Losing My Breath at the Podium

Have you ever been so overcome that you simply couldn’t speak? That just happened to me a couple weekends ago. Yep, me—the one who loves to talk, isn’t afraid of public speaking, and has a degree in Speech/Communications.

I had the pleasure of being a presenter at the Illumination Event here in Minneapolis. The event’s tagline: “It’s Time to Shine!” What a perfect place for me to share the Following Your Joy message and soak up all the inspiration of the day.

What happened to me there probably wasn’t a big deal to the participants in my session, but it was to me. A few minutes into my presentation, I became so short of breath that I could barely get my words out. I had never experienced this before and was completely stunned—I wasn’t nervous, I had done this before, and I was speaking on a topic I was passionate about.

Why this day was different

To-date, the majority of my presentations had been geared toward business groups and associations, focused on Time Management and Work-Life Balance. Some of what I talked about previously was based on the research of other experts, so it never felt too personal for me; I could easily keep my personal beliefs and ideas at an arm’s length from participants. And in these business settings, people listened to me because they had been encouraged by a supervisor to attend my presentation; it wasn’t necessarily the attendee’s choice of how they wanted to spend their time.

On this day, though, at the Illumination Event, it was different. There was a roomful of 50 or so participants who wanted to be there; they all deliberately chose me for their first breakout session.

The past several months, my Following Your Joy session had morphed and evolved from my previous business-focused “Time Management” presentation into a focus on joy, because after all—living a better life all boils down to identifying: 1) What brings you joy, and 2) How to get more if it in your life.

So right off the bat, it felt very personal. And in a very wonderful way. I couldn’t have had a more supportive, loving, and welcoming group right in front of me. In fact, when I first felt like I might not be able to continue and I had to set my microphone down, one of the women in the back said, “It’s okay, you’re among friends.”

Her words move me to tears even today, because I felt so vulnerable at the time.

Gasping for air

For a few moments, my breath became incredibly shallow. I felt like I was gasping for air and I could barely squeak out my words. The more I talked, the more I had difficulty breathing.

Even though I innately knew that everything would eventually be fine, in those few moments I felt like I was failing. Failing to deliver a great presentation like I told the event committee I would; failing to deliver an energizing morning for the lovely people in the room who had spent their time and money to be there; failing to live up to my own expectation of the joyful presentation I intended to share.

Earlier in the day, a phenomenal keynote speech was delivered by my friend, Joan Steffend, a woman I admire greatly. She talked about the importance of being yourself—unapologetically. That we are each perfect and wonderful exactly as we are. Her honest and compassionate presentation made my heart race that morning. The message resonated with me deeply.

Looking back on my own presentation, I think I know what the source was of me losing my breath.

Somewhere in the myriad of messages in my brain are embedded comments from a couple folks who’ve told me in the past that I don’t know what real joy is or that the joy I speak of is a false sense of joy. Those thoughts have settled in my core and have always been in the backdrop, even as I’m sharing my joy with others. That’s a tough pill to swallow when it comes from someone you love.

Being true to myself

On this day, my presentation was chock full of personal stories and beliefs that are dear to my heart. Thankfully, this was an audience eager to receive the message and share in the joy!

For me, it felt like a ‘coming out’ of sorts, and I didn’t realize the magnitude of it until I was thrust into the moment. I often pause before I hit the “publish” button on a blog post as my stories can feel so personal. But sharing my stories this way—live, unedited, unplugged, raw, unfiltered—made the Following Your Joy concept so much more real.

When I had a session with my coach later and shared what happened that morning, she said it sounded like I was metaphorically jumping off a cliff.

After I paused, took a drink of water, and caught my breath, I was able to continue the rest of the presentation. And it flowed, felt comfortable, and I enjoyed it. I ended up receiving a lot of nice feedback afterwards. :)

Not everyone will always agree with my philosophies or beliefs, nor are they supposed to. And that’s okay. I’m choosing now to focus on the wise words of my friend Joan, along with what one of the women so wisely said to the rest of the group in my session: “We should never apologize for the things that bring us joy.”

She probably didn’t realize that she was speaking directly to me.

