Surprisingly, for someone who’s more comfortable as a wallflower at parties and networking events, I’ve always ended up in jobs that required public speaking.
Perhaps I’m just a closet performer at heart.
I discovered community radio during my final year at high school. Every Sunday afternoon I’d meet with fellow volunteers at 2SER-FM to produce a weekly program.
During those six months I learnt radio editing, scriptwriting and announcing, helping to produce pre-recorded segments for other volunteer presenters. I even co-hosted a couple of live breakfast shifts.
I took these skills with me to college where I continued broadcasting a weekly on campus music program for three years, still hiding behind the safety of a microphone in a tiny studio.
While working on my first regional newspaper, I expanded into morning news broadcasts on Goulburn’s community radio FM 103, as well as hosting regular music programs.
It was during the New Romantics decade of 80s music and I fondly recall those favourite hits, the days of vinyl and splicing tape reels! I was a techy from the start.
As a journalist, however, I had to talk to people: from politicians to farmers, local sports personalities, magistrates and the police.
I therefore learnt to ask questions, research topics, seek clarification, challenge viewpoints and write news in a clear, concise manner.
Working on a regional newspaper gave me the opportunity to become a mini expert in court proceedings, rural issues, wedding reports (my least favourite), obituaries and all sporting codes.
It was easier being actively involved in community affairs and develop rapport with people while living in a regional town, although I wasn’t always a politician's favourite journo.
Still, my inner extrovert was expanding its wings.
Discovering a new calling
I almost accidentally drifted into a teaching role a few years later when I traveled to Japan on a working holiday visa.
This entailed standing in front of a classroom, helping adults learn English. It was a role that I embraced with relish, although I hadn’t previously considered teaching.
Fortunately, my journalism years prepared the way for this opportunity: I had a strong command of the English language, especially grammar, and discovered I enjoyed the challenge of teaching people in a tangible way. I'd found a new calling.
The extrovert in me was flourishing, although I was also learning modesty and decorum among Japanese society.
I was keen to continue teaching when I traveled on to Greece, but instead ended up in the tourism industry and worked with inbound Japanese groups.
I was now on a coach, with a microphone: I learnt a prepared spiel in Japanese (time conversion, local currency, weather, itineraries and pick up times) and maintained my conversational language abilities between three languages, which occasionally caused my brain cells to explode.
While Greeks are gregarious by nature, those of us who grew up in Australia are noticeably introverted in comparison.
However, a Japanese colleague castigated me once for being too informal with our general manager, whether I spoke with him in Greek or Japanese. There was still an expectation of social etiquette, even though our Japanese GM had lived in Greece for 20 years and could swear like a native Greek trooper.
I therefore carefully alternated between a polite, reserved persona when interacting with Japanese groups and the more casual, gruff bantering acceptable among Greeks.
No wonder my introvert/extrovert were mildly confused.
Polishing my presentations
I became a tour guide on my return to Australia and realised that people wanted to be entertained with stories, not just historical facts.
And it wasn’t only what I said, but how I said it; I therefore learnt to adapt my presentations and make them entertaining to suit adults, school children, seniors groups or non-English speaking tourists.
It occurred to me that the more I knew my material the more confidently I could present it; the more confidence I gained, the better my presentations. I could finally relax and release my inner extrovert.
Looking back, that’s probably the one fear I’ve had: not knowing what I’m talking about. Funnily enough, standing up in front of a group of people didn't ever faze me. I guess I like to be seen and heard.
Okay, I admit I enjoy being the centre of attention, but seriously, don’t we all?
In October 2007 I joined Toastmasters because I missed public speaking. I was in a customer service role and although I spoke with people all day long, it just wasn’t the same thing.
Toastmasters has given me opportunities to refine my presentation techniques and learn more about vocal variety, body gestures and storytelling.
Public speaking really is a performing art; it’s about looking and sounding confident, even if you’re a born introvert like me.
By the way, you’ll still find me skirting on the edges of social gatherings; I’m a bit awkward like that. Give me a microphone, on the other hand …