#upfront conversation with Jess Ede

Jess Ede is a professional problem solver at Meld Studios in Sydney. With a background in interaction design and psychology, she uses the design process to help large organisations and government departments improve peoples lives.

I was lucky enough to meet Jess when I spent Christmas 2013 in Sydney and got to catch up last month when she was in London. Here’s what she has to say about her relationship with public speaking and confidence…

When I was younger I used to perform in plays and compete in poetry events. These were my first experiences of speaking publicly but the content wasn’t mine. I was judged on how I performed not what I was saying. It’s the latter that scares me.

I have anxiety around public speaking primarily because it’s about saying the right thing in the right way. Secondly, the format means you speak at people instead of a dialogue and this makes me feel uncomfortable.

“It fills me with fear. It feels like there is a right and wrong way to do it and I don’t want to get it wrong.”

I feel most confident when I have moments when I’m not worried about what other people think of me. My confidence wavers when I focus on the pressure to have a solid idea or a resolved opinion about something. My opinions and thoughts are always changing, so the idea of putting my name to content in such a solid way is scary.

I have never been a speaker at a conference and I’ve never applied to speak at a conference. This is something I would like to do. The reason I don’t do this is I’m not convinced I have anything valuable enough to say to a captive audience. The idea of getting up on stage in front of people I don’t know also feels risky because they don’t know me. It doesn’t feel like a safe space.

This year I’m working hard on overcoming my fear of public speaking. I went to a course at NIDA which was a one day workshop on presenting with confidence. It was good because it addressed the common things most people are afraid of; what to do with your breathing and your body when you are nervous.

I co-facilitated a workshop for the first time last week with a colleague and I put some of the techniques into play. Ordinarily I would have freaked myself out before hand, I have a tendency to overthink things and imagine worse case scenarios. I can obsess over how people will perceive me rather than focusing on the content and the real reason I’m there. The workshop went well and it felt like I was just having a conversation with a room full of people. It felt normal and it was nowhere near the big deal I thought it would be. I need to remember to just get out of my own way more often and to stop thinking about the things that could go wrong.

At Meld, my team know I’m scared and they are giving me opportunities to overcome this. I’m very lucky to work in a very supportive environment.

“If people don’t know you have a problem then they can’t help you and I encourage you to share what you are scared of.”

I’ve found out that many of my colleagues have gone through incredible journeys to find their confidence. You don’t know the steps someone has had to go through to be as good as they are unless you ask! Try not to compare yourself to people who have done it for years and years. If my team didn’t know this is something I’m working on I’d feel even more anxious because there would be that expectation on me.

I’ve had conversations with my bosses about what I’m scared of and this has made them understand why I behave the way I do. The now know that it’s not because I don’t want to speak, host, or facilitate. This message has been really important to them. I thought it was obvious and everyone knew but turns out this was an unhelpful assumption.

Every single person has a story about public speaking. This might be why and how they are good at it or it might be the way they rehearse in the mirror the night before. You only find out by asking. As soon as I shared my vulnerability these stories came forward. Everyone has a strategy – it doesn’t just come naturally to people – people work hard to be good at it.

“Often you look around at a conference it feels like everyone knows what they are doing except you. People on the stage look confident and look like they should be up there. Imagine if every speaker told us how many times they had practised? Imagine if every speaker talked about how nervous they were the night before? ”

I know the only way to learn is to try different things out to find the thing that is comfortable for me. I have held off for a long time as I thought maybe public speaking would just never be my thing. My advice to anyone thinking this is don’t over think it and give it a shot. If you fail, yes it’s a possibility you might feel stupid but it’s still better than sitting still.

“Get into the headspace of finding your ‘fuck it’. I get to the point where I’m tired of overthinking things. ”

I realise that if I don’t step up and do it I will be the only one worse off. If I don’t do it now then when will I? It’s easy to find a million excuses for not doing something. Just fuck it, no more excuses. Do it.

#upfront is important because the current format of a speaker star on a physical pedestal makes it really hard for people in the audience to  imagine that one day that could be them. Right now, there is no way to connect the speaker back to your life and try and figure out how one day you could be where they are. Let’s ask every speaker to share the journey they’ve been on!

For the people who have been doing this for along time – what is your advice? Do you realise how valuable it is to share this? Will you share your stage with people like me? Helping other people communicate ideas and thoughts is so vital otherwise brilliant ideas and knowledge gets lost in the heads of really smart people who don’t know why or how to share.

This year I am going to give find opportunities to present publicly and teach a masters class in service design at the University of Technology Sydney. I’m turning 30 this year and I want to be a designer who shares. I’m taking baby steps and you can too! We all must find confidence to share.

If you’d like to talk to Jess about your experiences, ideas or anything in this post you can email her Jessica.ede@gmail.com