For Public Speaking Overload, Walk Away

I always feel silly saying that speaker coaching is hard work. Manual labor is hard work. Nursing, or teaching kindergarten is hard work. And yet, there’s this moment when a client looks up and leans back and says, “God, I’m exhausted!”

“Yeah,” I say, in spite of myself, “it’s hard work. Why do you think I’m plying you with coffee?”

Public Speaking Burnout: When Coffee Doesn’t Cut It

The times comes, however, when coffee—even with walnuts and dried fruit from the Park Slope Food Coop—isn’t enough to power you through the fog.

I hit that moment a week ago, when my much-abused brain finally ground to a halt. I could almost feel the gears not just stop meshing but seize up like they do in a car whose engine is blown.

I suddenly, desperately had to walk away.

First, Take Time for the Fantasy

My initial thought was to go to the airport and hop the first plane I could afford. I actually did that back when I was researching my novel, The Tattooed Heart—took a plane to Cheyenne, Wyoming, rented a car, and drove a week-long circuit of the entire state. I spent a week going to the places my heroine would have gone and talking to people she would have met, and it’s still one of my best memories.

This was in the early days of mobile phones, and in order to take a call, I had to drive to the tallest hill I could find. Even from there, reception was spotty. I felt like I’d fallen off the end of the world.

But, fast forward, I have a business. Did I really want to be that out of touch, or blow my marketing budget driving aimlessly around… somewhere?

So, OK, not really. But once I’d held the thought close to my heart for a while, a simple alternative suggested itself.

Then, Take the Subway

Billy Strayhorn wrote the classic jazz lyric “You must take the A train…” but I left my cell phone at home and took the Q.

If you don’t live in New York, you might not believe the cultural distance one can travel in 20 minutes. I got off at Brighton Beach, otherwise known as Little Odessa and tried not to gawk.

There were shops with hand-lettered signs in Russian. Balabustas (old ladies) wearing babushkas (head scarves). Pierogies being sold from sidewalk stands. Even a Western Union office. One woman had a white parrot on her shoulder. I walked for almost half an hour before I saw a single black adult.

Brownstone Brooklyn seemed far away.

After a while, I headed for the beach and walked back to Coney Island on the fabled boardwalk. I passed by the shell of Astroland, and the tiny but terrifying wooden Cyclone that I last rode five years ago. I stopped into Nathan’s Famous, with its big sign counting down 271 more days ’till July 4th and their next hotdog eating contest. Foregoing the seafood combo (2080 calories), I got a soft shell crab sandwich (559 calories for $6.25) and ate it at a concrete table outside.

On the train home, reading J.D. Robb’s newest, I looked up as a white-haired woman with an instrument bag slung over her shoulder walked past me. It was my friend Carol Bloom, returning from a lesson on Neptune Avenue with her Russian mandolin teacher.

For Public Speaking Power, You Need Perspective

Did this charming 3-hour sojourn make me a better public speaker, or a better public speaking coach? I can’t prove that it did; but I know that it made me a more sane one!

So even though this isn’t technically a public speaking tip, I’m giving it to myself as well as to you: Lift your head up. Lean back. Put your phone down. Go someplace.

Walk away from public speaking overload as soon as it strikes, so that you can walk back to the podium feeling refreshed, relaxed, and ready.