that I could get ready at a more leisurely pace. I knew what time I wanted to call an Uber to give time for delays and to get to the conference with enough time to sit down before my session. I prioritized all of that and it worked so well. I felt as peaceful as I could when I walked into my session.
  • I like to visualize myself doing something that makes me nervous ahead of time and when I arrived at the conference on Thursday, I knew that I could do this even better if I saw the room I’d be in. But at that point, I already knew that my room assignment didn’t sound like one of the normal-sized classrooms. No, it sounded like it was a little bigger than that. The first day I was there, I felt like seeing the room would raise my anxiety about the event, so I sorted through how I felt about the size of room. The next day I was ready to go in and see it. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be, but it definitely helped to visualize myself giving the talk in the actual space. As a bonus: the person whose room I was in had Packers gear on the walls around their desk so I felt right at home in their space!

3. PRACTICE

This might seem like a no brainer, but practicing helps. Once you have the information you’d like to share ready, go through the presentation a time or two. It’ll help you see if you missed anything if you have something in that you might be able to take out, and if everything flows like you thought it would when you put the presentation together. But…

4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BREAK FREE FROM THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR PRESENTATION

At least, if you’re like me. If you absolutely, 100% need to have that structure in place, go for it. But I’m a little more fluid and go-with-the-flow. The last thing I wanted to do was literally read from my notes and off of the presentation. I kept the slideshow that people would see somewhat sparse so that I could easily move around. I wanted to be able to see how people were responding to the information I shared, and be able to have a conversation. And we had some great discussions that we might not have had if I was 100% focused on the presentation I had put together.

5. BREATHE

Making sure I take time to breathe deeply is something I’m always working on–especially when I’m stressed out. Take a few minutes to take a few deep breaths. It does wonders. And it will for you here, too.

I was caught up in talking to people who came over to me as they walked in so I was grateful for the woman who came over to pray for me and also made me take some deep breaths.

As my friend Tanner says, “Breathe in grace, exhale peace.” Or maybe grace and peace are reversed. I always wonder if I put them in the wrong spots sometimes. But you get the idea.

BONUS: IT’LL BE EASIER THE SECOND TIME YOU DO IT

Giving that particular speech will, but my guess is speaking in front of people or whatever it is you’re doing to step outside of your comfort zone will be easier the second time you do it.

I’ve actually given this presentation a second time. It was to a smaller group, but still to a group who are superiors to me in my industry and I only knew one person who was present. But giving the presentation felt more natural and we had a really great conversation, which I enjoyed.

What have you done that has forced you to step outside of your comfort zone and what did you learn from that experience?

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