Grateful for the gift of shining my light

So a thank you to all of the sweet souls in my session (who may not even remember me tripping up) for holding the space for me to be “me,” for cheering me on, and making me smile with their “oooh’s” and “aaah’s” after hearing my stories of the power of following your joy. What a gift they all gave me!

Later that day, I had the privilege of attending my friend Liv Lane’s Choosing Beauty breakout session. She reminded each of us to pay attention to the beauty around us and how it can often come disguised in ways we might not even realize. I’m distanced enough now from my experience to know that the “beauty” in my stumbling experience was that it was just an additional part of me coming out a little more and shining my light—unapologetically. Definitely something to celebrate in my journey!

To those who inspired me that weekend and to my beautiful readers who each have a brilliant light of their own to shine, here’s a favorite quote by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory that is within us. And as we let our light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Like the concept of shining your light? Here’s a related post on my experience with the meaning of life and understanding why we’re here.

Care to add your thoughts? I’d love it.

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25 Responses to “Losing My Breath at the Podium”

  • I had the distinct honor of being present for this moment. You have inspired so many to follow their joy, but from the safety of your office chair, behind a computer screen. When you stepped out in front of that crowd, you put a face on joy – yours! And I can see why that would be daunting. In that brief minute while you struggled, I think we all felt the magnitude of it and were honored to witness such a ‘coming out.’ Once you gained your composure – and the courage to speak your truth – you embodied joy. Your stories, your conviction, your passion uplifted that room. We all want to be more like you – living each day in awe of living each day!

  • Connie Lahammer says:

    ANOTHER great blog…motivating, personal, moving and enlightening. I look forward to reading your words and hopefully finding a way to help me through my difficulties. You are so inspiring Michelle!

  • Amy says:

    Michelle: This was honest, beautiful and a wonderful thing to share with everyone. I admire that you wrote it. Most of us know you as successful, smart, kind -but you were honest and HUMAN about your experience which I feel many people are afraid to be.

    My closest friends and people that I admire are those that are successful AND human. I think too many times successful women are afraid of making mistakes or admitting they have stress, bad days and life stuff happen to them.

    I sent your blog to about 15 of my closest friends and family members. Thanks again for sharing.

  • @ Liv: Thank you for being there with me on that day when I took my so-called “leap”! Your smile up in front supported me all the way. I’m humbled by your words which provide a sort of safety/security net for me. Thank you.

    @ Connie: Thank you! I believe we all do need each other to make life easier and to help each of us get through our difficulties, like you mentioned. Appreciate you coming here and sharing your thoughts.

    @ Amy: Thanks for that vote of confidence! Now that you mention it, I’ve always been drawn to people who will show their vulnerability and their humanness. It’s really what connects us all. I’m glad you notice that in me, because it’s what I think living is all about. Thank you for your support and for sharing this with your friends and family!

  • Bruce says:

    Great post Michelle! You’re really doing what you were meant to do!

  • Wendy says:

    Wonderful post, Michelle! I felt like I was right there with you, losing my breath in the space of a few seconds. Wow – what great insight about your own expression of joy!! :-)

  • Sue says:

    I just want to tell you that you are an amazing woman! YOU bring me joy and I am sooooooo proud to be related to you and so proud of you!!! You rock!!!

  • Becky Henry says:

    Love this post Michelle, I wish I could have been there to hear you speak. Some of the most powerful presentations I have ever heard have been when the speaker has let him/herself be vulnerable and yes, even shed a tear or two. It humanizes the speaker and helps us all to connect on a deeper level. Kudos to you for stepping out there and letting yourself be seen. What a gift to all those lucky enough to have been present.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • @ Bruce: How sweet that you always read my blog posts and take the time to share with me that I gotta keep doing what I’m doing. Thank you! That means so much.

    @ Wendy: Yeah, it’s pretty cool when you can reach the place of “insight,” and often times that means stepping back and being the observer of your own situation…no matter how difficult or painful it is!

    @ Sue: You really got me smiling–thank you for the cheerleading! How blessed I am to have your support. :)

    @ Becky: You are definitely right-on in that when we allow ourselves to be ‘humanized,’ that’s where the deep connecting comes in. And it was about letting myself “be seen”…and that can be a bit scary! You are sweet to call it a ‘gift’ that I gave. The more I think about it, the more it feels like an honor to share that space with others who want to share in it, too. Life certainly is good. Thanks, Becky!

