I had to go to the bathroom so badly. I might have a very embarrassing situation in the next few moments. As I moved through the restaurant to find the women’s restroom, I could feel my face warming, blushing.

I couldn’t find the bathroom and started walking much faster, a feeling of desperation washing over me. The building was huge, with twists and hallways and lots of tables and guests. Finally, there it was, the entrance was hidden in a dark corner. I walked through, but none of the stalls had doors.

It was weird. People (men and women) were just walking by these open stalls like there was nothing awkward about it. I went into a stall to find a big mess on the floor and around the toilet. It was filthy. I couldn’t even think about going to the bathroom there. I tried to find another stall, looking for some semblance of privacy. I felt totally exposed. But no one seemed to notice; not one person looked at me or acknowledged the odd situation. I didn’t know what to do.

And then I woke up, perspiring, shaking a little.

It was the night before a gig. I would be performing on stage that evening, singing songs I knew well, with musicians I knew would competently back me up. And yet, clearly my subconscious mind was telling me I was nervous.

I have this dream, or something similar to it, pretty consistently before gigs or presentations. Sometimes the dream involves me looking for a shower, or taking a shower and realizing there are no curtains and people can see me. Sometimes I care and get embarrassed, trying to cover up. Once in a while, I’ll decide it doesn’t matter if people can see me naked in the shower, I feel proud and confident and not at all embarrassed. That doesn’t happen often.

My dreams have always been vivid and generally easy to translate and interpret. The two described above are the easiest to figure out. It’s simply a matter of feeling naked, vulnerable, and exposed. The fact that I have these dreams before a gig or presentation isn’t surprising.

After all, singing & performing for an audience is like being naked in public — if you’re doing it right.

Being authentic is easier for some people than it is for others. It’s probably the most important aspect of public speaking and performance. Read any book on public speaking, including one of my favorites, Talk Like TED, and you’ll read the same concept:

Be authentic because any audience can tell when you aren’t, and they will simply dismiss you and your message.

If your dreams are trying to tell you that you’re stressed, anxious, and feeling exposed, listen to them. Acknowledge the fear and find tools to work through it. When I wake up from one of these dreams, I take time to assess my fears in a clear, strategic way. What am I really afraid of? What’s the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it that the audience will be as critical of me as I am of myself?

Do you have exposure dreams? How do you handle them?

Rocket to Uranus at Lewis & Clark Brewing, Helena, Montana

There are still spots available at the inaugural No Longer Virtual Conference February 23 & 24 in Atlanta. Here’s Cheryl Snapp Conner’s article in Forbes mentioning NLV as an event not to miss in 2017.

Sarah Elkins is a professional coach and consultant, helping people and businesses improve their communication through the art of storytelling. She’s also the President of Elkins Consulting, the company making a splash with small, face-to-face, affordable interactive conferences called No Longer Virtual.

Originally published at medium.com