An #upfront conversation with Michelle Tucker

Michelle Tucker, originally from Canada, moved to Stockholm to attend school last year. Before that she spent 12 years teaching snowboarding and serving in restaurants. She is a passionate feminist and recently launched The Incremental; a project to bring more creative women to the fore. She has ambitions to help people to live more slowly.

I met Michelle via Instagram and was delighted to feature in The Incremental last week. The first time we spoke I was humbled by how openly and honestly Michelle talked about the challenges she has overcome when it comes to talking in front of people. Here’s what she has to say about public speaking, confidence and the journey she’s on with both…

I’m 34 and I’ve rarely presented outside of school. My relationship with public speaking has always been a difficult one. For as along as I can remember I’ve never enjoyed it. It’s always made me feel very nervous. Even when prompted by teachers I would pass the opportunity because it made me feel so uncomfortable. This has changed quite a bit over time but it’s taken many years.

I rarely took the opportunity to speak in front of people – even if it was informal. At school, I’d have thirty people looking at me and even though they were my friends, I would sweat and turn very red.

At Hyper Island you can’t avoid speaking in front of people. This was when things changed for me. When I got accepted into the school I knew I’d be forced into uncomfortable situations. I really wanted to challenge myself because I was feeling stagnant. I knew I needed to push myself and the majority of this pushing and challenging had to come from myself. It was time to step up. The first step was realising that I needed to make this change. I realised I’d been feeling trapped and life felt too easy – so I made a decision and with that came freedom.

“My worst case scenario is being asked to talk about myself – the combination of eyes on me and talking about myself is just too much. ”

How did I get better at this? Well, I knew I needed to simply do it. Even if I looked and felt stupid. So I did it and then I did it again and then over time I started pushing myself into different projects where I’d offer to pitch. I would still get sweaty and turn red but this got less and less every time I did it.

It’s not that I have a goal of being a good presenter as such but I do have a goal of being good at connecting with people and telling stories.

“The thing that has helped me get better is just doing it over and over again. Even when it feels like a complete failure you have to keep going and do it again”

If you are reading this and like me you go red and sweat and dread the thought of it try practicing in small situations where you can feel safe. This might be at dinner with friends or at home with a partner. There are always opportunities to practice, try, fail and get better. You can find opportunities to talk in front of people on a daily basis even if it’s just introducing yourself to an audience – even that used to make me feel very nervous but it really helped to make me feel more comfortable eventually.

Over time I gradually becoming more and more comfortable with the people I was presenting to but also more comfortable in trusting myself. I used to have a fear of being judged and looking stupid. I now know I have to be ok with that. Now I don’t care if I fumble and I don’t care if I go red because it happens to most people. Yet still, I have days when I feel really confident and other days I want to stay in bed. That’s okay too.

“Next time you are in an audience please be the warmest face; smile and nod. This has such a calming influence for anyone who is nervous on stage”

Before I do any speaking I sometimes make my body really big by stretching and breathing deeply.

“It’s very common for your mind to go completely blank when you talking in front of people. This used to happen to me and I’d leave the stage having no memory of what I actually said.”

This is very common and it can be helped by following your breath – breathe a lot before you go on and breathe slower while up there. When I have to speak my heart beat gets faster sometimes I’m shaking and I don’t why because I don’t feel scared. Then because I think I look silly I feel silly. I feel like I don’t look like what I should look like. I think I should look more composed but actually I look vulnerable.

Confidence is about feeling comfortable and relaxed. When I feel confidence I don’t question myself and I trust myself. I feel powerful. When I feel this way I’m great at conversation and can talk to strangers comfortably. I feel like I can do whatever I want. Yet, of course I have days I feel like I can’t talk to anyone and I fumble over my words. This is when your family, friends and your team support you. Sometimes, I don’t feel the way I want to feel when I have to present but I just go with it.

“Sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it

The presentations I really enjoy are often a little interactive and not very stiff and they are speaking in more relaxed language. Good speakers often ask the audience questions or interacts with the audience in a way that makes you think differently. The best talks happen when speakers make fun of themselves in an authentic way.

If you’d like to talk to Michelle about this article or share your ideas or challenges please mail her