On 9th May I spoke at the CILIP Cymru Wales conference in Aberystwyth. I delivered a presentation on mental health, professional resilience, career stories, and (of course) podcasting. I told c.100 people my story: the good, bad and downright ugly. I was the last speaker on the first day of the conference, so I knew I was fighting to keep people in their seats and keep them interested.
I didn’t know how my presentation would be received as it wasn’t a typical ‘Yay! Look at this amazing thing I’ve achieved’ talk. I feared a lengthy period of awkward silence at the end before some slightly embarrassed sporadic clapping broke out. I expected people to walk out. The stuff I spoke about is difficult to listen to and can feel very challenging. I probably made some of the audience feel incredibly uncomfortable.
A funny thing happens when you deliver a presentation. The words that you spend ages crafting beforehand don’t always work ‘live’ and so you have to ad-lib. I had my slides and I had a script that I stuck to for about 75% of the time. I left bits out that felt important to the story when I wrote them and added bits in that occurred to me as I was speaking. The overall tone of the presentation was exactly as I intended though.
I really *really* love public speaking and I don’t get to do it nearly enough. I went through a phase where I did a lot of presentations but when I made myself and my world smaller, I stopped. I had forgotten the thrill of looking out at an audience and thinking ‘Right. I’m going to win you over’ and taking it as a challenge. Something happens to me when I deliver a presentation. I feel like I can soar. Usually I try to keep it in check because I fear I’m too honest, too visceral, too frightening, too much. I don’t put on a persona or worry about who I am. I’m incapable of being anything but myself but I often dial it down. On this occasion I decided to see what would happen if I didn’t rein myself in and if I showed everyone who I really was.
I didn’t anticipate beforehand, for a single second, the reaction that my presentation would receive. When I finished speaking there was clapping. A lot of clapping. A lot of enthusiastic clapping. Then there was hugging. A lot of hugging. So much hugging. Then people came up to me to chat and said many very lovely things about my presentation. A lot of people. I was handing out my Librarians with Lives business cards in the same way that Oprah occasionally gives away cars.
When I looked at my phone I had a ridiculous number of Twitter notifications. I took a deep breath before opening any of them because people can be very honest on social media about their thoughts on conference presentations and I was more than prepared for some dissent. There was none. I’m realistic enough to recognise that not everyone in the audience will have enjoyed my presentation but if there were dissenting voices, I was not aware of them.
Afterwards I went to the drinks reception at the National Library of Wales. As I was hoovering up delicious canapes (public speaking makes me ravenous) and hatching elaborate plans to steal the CILIP presidential medals with the wonderful Ellie and Rachel (you definitely find your people at conferences), people came up and complimented me on my presentation. It really seemed to have resonated with the audience. I’ve noticed that when I tell others my story that people feel comfortable enough to tell me theirs and I feel very honoured. I don’t feel I can offer advice as mental health is a very individual thing, but I’m happy to give them space to talk.
After the reception and awards ceremonies there was the pub, there was Welsh gin and I was feeling extremely celebratory. I wasn’t able to attend the second day of the conference so I knew I could have a great time and not worry too much about how I felt the next day. I did lots of networking (of course.) I’ve got used to being a lesser version of myself over the years (particularly over the last 3-4 years) and I felt like it was finally ok to be me.
It lasted 24 hours. A couple of days later I was feeling extremely down. Attending the conference was physically and mentally exhausting. The sea of positivity I’d sailed joyously on during Day 1 of the conference became murky and becalmed. Everyone I met at the conference was wonderful and I had a fantastic time. The further away I travelled from Aber, though, the less real it all seemed. I started to doubt myself. Doubt what I’d done.
I wasn’t supposed to do that.
I wasn’t supposed to rock up at Aber and deliver that presentation. I wasn’t supposed to be that good. I wasn’t supposed to be so honest. I wasn’t supposed to get the wonderful accolades I received. I wasn’t supposed to drink Welsh gin, misjudge the distance from the bathroom to the bed in my hotel room and do a comedy roll onto the floor at midnight (I was fine.)
Now I’ve had a couple of weeks to reflect on what happened in Aber, I’m incredibly proud of what I did. As a result, Paul Jeorret has asked me to be a guest on his radio show (it’s all booked for October). I’ve been asked to speak at a CILIP in Scotland event later in the year. Karen Pierce wrote a very lovely series of reflective posts about the conference and said very nice things about my presentation. I’ve now watched RuPaul’s Drag Race (long story.)
I wasn’t supposed to do any of that…but I did and it feels pretty good.