Thursday, July 12, 2012

Public speaking - I'm not afraid. Are you?

Yesterday, I did something that would make many people flip out. That is, I stood up in front of people and talked.

It went fairly well. I survived, and so did the people who had to sit there and listen to me. I'm sure that I said "um" and "uh" too many times, and one of those who listened to me told me afterward that he was distracted by by glasses sitting too low on my nose (he said he kept wondering if they were going to fall off). But, I also got compliments on my part of the presentation (there were two others who also spoke), and I feel pretty good about the whole experience.

I think it is interesting that there have been polls indicating that most people are more afraid of getting up and speaking in front of an audience than they are of dying. That seems pretty extreme to me. But, I've got things I'm frightened of, too, so I'm really in no position to judge. Honestly, though, I've never been afraid of speaking before groups, large and small.

This probably has something to do with the fact that I've been up in front of people enough in my life that it seems natural to me.

I don't even really remember the first time I was up in front of an audience, but I've heard the stories and seen photos. I was about two years old, and the event was a fashion show to show off sewing projects by high school students. My aunt had made a dress that was my size, and I modeled it in the show. Apparently, I had fun. I've been told that I wanted to go back and walk the runway again. Alas (and probably fortunately), that was both the beginning and the end of my career as a fashion model.

Then, there was the Christmas play I was in when I was five years old. I have a few fleeting memories of that, and none of those memories include being reluctant to go on stage. What I remember more clearly about that night was it being horribly foggy when it was time to go to the (Methodist) church for the play but it being clear as a bell and windy when we emerged from the church basement a couple of hours later.

During elementary school, I was required to speak in front of the whole school a number of times. I was in speech therapy beginning in second grade (I had a lisp), and nearly every time there was a need for a student to speak in an assembly, I was elected because it would be "good for me" to practice my non-lisping speech. I also was in my school band and, in sixth grade, all-district band, which meant being on-stage for performances. I didn't do as much of that sort of thing in junior high or high school, although I was onstage in a pageant at Shakespeare Festival in 9th grade.

Later on, during the time I was a Mormon, I was sometimes asked to give talks in church, teach Sunday School or Relief Society classes, and so forth, which gave me more experience talking in front of an audience. So did being involved in community theatre (although I usually did behind the scenes, backstage work rather than being on stage), holding offices and campaigning for offices while I was involved in Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and other random things I've done through the years.

All of this means that I've been up in front of an audience - ranging from a few people to, in a few cases, a few hundred people - enough that it makes sense for me not to get too anxious or upset about it. On the other hand, there are people who make a living getting up in front of an audience who report getting sick nearly every time, even after years of experience.

Maybe I'm just a ham (some of my friends would probably say that there is no "maybe" about it). Maybe it's something genetic. Whatever the cause, I'm glad that I'm able to have fun with getting up in front of groups and speaking. I've seen too many people just miserable about even having to get up in a class and do a presentation. And by miserable, I mean sweaty-palmed, tongue-tied, run-to-the-bathroom-to-ralph miserable. And I don't want to have to go through that kind of miserable.

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