My next course in college will be a real challenge. Just the title “The Art of Public Speaking” is enough to make me break out in sweats.
I’m sure many share my fear of stepping out of my comfort zone and having to put a voice to the words I write. I had hoped that I could go through life without having to stand up in front of a crowd and talk again. Because, I have been there before, and it wasn’t pretty!
I remember being in eighth grade and entering a writing contest. I really can’t remember what I wrote about, but I managed to make the list of finalists. Cool, right? No, my friends, not so cool. Because now I was expected to read my speech in front of the whole school, my family and visiting school administrators.
Just the thought of having to speak in front of over a hundred pairs of ears gave me nightmares for weeks. My History teacher, who was in charge of mentoring us in Public Speaking skills, was close to a nervous breakdown by the time the speech competition arrived. I just could not stand at that podium and get the words to come out of my mouth, not even with an audience of one.
To make things worse, the other contestants and I had to draw numbers from a hat to determine who would speak first, second and so on. There were six of us, so I hoped if I went last, perhaps my other classmates would be so bad that I would be able to “Wow” the audience with my own speech. Oh yeah, folks, you guessed it. I picked the number one spot…lucky me!
The day of the competition, I tried everything I could to convince my mother that I had a life threatening disease and bow out of the competition. She didn’t believe me. I tried to fake laryngitis with my History teacher. I tried to fall down the steps leading up to the stage, hoping to give a new meaning to “break a leg” but the other five contestants were standing close behind me, pushing me forward.
On shaking legs, I reached the podium, laid my papers on the top, and reached down deep inside for the courage to begin. Evidently, from the sounds of rustling and fidgeting in the audience, it took me longer than I thought to find that ounce of courage. I finally locked my eyes on the first paragraph and opened my mouth. I can only imagine what I looked like with lips moving and no sound coming through the loudspeakers.
I took a deep breath and tried again. To make a long story short, I finally managed to choke out the first paragraph and forged on. My twenty-minute speech took much less time since I gave a great demonstration of speed reading while I presented my material. I think I finished in five and when I spurt out the last sentence, I immediately ran off the stage and into my mother’s arms, crying copiously.
“Don’t cry, honey. You did your best,” my mother said. My mother thought I was weeping with shame when actually, I was weeping with joy. No one, based on that performance, would ever ask me to speak in public again. I suffered through the other speeches with the rest of the audience, although the remaining five contestants showed much more talent for public speaking than I did. I walked up to the stage as my name was called to receive the trophy for third runner-up. Do the math, three winners and three runners-up equaled last place for my dazzling performance.
So, you can understand my lack of enthusiasm for this next course. Yes, I have matured a bit and I have had experience teaching software classes to students. But, that fear of standing in front of a podium again is starting to keep me up at night! Let’s hope my instructor has a few tricks up his sleeve to bring out the Public Speaker in me!
Wish me luck!