February 27th, 2007

In Which I Discover One Can Speak Publicly Without First Feeling Grossly Nauseated

I am not a fan of public speaking, although it is not my number one fear. Being devoured alive by flesh-eating spiders while my eyelids are taped open so I cannot look away from the bigscreen TV on which “Star Wars: Episode III” is playing—that’s probably my biggest fear.  


But I digress.


Many moons ago, a teachers’ society booked me as a speaker for their February meeting. The flattered feeling the advanced booking gave me more than overwhelmed any residual nausea the invitation aroused.


Then, about a month ago, an acquaintance I met through my work editing Fibromyalgia AWARE invited me to be part of a panel to address a group of freelance writers. Again, the flattery won me over. (I am just way too susceptible. Gotta work on that.)


And last week, a desperate representative of a local high school begged me (Okay, I exaggerate. But not by too much) to participate in Career Day. This invitation stalled me momentarily. The last Career Day I participated in was a complete ego-busting disaster, in which my presentation partner was not a writer, but a producer for an oversexed reality show of which every student in the room was a major fan. Plus she was an alumna. If someone had slipped into the classroom and set me on fire with a bag full of firecrackers and a jug of whiskey, still no one would have paid any attention to me.


Three speeches in six days. Holy moley.


That last Career Day—with the snotty reality show fans—plus my previous horrible public speaking experiences made me rather dread the Three Speech Gamut. Plus the teachers’ society speech had to be 45 minutes to an hour long (a length of time I would not have a problem with, one on one—but in front of a group of strangers? Please!). I was concerned my Career Day partner wouldn’t show up (that’s happened to me before). And though I have mainly recovered from my fear of exposing my general goofiness to my writer peers, filaments of it remain.


The good news: all the speeches went varying degrees of great.


The teachers were gracious and attentive, and after the speech I was swarmed with happy educators—many of whom gave me leads on the book project I was speaking about.


My Career Day partner showed up—a nice sportswriter from a local daily. In both sessions, the kids were funeral silent, except when they raised their hands to ask a question—and they were great questions: What’s the money like? How do you break into a particular magazine? How do you get a book published? Are internships mandatory? I didn’t write for the school paper—will I be penalized for life? Our temporary keeper, a friendly senior who wants to major in journalism, told us we were “way better” than last year’s speaker. (After my flare of sinful pride, I felt deep sympathy for the poor girl, who apparently didn’t have a presentation partner.)


And then last night was the writers’ group panel. (Oh, the hilarious stories I have from that! But I won’t blog them. You’ll just have to hear them straight from my gossipy mouth. Or spend the rest of your life wondering.) I was the only editor; the other four presenters were full-time writers. It was big fun to hear how their careers developed, and to realize again that writers share so many of the same silly problems.




I have this problem. (Yes, yes, I have a lot of problems. But I’m trying to focus here.) Just last week I was telling someone about this problem, and how hard I will endeavor to work on it—and just last night I had a major relapse.


I first noticed it in high school, when I was called up to give an oral report about five minutes before the bell was going to ring. The speech was supposed to be eight minutes long, but I certainly didn’t want the entire class sitting there, three minutes into the five-minute passing period, resentfully listening to me babble.


So I talked faster.


And we got out on time.


And I got marked down for giving too short a speech.


When I became a freelance writer, I realized I had the same tendency: if an interview subject said he/ she was short on time, I questioned faster and skipped questions so I would be sure to get the most vital information in my allotted time.


And nowadays, I do the same stupid thing in my personal life, and it’s just driving me crazy. Why should I be more conscious of other people’s schedules than they are themselves? If they say they have to leave by 6:30, but they linger, why should I push them out the door? There is such a thing as too much solicitousness, and I’ve got it. (Not all the time, mind you.)


You can probably see where this is going.


The panelists who presented their “capsule” bios before me spoke for, shall we say, a lengthier length of time than I had expected each of us to have. So when it was my turn, I hopped through my notes, skipping this, skimming over that, and finished in probably 5.43 minutes.


After the meeting, one woman complimented me on my pithy presentation, comparing me favorably with some of the more verbose presenters. (And how confusing is that? Here I am, trying to work on this issue, and someone compliments me for the very vice I am trying to root out! Isn’t that like cheering on an alcoholic for excellence in chugging?)


Another woman told me she enjoyed my presentation—warm words I was glad to hear. And then she said I should get on the speaking circuit. I could feel the hysterical laughter bubbling up, but I held it back.


Good experiences all. But I am hopeful that it will be a good long time till I’m called upon to embarrass myself in public again. (Well—by speaking, anyway.)  

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