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On public speaking…

June 29, 2019, 12:48 PM

I was recently listening to a HowStuffWorks podcast on fear of public speaking, and I drew quite a few parallels between what they were saying and my own experience.  I’ve never had a good relationship with public speaking, and I will actively try to avoid it whenever possible, but at the same time, part of my job is to make good announcements, and I do that beautifully on a routine basis.  Jerry Seinfeld has spoken about the idea that fear of public speaking ranks higher than death, and that people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.  I can sympathize with that.  After all, if you’re dead, you never have to speak in public again.

But there is nothing that gets me wound up more than having to present something to an audience.  It’s one more reason that I’m glad that I’m no longer in school.  I never have to get in front of a group and present ever again.  One thing that I’ve learned as I’ve matured is that I am not very skilled with presenting things in real time.  I do quite well when presenting things in a written format, but public speaking is a major no-no for me.  I’ve tried presentations where I speak with notecards, and it’s typically not gone well.  About the only way that I have been able to get through a presentation of any sort is if I have a full-on script, i.e. every single word that I speak is written down on something in front of me and read verbatim.  It makes enough sense.  I am a much stronger writer than I am a speaker, and so if I take the much stronger writing component and use it to prop up the relatively weak speaking component, then we have a winner all around.  But don’t ask me any questions afterward.  When what I have written has been read, I am done.

And of course, college just loved to force you into presenting in front of the class.  Group projects: ugh.  The second worst thing to be told in college was that we would be doing a group project.  The only thing worse than that was to be told that everyone would be required to present.  No thank you.  I would have much preferred to do more of the research and writing, and never stand up in front of the class.  But that was never the case, except for one time in my final semester of college, where we had a group project where everyone didn’t have to speak.  And then, let it be known that since it was my final semester and I didn’t give a crap, I volunteered to do the PowerPoint, which consisted of five or so slides with stock photos that ran in a loop on a timer.  Total effort was about thirty minutes.  And I still graduated, so take that, group presentation.

I wonder, though, with my hate-hate relationship with public speaking, that in college, I did so poorly partly because I didn’t care that much about a lot of the material that I was presenting on.  In other words, I am doing just enough research to complete this presentation and get a passing mark in this class.  I am not an expert in the subject, don’t care about the subject, nor do I even necessarily know enough about it to speak about it off-script.  I always wondered what would happen if, upon completion of a presentation, when the professor would ask the class, “Any questions?” if I just said, “No!” in an authoritative tone and sat down.  After all, the presentation is over, and I’m not getting graded on answering questions for a bunch of people who have no influence on my grade.  My presentation is over, and Elvis is now leaving the building.  I finished the assignment, and I have already put it behind me.  I also didn’t like the way that my body responded to the undue stress that public speaking put on it.  I remember a presentation that I had to do on some foreign policy topic in 2003.  My stomach was all topsy turvy going into that presentation.  I somehow managed to get through it (barely), and then spent much of the rest of the day in the bathroom doing liquid poops.  That was something that I never want to experience again.  That happened another time around a presentation.  No fun.

It’s interesting, though, how things go in real life after college.  I absolutely will not speak in front of an audience under any circumstances.  It’s not something that I do well, and I accept that.  I will nope my way out of it quicker than you could say mozzarella.  However, when I can’t see the audience, things work a bit differently.  I’m far more relaxed when I am just speaking to a camera.  I suppose that the Video Journal posts that I did in this space over a period of two years demonstrate that.  I got in front of the camera in familiar settings, and I had a good time with it for the most part.  I quit doing those because I realized that while I did well enough with it, it wasn’t my best work, and so I quietly retired the format.  Then at work, part of my job is to make good announcements to the passengers on my train.  I never have a problem with that.  The passengers can’t see me, and I can’t see them.  I’m just talking to a microphone.  Most of my announcements are routine, but when something is up, I have to improvise, and I do well enough.  In other words, this is why you’re not going to make it to your dinner date at Eastern Market on time, and it’s not my fault.  My biggest fear with making announcements is an accidental burp or something while I’m speaking that happens quicker than I can let go of the button.  That hasn’t happened yet, and I hope it never does.  If it does, though, I suppose that the Twitter would be buzzing about the operator who burped in the middle of an announcement.  In any case, making good announcements is not public speaking as far as I’m concerned.  And then at union meetings, I will attend and listen, but I will never go up to the microphone to speak.  However, I am a very active participant in the union’s official Facebook group, and will be very eloquent in that format.

So there you go, I suppose.  I am a writer, not a speaker.  And I’m fine with that.

Categories: JMU, Myself