Simon is a full-time NHS GP speaking with hundreds of people throughout the week, but he has a fear of talking in public and can stammer when he gets nervous. Volunteering at parkrun helped him get used to talking to groups of people, and even gave him the opportunity and confidence to take part in a BBC Breakfast interview.
Most people that know me would be surprised to learn that I have a fear of public speaking as outwardly, I’m a confident extrovert. I don’t know what caused this anxiety, but my nightmare is drying up completely and looking foolish in front of a group.
I have gotten much better at speaking in public and I have parkrun to thank for that.
Having realised the major impact parkrun could have on the mental and physical health of my patients, I wanted to contribute more so I started volunteering whenever I could. I loved all the volunteering roles and decided to take to the next step by joining the core team at Southport parkrun. However, being run director on a Saturday would inevitably mean that I’d need to get my head around the anxiety-inducing, pre-run briefing to 300 parkrunners.
I started with the first-timers welcome and then progressed to the pre-run briefing, which helped me to develop my skills and confidence. I practised my first pre-run briefing repeatedly in the run up to that Saturday, but I remember not sleeping well the night before. It seems silly in retrospect.
It helps that happy parkrunners who want to take part may not be the toughest audience, but for me it was a big thing. It turned out I had nothing to fear. The parkrunners were kind, supportive and encouraging. By doing it regularly, my confidence gradually grew.
As time has moved on, I’ve been asked to do presentations, podcasts and interviews, including BBC Breakfast at Bushy parkrun with Paul Sinton-Hewitt, founder of parkrun. I still find them anxiety-inducing, but my parkrun experiences have helped me to believe that I can do this! It’s something we can all learn to do, it simply needs practice. The more I practised, the better and more confident I got.
It’s not just me. I’ve seen shy and timid students, who volunteered as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, grow sufficiently in confidence to guide chaotic finishers in the funnel. I remember a proud Mum thanking the event team for supporting her daughter’s volunteering. She told me she had noticed her daughter becoming more comfortable talking to new people.
So, if you’re a little fearful of speaking in public or if it’s a skill you want to develop, why not think about asking the event director at your local event if you could give the first-timers welcome a go? You won’t find a kinder audience!
Has volunteering at parkrun helped you develop new skills? Share your story with us here.
Dr Simon Tobin
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