Thursday, May 3, 2007


During my senior year of my undergraduate education I had to give a presentation in class, whose name and subject totally escape me. I would probably not remember that presentation either, if it had not gone spectacularly wrong. I do not even remember the topic, but I do remember that it was an end of the semester 15 minute presentation. At the time public speaking was something that terrified me, I was a wretched public speaker. However this day I would drop a particularly large bomb.

I got up to speak and was quickly drenched in flop sweat. I began to mumble through my prepared speech, sounding like my mouth was stuffed with a fistful of marbles. Not once during the the enitre presentation did I look up at the audience, keeping my eyes firmly locked on my writen speech. I kept loosing my place, as I stumbled over words, causing me to frequently lose my place and forcing me to backtrack. Because I had pulled an all nighter preparing the accompanying written report I had ingested prodigious amounts of coffee, enough to the point where it made me twitchy.

After the class had mercifully ended the professor discreetly pulled me aside, put his hand and asked me earnestly "Are you OK? Are you on drugs?" How humiliating, apparently my quality of my speaking was so poor that the only explanation that professor could think of was that I was under the influence of something. That moment was definitely a nadir, in my academic career. I resolved to turn my self in good public speaker.

I now have a job that involves lots of public speaking, I present to the public, the Board of Supervisors, and the Planning & Zoning Commission, several times a month. Taking this job the public speaking part was the only part that scared me. I had become somewhat of a better speaker during grad school, but it was still a very awkward and uncomfortable thing for me to do.

The first time I had present to the County Board of Supervisors it was terrifying, not only was I presenting to elected officials, who were my employers, the meeting were televised, granted it is just on the crappy government channel that no one watches, but still someone could be flicking through the channels and get stuck on the county channel when the remote batteries die. But, I got through it, it was not great oratory but no one asked me to pee in a cup.

Over the next two years my public speaking skills, and my confidence in them improved. This really struck me last night, when I was hosting a neighborhood meeting. For two and half hours I was in front a large room full of people leading the meeting. Most gratifying was that I felt natural doing it, there was no terror. To me it was even more amazing that I did whole thing almost entirely done ad hoc. Though I have been growing more comfortable with public meetings for a while now, last night was the first time that it explicitly struck me that public speaking does not bother me anymore. What a nice feeling it is conqueror a fear like that.

1 comment:

VAfriend said...

As a teacher I am the center of attention for most of my days. However, my first times I was petrified. I not only didn't want to make a fool out of myself by accidentally sneezing and having something come out of my nose OR by stating facts that simply weren't true. Being a new teacher I had a lot to learn along with the kids much less turn around and try to teach it. But when a principal or other teacher came in to observe I was very nervous. The kids didn't care but the adults paid attention to me. Then I started speaking at teacher conferences and ended up speaking at national conferences to hundreds of people (all of whom could suddenly announce that I am full of sh*t at any time) but they didn't and I became more confident in my speaking. For me it was the realization that these people truly wanted to listen to what I had to say and that my information was worthy of their time. Once I realized that no one was going to stand up and heckle me I became much more comfortable standing in front of hundreds of people and actually, enjoyed it.