Tara McPherson on overcoming the fear of public speaking

Captivating a crowd can be a challenge when you’d rather be shut away in your studio, says Brooklyn creative Tara McPherson, but public speaking has personal and professional benefits.

Public speaking is something I've always found very hard. I've done a great deal of it now, including some teaching at Parsons School of Art in New York, but it's still so daunting. I find it really difficult and challenging to this day.

However, I always try to say yes when I'm asked to speak in public. As a result, I've been flown all around the world and have spoken to audiences of 3,000 people at a time, which is crazy and it's scary. I want to say no every time, but I don't. That's because I think it's important to challenge yourself and put yourself in uncomfortable situations and environments. I believe you should try to push yourself to be a better person, a better speaker and a better artist.

When I'm preparing to speak in public, I always worry that I'm going to sound stupid or I'm not going to make much sense. I can fall into the trap of thinking I don't have anything to give, say, to a group of students on a gallery tour. I have to remind myself that they're really curious and they're going to love listening to what I have to say.

I have to really psych myself up for it, but I always get such a rush afterwards. I get physically high - the resulting endorphins feel so good, which is why I keep doing it even though I get nervous beforehand. I've had so many great opportunities as a result - it doesn't exactly hurt if someone wants to fly me to France so I can give a talk. And moving out of my comfort zone is always going to affect my creative work in some way.

Public speaking is at odds with the way I work a lot of the time. There's a part of me that just wants to be shut away in my studio, creating, on my own. But pushing yourself in whatever shape or form you do so is bound to translate to how you approach your work and how you experiment.

Words: Tara McPherson

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