January 13th, 2007


I probably had to give a few oral reports in elementary school, but I don’t remember them, so evidently they weren’t too traumatic.


That changed in seventh grade.


In my Core class—two consecutive periods of English and Social Studies—we had to do an oral report for every unit (along with a five-paragraph theme, a visual aid, and a bunch more junk I have mercifully forgotten).


Junior high was an absolute misery for me, and I think it all started in my Core class. Well I remember the first report I had to give, for the unit on prehistory. I naturally chose horses as my subject. I did a decent enough job—I thought. But then Miss Freeman started with the questions. Among them was a query about how animals with multiple toes evolved into hoofed creatures. What the heck??? I thought the report was supposed to be about prehistoric animals, not contemporary horses. But even then I thought fast on my feet. “Well,” I theorized, “maybe one time an ancient horse broke its toes, and then when it had babies, those babies…”


“So if your mother broke her arm, you’d be born with a broken arm?” she interrupted me.


It went downhill from there.


Things progressed achingly slowly, but by the end of the year Miss Freeman and I had reached a friendly truce and I could actually make it through a speech without feeling quite so much like I was going to throw up. (Quite so much. Note that.)


Eighth grade was pretty sparse speech-wise, although I did one how-to speech on How To Feed a Baby, and my mom brought my year-old brother over to be my visual aid. I fed him ice cream while he shrieked joyfully because there was a room full of 30 people gawking at him. (I got an A on that one.)


Then in ninth grade we had a whole speech unit. (Do you have to pass some kind of Sadism Test before you can get your teaching credential?) This was particularly difficult as my former best friend, who had mysteriously stopped speaking to me in seventh grade, was in that class. (The only class we’d had together since seventh grade. Of course.)


Still, I had improved a lot in two years. Until I got up to do my Humorous Speech. I don’t remember exactly what my topic was, but I was telling a story about blowing bubbles with my little brother—he continued to be useful for schoolwork, which was nice—and that instead of exhaling into the bubble pipe, he inhaled.


The class started laughing.


A-ha, I thought, I’ve done it. I am making a Humorous Speech.


I was so pleased that I started laughing too. Only I’d forgotten how exceedingly nervous I was, so once I started laughing, I couldn’t stop. I forged ahead with the speech, so it was not very surprising that when we got to the part where the class was supposed to critique the performance, someone mentioned that I was impossible to understand once I started my hyena imitation.


Why do I share these humiliations? (Good question. Maybe you have to pass some kind of Masochism Test to be a really proficient blogger.)


Well, because in theory I am writing a speech right this minute that I have to give next month. I was invited to address a sorority on the subject of the schoolhouse book I’m working on with my pal Judy Schroeder. I have 45 minutes to an hour to address them, in fact.


Normally it is not a problem for me to talk for an hour (rather the opposite, I suspect). But do you know how many pages I’m going to have to prepare in order to fill an hour of speeching? About half a million is my educated guesstimate. (Okay, like 12. But that’s still a lot.)


It would probably be better for my future performance if I didn’t keep remembering lo, the many ways in which I have humiliated myself while public speaking. But maybe this post will act as a purgative, and I’ll just have unreasonable self-esteem about my speechmaking abilities from here on out. Or at least until mid-February, when I can hope it will be another decade or two till I need to get up in front of a bunch of people and speak on command.  

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