  • Michele says:

    Thank you for your honesty Michelle. I think it’s one of the reasons I so love your blog. I think it takes great courage to be so honest. I wish I had been there to support you and hear your message at the Illumination conference. I agree with Becky’s response to your post, though, that whenever a speaker shows their vulnerability it allows the audience to relate and connect more deeply.

    Your blog and the responses to it have helped me to better understand a moment of my own where I lost my voice. It was in my interview for my grief counseling internship. I totally lost my voice and could not speak, until someone graciously offered to go get me a glass of water. (I could only nod when she asked if I wanted some water.) I was incredibly embarrassed. I regained my composure and apparently managed to sound intelligent, but I wrote off the chance of getting the internship-I think in part because I was so embarrassed I was afraid to show my face there again. They ended up offering me the internship, saying they wanted me the most, and made no mention of my embarrassing moment. I think it was because it was so incredibly personal for me, that I’ve never shared my personal grief story in a business setting before. I guess I was coming out in a way, too. I’m so grateful that they gave me the opportunity to work with them, and especially for accepting me as I am: imperfect.

  • Mom Stimpson says:

    Oh, Michelle, as I started reading your article my heart started beating fast and I felt lightheaded for you. Most of the time others in the crowd don’t notice especially when it was right at the beginning. Great job on your article! Love, Mom

  • Sharon says:

    ohh Michelle! I could not wait to get off of work and email you! I actually am at a kinko’s so I could get it done faster! I was feeling your anxiety and “frozen-ness”……..I am so proud of you for breaking through to the other side! Not everyone does that, you know! I agree with Mom S……I felt dizzy and stopped breathing when I was reading it. As a sincere “speech-aphob” I can truly understand the feeling…..for me, it is the “out in the open” and vunerability that makes me absolutely CHOKE everytime I have to give a speech…which I avoid at all costs now!

    As for the “core reasons” for you…I hear ya. Those core things just stick so deeply within us……but you DID NOT let it win and that is what matters! YOU GO GIRL!!!!!!!!

    As for your few that have tried to take your joy away…I simply say, they can’t and won’t! You know what you have within you and it is REAL and solid.

    I know, for me, you have made an immense change in my life..and continue to doso. Every day now I start with a positive thought and feeling and prayer……instead of the “oh man, I don’t want to…” I make it positive and I am finding the day goes better…..and you are the reason why I began that not so little adventure!

    Growth can be difficult, as we know….and it makes you even more human and approachable to your friends and clients….not that you aren’t already like totally approachable!!!!!!!! Know that you did awesome and that “it was meant to be like that”….love you cousin/friend, Sharon xoxo

  • Char says:

    I too felt how truly vulnerable you felt and how you picked up and finished with great love and joy delivering your message to everyone!
    You are amazing and have such a gift! You bring people into the moment with your words. Love you Michelle! YOU ROCK!!!!!

  • Clint says:

    This is awesome!! What a special moment in time and lesson. Everything happens for a reason. Vulnerability also has its reasons.

    Well done, and well shared!

  • @ Michele: I appreciate your support of the “honesty” piece. Thanks! And I’m so glad you shared your experience here of the internship interview. Very powerful! And just hearing about it helps me to feel a little more ‘normal’ as well. If I were in the interviewees’ shoes, I would definitely appreciate the fact that it was so personal for you–it shows your conviction and passion. I’ll have to remember that one for myself, too! And yep, that is one thing we all share in being human: imperfection (or actually, I like to call it “perfection” since we are all perfect exactly as we are). Thanks, Michele!

    @ Mom S.: Hi! Thank you for always supporting me and reading my blog posts and for cheering me on. And yeah, I don’t think anyone really cared too much; in fact one of the women simply called it a “hiccup.” :)

    @ Sharon: How sweet are you for wanting to comment so quickly?! Thank you…for being there with me in spirit. So happy to know that you start your day on a positive note–that sets a foundation for a great day! You always support me and rally me, and that feels so good. I can feel your love through the computer! Thanks for the sweet validation and for always loving “me.”

