Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Speaking In Public Ain't My Bag

Arianna Huffington recently wrote a book entitled On Becoming Fearless. I wrote about it a few months ago and was invited by Huffington Post's Fearless Voices to submit a post on the topic. My fear is the very common fear of speaking in public. I haven't conquered it yet, but I continue to try. Here's my story:

I have in the past decade or so turned down countless opportunities for career advancement. Why? I am able to envision that in any of these accomplishments, I'd have to at some point give a speech. And that's my albatross. I've got a lot of good features, I look good in a suit, and I am a warm, kind, and honest guy. I just can't speak in public worth a damn.

Knowing how this silly fear has been holding me back, I finally went to a doctor about it and he kindly prescribed some mild medication. I started taking it, and for a week or so, I did feel much more relaxed. Certain social settings where I would normally feel some anxieties, now left me feeling no stress whatsoever. I was feeling quite good about what I was doing for myself.

And then came my brother's wedding. For the rehearsal dinner, all of the groomsmen, bridesmaids, friends, and family would be saying a few words about the bride and the groom. No problem. No uncomfortable feelings whatsoever. The days pass, I work out what I am going to say, and I feel great.

Then the night of the rehearsal dinner comes and it turns out that not only will we be speaking in front of everyone, but we will be doing so in front of the room, and with a microphone. It's a bigger presentation than I had expected. I still feel fine, relaxed, and cool. I watch several people stand up and speak, most of them prefacing about how nervous they are, but all of them sounding very much like Toastmasters veterans. One guy jokes about how he feels like he's giving a book report in front of the class. Everyone laughs and smiles. This is the warmest and most loving and supportive group of people you could hope for.

And it's my turn. I walk confidently up to the front, take the mic, and proceed to talk before my friends and family. Except I am surprised to hear my amplified voice quiver. And then I can't remember anything I was going to say because I am a) shocked to hear my voice so augmented, and b) put off by hearing the fear that I didn't think I had. And so I give a nervous and shaky but heartfelt 30-second speech. Everyone receives it politely and well, but now I doubt that any little pill is going to help me with this thing.

I've got to beat this thing. Otherwise, I will remain the most well-read, well-spoken entry level worker out there. There's nothing wrong with entry level work, but I am tired of customers meeting me and asking if I am in school and doing this thing part-time. Nope, ten years I have been doing this. No seniority, no significant raises, this is my life. Smiling politely.


Leesa said...

I know exactly how you feel. I'm terrified of big crowds, and certainly would be a wreck speaking in public like that.
I haven't really tried any medications, still haven't decided if I want to go that route. I'm sure I'm a great candidate though.

The Daily Rant said...

I find it interesting that you have trouble with public speaking. I have worked for years in the same industry as you, and knowing what you do...it's ALL public speaking. That's what you do - speak to the public. I know it's on more of a one on one level and a little more personal and you're not adressing a mass of people, but think of how comfortable you are in that particular scenario.

You know your town, you know your industry, you know what you like, you know how to get your point across....

You meet people from all walks of life; postal workers to CEO's, movie theatre ticket takers to music industry stars. And you talk to them all, most likely in an intelligent, humorous, down to earth ease.

Humor breaks the ice. Making people who are uncomfortable sitting in a huge room with other people they don't really know, feel comfortable, is a skill. You do it on a small level everyday.

You can shine in so many ways if you just realize that you already DO what you say you can't. Try it again.

And remember....you look good in a suit. That helps. :)

Anonymous said...

Same thing here! Hate it.

Redhead Editor said...

You mean it doesn't help to imagine all the people naked? Well, definitely not at your brother's wedding cuz that would be family members. Ewwwwwwuuu!