I loathe public speaking.
Despite spending much of the last 25 years speaking very publicly in courtrooms, I never like being called on to make a speech or tell a story or a joke. I’m not very funny or cool, I’m quite a serious person. So I was beside myself with nerves when Radio New Zealand (RNZ) broadcaster Jessie Mulligan invited me to be a guest on the ‘bookmarks’ section of his show.
When the producer called to explain the format – it strayed a long way from Crimson Organics matters - and mentioned it would be a 40 minute interview, I felt sick. What on earth was I going to talk about for 40 minutes once we’d finished with organic tampons? And how could I discuss favourite books when most of my reading involves legal documents and snatched moments with trashy magazines? How could I pick the right songs or movies?
Being a perfectionist, I began researching and agonising over my choices. I re-read some of my favourite posts from Turia Pitt, the inspiring ultra-marathon runner who was burnt in a bush fire and is now a motivational speaker. If she could achieve that, surely I could manage one measly interview.
When I quizzed my 14-year-old for his movie picks, he raised an eyebrow and said wryly “Mum if you don’t have your own favourite movies by now, you’re living a pretty sad life”. Naturally, I became even more panic-stricken. How could a person with such a sad life possibly sound interesting on Jesse’s show?
To psyche myself up, I bought a new outfit (despite being fully aware I was appearing on radio not television). Got my hair straightened. Wore my best boots and favourite lippy. I arrived at the RNZ building feeling quite chic in my new high-waisted wide-legged pants, bag in one hand and tampon samples in the other. Then, as I strode confidently upstairs, the heel of my boot caught the hem of my cursedly wide trouser leg and before I knew it, I was sprawled on the RNZ staircase. Crimson Organics tampon boxes and handbag contents cascaded down steps that were teeming with people.
Two very beautiful, poised young women bent down to me. “Are you alright,” they wanted to know. “Do you need some help? Do you know where you are going?”.
I thanked them as they gathered me and my things off the steps, their youth and self-assurance only fuelling my embarrassment and self-doubt. What was I doing here, a mother of three from the provinces, talking to the whole of New Zealand? My unintentional acrobatics only proved I’m the wrong side of 45 (okay, I’m 51) and what, I wondered, did I have to say that mattered?
I was sweaty and nauseous when I reached the receptionist who found me a glass of water, directed me to the loo and offered a reassuring smile. In the nick of time, my friend Justine sent a helpful text reminding me to breathe. Good point.
So I was slightly calmer though still rattled and queasy by the time I sat to face my interviewer. Jesse kindly, quickly, professionally put me at ease and, after that initial quavery-voiced answer, I forgot the microphone was there. He laughed in all the right places and it was remarkably easy to talk about stuff I genuinely care about. Period poverty. Vulnerable youth. Homelessness. Songs by Nick Cave.
And venturing that far out of my comfort zone proved truly worthwhile. In the week following the interview, donations of tampons from our website soared so we have been able to take on a new partner – the Tararua Youth Development Programme, which supports 60 vulnerable young women. These women aren’t in mainstream schooling so don’t have access to the new initiative that places free period products in schools.
The youth programme manager Jeanne, who has more 30 years social work experience, told me that lack of access to safe products affects not only the girls’ physical health but also their mental health. It’s stressful and undignified.
Thanks again for supporting my mission for all women to have access to safe period products. I am truly humbled and grateful for it.
And by all means let me know how conquering your own fear has proved valuable. I’d love to hear from you. Especially if I don’t have to stand up and talk about it public.
PS Just in case you are wondering, that man in the photo with me is my lovely husband, Steve. He is very good at telling jokes and giving speeches.