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Content Marketing World: Being a Presenter at a Conference when you Struggle with Mental Illness

This past week I was lucky enough to present on stage to 150 people at the world’s premier destination for my career, content marketing, at Content Marketing World. As many of you already know from the podcast, I struggle dramatically with my mental health, (if you’re unaware you can learn more here or listen to my own experiences here) which often makes it difficult to to maintain a stable and confident emotional state. It meant that, leading up to the presentation since the conference started several days earlier, I struggled to push through doubt and maintain confidence. Here are some examples of what I faced and struggled to manage throughout the week.

  1. Confidence – If you know me personally, it probably won’t surprise you to know that I really struggled to feel deserving of this opportunity. Not only did I find myself wondering if I even belonged here, but I often questioned whether or not I was qualified as a presenter, or if anyone would even care to listen. When you’re doubting yourself, it can be, as you can probably imagine, an intimidating proposition to get on stage in front of a room full of people.
  2. Self Loathing – The lead up to the presentation left me hating myself more often than normal. Why? Well, simply, I hated myself for being in this position. Don’t get me wrong, though. I was excited to be here and honored to have been selected. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t asking myself a number of other questions. Are you stupid? Why would you put yourself here? You’re going to fail. You’re useless, and no one cares. Now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “But Jeff, that sounds like a lot of confidence issues you mentioned above,” and you’d be right. But the lack of confidence led to self loathing.
  3. Anxiety – What probably won’t surprise you at all is that I experienced an elevated heart rate. When I’ve spoken in front of people in the past (Think class presentations, work presentations, org presentations, and even the podcast itself) that anxiety has translated to poor presentations. In a nutshell, I talked too fast, and when you talk too fast, any verbal stumble becomes even more treacherous than normal because they become more difficult to recover from them.

How did I get through it? Luckily, I was surrounded by a wonderful support system here at the conference. I got to talk on stage with some wonderful friends who helped be the counter voice to all the thoughts and feelings I was having. It didn’t stop my doubts, but it did keep me going. It also, eventually, got me on stage. It also helped knowing that if I failed, I wouldn’t just be letting myself down. For many, that would likely mean increased anxiousness. Luckily, I suppose, I find additional motivation in helping others, rather than helping myself.

As I’ve learned in the past, this comes from a Superman complex that I have developed over time.  In other words, I have an unhealthy sense of responsibility. The literal meaning of this suggests that I feel a constant need to “save” others. The sad part of that, for myself, is that I feel I’m constantly trying to save people from my own perceived shortcomings and failures. Thankfully, if such thanks are appropriate for such a thing, this is how I always find my way through a situation much like what I faced at the conference.

So, how did it all turn out? It would seem that, overall, it went well. The group I presented with won’t get official feedback for a while, however, the anecdotal evidence was overwhelmingly positive.

While I haven’t decided what kind of topic I’d cover next year, I do plan to make the effort to return as a presenter again at next year’s Content Marketing World. My initial thoughts are based on my experience related to the podcast. Maybe something along the lines of Turn up the Heat: How to Stay Out of the Frying Pan and Off the Fire when Tackling Sensitive Issues. Is that something you’d all be interested in hearing more about? Any other thoughts? Feel free to let me know in the comments below or at me @Renoe on Twitter.

Finally, as I bring this to an end, I’d be remiss to not offer a huge thanks to the people I presented with. Each are amazingly smart people and even better human beings. Without them, I never would have made it through the presentation in tact, let alone the conference as a whole. Now, I just have to wait a year to see them again. Until then I’ll have to remember what they always told me. “You’re more than good enough, and you can do it.” And, so you know, if I can do it then you can too.

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