The Meeting

Three words. It just took three words to make my heart thump and armpits sweat. “Can you present,” my boss asked me, “at next week’s meeting.” Not a question; a given.

“Oh… um, well…” Oh god, how can I get out of this one? I’ve managed to avoid these meetings before. Used the “Oh, Sally knows the material better” or “I really don’t have the time” excuse. I even faked an illness once – made a show of popping two Panadol out from the packet: sighing slowly, massaging my temple. And I thought that the last time they asked me to explain a report to a couple of work colleagues, my downturned head and slurred mumblings would have put them off. But no. My mistake was that I took half the time than the others. Bugger – should have pretended that I loved the sound of my own voice. But in reality, it’s too soft and weak. I’m a quiet, reserved and modest person. And unfortunately, this world is made for extroverts.

I’ve always been an introvert. My mother insists that I even came out of her womb like that – barely a beep; just looking around. As a kid, I had acquaintances rather than friends, preferring to curl up with a book or play with the fairies at the bottom of the garden. The teenage years I was able to hide away from, and in my adult life I just get on with things. Never had I liked the spotlight on me. It would always give me a dry mouth, make my neck itch, and cause my stomach to turn. Why are they looking at me like that? Is there something in my teeth? They must think I’m stupid!  Geeze, I hope they don’t talk about me behind my back.

I prefer being a wallflower that observes from a distance, filing mental notes about people and instances that can actually help with my job. As an insurance administrator, details are necessary. Important. I can’t tell you how many times I watched women and men, bold and brassy, fling their hands around, gesturing wildly. Stereotypically brash and brazen. The causer of accidents. A higher premium they’re willing to pay so long as they feel as though they’re in a club. Most of them are controllers – leaders in some way. No doubt a chair or speaker of any meeting. Something I could never do confidently. I run my words together; don’t make eye contact. Can’t crack a joke or make the audience spellbound. Performing on a stage has never been part of my comfort zone. So when I hear those three little words – can you present – I get the shivers. No, I can’t present.  I don’t know how. It doesn’t come naturally.

But I know I have to do it. At the age of 45, it’s getting embarrassing to keep running away. I’ve lost promotions because of it; gained extra workloads because I rarely complain. The world is changing. Expectations are growing.  Contracts are becoming shorter, and I’m worried that if I don’t wedge myself into an area of permanency and safety, I could very well be cast out to sea without a raft. Sinking into financial despondency would be a lot worse than gulping for the occasional breath when pointing to a colourful chart.

I need a mantra. ‘Do it and move on’, or so the posts on my recently-opened Facebook account tell me. I overhear the conversations in our new open-plan offices. The colleagues who are young, inexperienced, but act as though they know everything. Their voices are loud, their tones strong, but if a mistake is made, they brush it off with a relaxed, casual manner. I need to take a screenshot of their profile page. Watch them. Learn from them.  Retrain myself and play a part.

I promise myself that when the trial and execution is all over, at the end of the day, I’ll get my favourite wine and takeaway for dinner. Sit back in the lounge and replay the scene; re-settle the nerves. I look forward to the treat, and I think I should accept the challenge. I can do this. I need to do this. Surely nobody dies from standing in front a group of people and talking? It will be exhilarating to play a part; to be another character different to who I really am. People won’t know me. The true me. I can still hide behind the curtain of self.

I meet my boss’s eye. “Of course, I can,” I reply confidently. And when her eyebrows arch and mouth curves upwards, I too can’t but help smile with her.

Image Attribution – Pixabay: StartupStockPhotos