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Blackout on Stage!

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

A Scary Situation I Faced and Then Had to Pick Up the Pieces

My 2 minutes (and 10 seconds) of fame!

For those that have followed my journey and read some past blogs or Facebook posts, you know I have huge anxiety around public speaking.

Some can be attributed to my introversion (though many introverts are great public speakers), some to my shyness (very different from Introversion), and some roots back to my elementary school flubbing of a speech on Johann Gutenberg (inventor of the printing press).

Tackling My Fear Head-on

Fast forward to this past summer when an opportunity arose to participate in a local bookfair. In addition to some well-known authors that fly in, they have a Local Literati section and invite local authors to present their book for two minutes each - sort of like speed shopping at Barnes & Noble.

Determined to share my book and message with many and my confidence bolstered by dozens of podcast appearances, I accepted the invitation. I was excited about the growth opportunity while recognizing a tinge of nervousness that suddenly implanted itself in my stomach.

While I've done countless business presentations as a 30-year vet of corporate America, even this 2-minute schpiel was going to be different. I wouldn't have notes or a slideshow and would, in fact, be memorizing my speech with a rigid cutoff time.

Preparation & Mindset are the Keys

So like many good introverts, I prepared! I wrote my 2-minute speech in September. I began reading it three times a day in October, four weeks before the book fair. I practiced in my office, while out for a walk, in the shower, on the back porch... every day. And in the past week or so I dropped my written speech and rehearsed from memory. I felt like I finally had it down.

Then I focused on mindset through positive self-talk:

  • I can do this

  • I know my stuff

  • Aim for impactful, not perfection

  • The audience wants to hear my message

  • Take a deep breath, go slow

  • Dip my toe in and enjoy the ripples

Show Time

Finally, the day arrived. I did feel a bit nervous, but well prepared and excited to share my message...and certainly ready to be done.

I was fourth on the list. The lady before me finished and I was introduced. I walked on stage, shook hands with the host (who incorrectly referenced my website (Beyond Introversion) instead of my book title (The Corporate Introvert), and began.

"Good morning. I'm Steve Friedman, author of The Corporate Introvert." I pointed to the big screen behind me with my book cover and correct title. "Thanks to the ERJCC for inviting me to the book fair."

I smoothly transitioned into the next sentence while glancing around the dark theatre and occasional searchlights beaming into my eyes. "Wait a minute. Aren't introverts supposed to be loners, shy, and anti-social? Well, I'm an introvert. What am I doing up here? I believe!" I felt good. I felt relaxed, was using hand gestures, and scanning the room. But happened!

Blackout on Stage!

My mind went blank and I went on auto-pilot. I wasn't thinking of what to say, it just dribbled out of my mouth. I had practiced about 75 times (really!) and so it just rolled out. It was a bit surreal. Sort of an out-of-body experience. I believe I worked through my tree analogy and then...I stumbled. I lost my place. Someone turned off my auto-pilot! Suddenly the auto-pilot wasn't working anymore. What was next?

Somehow, I recall ad-libbing a wandering yet somewhat coherent sentence while I freaked out inside. I remember asking myself, "am I stuck? Dare I unfold the typed speech on the podium and try to find my place?" I knew I couldn't just ad-lib the rest of my time. I really couldn't recall where I was! Panic was setting in. I thought, perhaps I need to fess up and tell the audience I'm stuck?!! All this happened in about ten seconds while I was actually ad-libbing some other words. And then, somehow, I picked up where I was supposed to be. I continued on, a bit rattled but back into this semi-conscious auto-pilot state. Finally, I was able to finish my two minutes (and 10 seconds) of fame. (You'll find my 10 seconds of wandering around the 3:00.00 mark of the video)

I smiled, shook the host's hand, and took my seat on the front row.

Introvert's Introspection

I put my COVID mask back on and began to decipher what just happened.

Earlier in the week, I'd told myself to practice self-compassion no matter how the speech went. Impactfulness, not perfection! So I celebrated that I was done, that I believe I covered everything, and that perhaps my foible went unnoticed.

But naturally, my mind moved to "what the hell happened?" I don't even remember talking. I knew I got lost once but I don't even remember where. All that practice and I just blacked out. Why? I was ready. Was I too ready? Was the anxiety and buildup for months just too much? Did I get thrown off by the crowd or the lights?

I'd blacked out before - after too many shots or too much saki as my way of trying to cope with the pressures of working in a very extroverted corporate culture for years. But never like this. Why? Was it a chemical imbalance issue in my brain...adrenalin or something?

Comforted by the recognition it was indeed over and that I believed I'd covered all my points, and that it could have been much worse (and nearly was), I continued to decipher.

When the last speaker finished, I met my wife outside the theatre. Always my greatest cheerleader, she gave me a big smile, a warm hug, and a hearty congratulations. I asked if she could tell I got stuck