For many years, I thought of myself as someone who is NOT a public speaker. Sitting at the introvert end of the scale, I often found myself quaking in my boots at the thought of merely introducing myself in a work meeting, let alone standing up in front of a room full of people to give a presentation.
'It's totally fine' - I thought, I believed, I basically convinced myself.
'I'm not really a high-achiever anyway, I don't WANT to have that kind of job where I have to stand up and talk'.
And so, I kept my head down in meetings, not brave enough to share my opinion. I ducked out of big events in case I'd have to speak. I even went as far as to turn down an interview for a dream job opportunity because I'd have to do a presentation as part of the selection process.
'It's fine,' I said. 'I don't want that kind of job anyway'.
It wasn't always like this though. As a kid I'd dreamt of being an actress, joining the drama club at school, acting in all the school plays, and even doing a lunchtime public speaking course.
But then when I turned 13, a pretty awkward age for many - for me even more than most - my family upped sticks and relocated me to the other side of the country.
The wind was blown clear out of my sales.
Without my close network of friends around me, I found myself unable to rise up and laugh when the other kids started making jokes about my mild lisp. The more I cringed inside, the more they taunted, and the less inclined I became to speak.
Many of us go through periods in life where we're laughed at or made to feel the outcast in some way. Luckily for me it was short-lived, and I went on to find my feet.
But the residual memory still lingers occasionally, like a shadow, when I have to stand up and speak.
And so, I decided it wasn't worth the perceived humiliation of mucking up my lines, and gradually I stopped speaking in public.
'It doesn't really matter,' I said.
I love to write and found ways to express myself in different ways, including making videos for my business. Being visible wasn't really an issue for me, and I now coach other female entrepreneurs to raise their visibility through PR. But the thought of standing up, live, in front of a room full of people still gave me the heeby-jeebies.
The shift started last year, when I did a course of hypnotherapy to overcome a fear of flying.
I realised that the anxiety I felt about getting on a plane was indicative of something far greater. And it was linked just as much to my overwhelming fear of public speaking.
I'd always been a bit sceptical of hypnotherapy - you see the stage hypnotists on TV making people do silly things.
I do enough silly things of my own accord, I certainly don't want to encourage more!
What's more, I was scared about what would 'come out'. What deep, long-held secrets of my soul would emerge that I'd been suppressing for so long?
Little did I realise, hypnotherapy would indeed act as the gateway to the secrets of my soul - but instead of being dark and scary, they were (are!) filled with light and happiness - they will in fact set me free.
Moving to the next level
Recently I was invited to speak at two events for female entrepreneurs, and I decided, instead of hiding from my fear, to face it head on, and step into my light.
What's the worst that could happen?
And conversely - what's the best?
So, I took the leap and said yes. Then panicked a bit inside, and booked an appointment with my Hypnotherapist in Bristol, Stephanie Miller (as luck would have it, also my sister!), to see what we could do.
Every session I've had has been a mini-breakthrough for me. In some ways, it feels like I'm climbing a ladder. It takes effort, but after every session I move up a rung, and each time the view gets better.
As with all good things, it takes time. Hypnotherapy is no magic bullet, but each session has equipped me with the tools I need to face life head-on, instead of lurking in the side-lines.
The real breakthrough for me came with the realisation - slowly, slowly it began to sink in:
We are the sum part of all the stories we tell ourselves.
Every time I told myself I was bad at public speaking, I in affect made myself bad at public speaking.
Because I was so convinced of failure before I'd even started, I stopped myself from doing all the things I needed to do to ensure success.
I didn't prepare, I didn't practice, I remained frozen in my fear. And so, lo and behold, every time I had to speak in public, I WAS bad at public speaking, and the cycle continued.
So - I turned this limiting belief on its head, and started telling myself I'm GOOD at public speaking. I prepared. I practised. And I even enjoyed the experience.
What hypnotherapy did for me was to empower me to make that little mindset shift which has made all the difference.
It taught me how to focus on the good, the positive, the infinite possibilities, and to really step into my light.