Going through high school I became desensitized to public speaking. The more I think about it, I was offered up to the podium earlier than high school, more like late elementary school-early middle school. To the best of my knowledge my first public speaking position was when I was entered into the Ms. Preteen competition. I was very young, I remember, because my talent was playing the piano. I haven’t taken piano lessons in years, ya’ll. The only thing I can play still from memory is Chopsticks. Anyways, I remember having to get up in front of the crowd and tell everyone where I was from, and one special thing about that area. Most of the other girls, I am guessing, knew that question was coming because they had such nice thought out answers. Mine was…”I’m from _______________, North Carolina, where, um, the people are always nice.” HA! Of course, I know differently now that I’m an adult and I deal with those “nice” people on the roads.
From there I’ve been in one speaking engagement after another. Project presentations to competitions. I was a member of the Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) club in high-school-hell. If I remember correctly, I was only a member for a year…I’m easily bored. On one normal boring day my Allied Health class teacher, who was the leader of the HOSA club at our school, asked if I wanted to participate in the competition occurring, get this, the next day. I was asked to be a fill-in for someone who couldn’t make it. The details are fuzzy with the time that has passed since then. Of course I said yes. So, I spent that night crunched over the household laptop banging away at the keyboard preparing (and memorizing) a speech that the rest of the competitors had months to draft, revise, and perfect. I was a nervous wreck the next day. My insides felt hot and fluid, like I was on fire with anxiety. I was jittery and out of my element. Side note: During all of my school years, I was never one of the “populars”. In truth, I didn’t have the desire to be. I was liked by most, but never considered a real friend; just an intelligent ally-a good member to have on your jeopardy team. So, at the meet, I didn’t have any friends to talk too to distract me, which gave me time to try to imprint the speech in my brain. The moment came where it was my time to stand in front of the judges and speak. (I don’t even remember what the topic was) I was doing astonishingly well, until, nothing. I was in the middle of a sentence and nothing is what came out. It was like I was on roll and then everything hit me and I was frozen, mouth hung agape (attractive, I know), looking at the faces of my judges. It was a time span of probably four excruciatingly quiet and tense seconds, but it felt a lot longer. With the blood pumping hot in my face, and my breath shaky, fighting back tears I finished my speech without any further dilemmas. I won fourth place out of a substantial group. I’m sure there a lot of you competitors out there that would poo-poo fourth place, but hey…didn’t dull my shine that day. I was proud I even ranked. With all the variables against me that day, I still placed. I beat myself up for choking, and decided that was the reason why I didn’t rank higher…but got over it.
I guess it my ability to be comfortable speaking in public depends on two things: my audience, and my passion for the topic. There have been numerous times that I had to give speeches to classmates about this topic or that, including presentations that depended on my passing that grade (like my senior project presentation). Every time it is stressful, and I get hot and feel sweaty. My face turns red and I feel the sweat prickling my hair when I take that first deep breath and launch into what I have prepared. It isn’t until I see a reaction from the audience that I relax a little bit. A smile here, a nod there, or eye contact. These are what keep me grounded and stop me from crying and running out. I would prefer to write, and have someone else read it. I can feel the people judging my words and style and it’s almost unbearable. The naked technique never worked for me; some of those people you just don’t want to picture naked. I would bounce my eyes around, keep my hands folded so I wouldn’t pick at my fingernails, and take my time. No matter how passionate I am about the topic, the first couple minutes are always difficult.
If I am in my environment, around my friends and family, you can’t get me to shut up. If I’m not being loquacious and bubbly, people badger me about what’s wrong. I have no problem being the center of attention in my own little niche. It’s when my adoring audience extends beyond there that I feel like a turtle wanting to crawl back into the warmth and shelter of its shell. Luckily, in my line of work as a legal secretary for a defense attorney, there isn’t any speeches or public speaking that is required, unless you count speaking to defendants…which I don’t. One-on-one doesn’t count to me. I could never be a politician. I’m honest, don’t like screwing with people as a job, and don’t think I could make public speeches for a living. No thanks.