    @ Char: Hi! I always smile when I see your name, as you have been one who has supported me from day one with this blog. Thank you for always taking the time to read my posts, share your thoughts, and cheer me on. My heart is full!

    @ Clint: Right-on that everything happens for a reason. It’s so cool when you can “let go” and just trust in that. Life is so much easier–and smoother–from that perspective. You routinely teach me of its importance. Thank you!

  • Michelle- you inspire me to tell the “real” story- and I started today! It’s brutal honesty- fun, going with the flow, doing what feels good, “floating down the river” vs swimming against the current. Thanks for teaching me!!!

  • Tunie says:

    Your courage to be vulnerable and relate this experience to the world is BREATHTAKING. Hurrah for you, dear Michelle

  • @ Jen: I have loved reading your story on your blog and it makes me smile to see how it’s all coming together for you, as you keep floating down that river. Exciting!

    @ Tunie: Simply: “Thank you” from my heart.

  • Maryanne says:

    Your open heart, willingness to share what’s real and vibrant energy are just what this world needs.

    It’s so clear that your success is intrinsically tied to your genuine nature and desire to help people experience what’s possible when you leap toward joy.

    You are just delightful. Keep shining brightly!


  • @ Maryanne: What a day-brightening message to start my day! Your words have captivated me, and I’m giving them some good reflection. Thank you for appreciating me…just as I am. It’s the best gift you could give me! Much gratitude.

  • Robyn says:

    I totally related about not being able to speak at your conference. With a recording I am doing, I was terrified to put myself out there and it even led to performing at my church on Easter, talk about stretching and spreading wings! I keep seeing more of my true voice showing up as I get more comfortable being heard by others.

    Isn’t funny how we each think our journey is so unique but in reality they are all so similar! We all just want to feel that we are good enough and yet we are the ones that hold ourselves back from being all that we are meant to be!

    Following your joy is so imperative but letting anyone else witness you following your joy is another leap of faith & courage. I love all that you are doing!

  • Jane says:

    Powerful, beautiful and honest story Michelle!! You live your middle name. You are full of joy and let it overflow to others! Thank you for taking the time to write and share. I feel inspired! You have such an unconditional love…it is a tender touch for us all to know. I love you so!!!

  • @ Robyn: Wow, thanks so much for sharing about your experience and how you felt “terrified.” That obviously means there is something BIG going on! You are right, we’re all fundamentally ‘the same’; all wanting to do our best. And yep, WE are the ones who get in our own way–crazy, huh? So grateful we can share in our journeys together–thanks for commenting!

    @ Jane: Such sweet, heartfelt thoughts. Your love is overflowing on to me! I’m blessed to have you as a lifelong cheerleader. Thank you. :)

  • Yes, hello! (Revised)
    Glad i found your site..I do radio news, and sometimes in the middle of a cold-read, my voice justs GOES-OUT! Talk about embarrasing! There are no second takes in live radio. Glad to have found your site as well!


    Dirk David Carrigan, III

  • @ Dirk: Fun to have a new reader! Thanks so much for visiting and commenting. All the best to you for a voice that delivers during the news! :)

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Michelle Stimpson: Editor/Writer

Michelle Stimpson Hi and thanks for visiting - so glad you're here! This blog is especially for cool people who want to experience joy and live a life of purpose. Welcome!

Here you'll find great stories that will inspire you and remind you that life is good, and there's an abundance of joy all around us. Simply put: When you follow the things in life that make you come alive and bring you joy...the magic begins to unfold.

Start by checking out the "Best Of" page and be sure to consider subscribing above. Thank you and cheers to joy!

Michelle Joy Stimpson
Executive Editor & Writer
Life Coach, LifeShine

Bill Stimpson: Partner-In-Crime

Bill Stimpson Hi! Not only will you see me “show up” in many of Michelle’s stories and posts here, but I also serve as Michelle’s editor, helping her clarify intentions and make her posts shine.

One of the great joys in my life is being involved with this blog! It’s a constant reminder for me to focus on the things that bring me joy. It also feels great to be sharing so many of these joys with you - in hopes that you, too, will find ways to focus on your own joyful experiences.

Here's to an abundance of joy in your life!

Bill Stimpson
Hubby & Associate Editor

The Parent Company

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