An Optimistic Start?

28 Dec

Speeches have been on my mind. I have a few lined up this week, and they do get my blood going. The build-up, the thrill of the unexpected (hopefully not something embarrassing) and the fun of sharing information with a group that is actually interested in learning something. For all of these reasons, I have come to seek out opportunities to present. This was not always the case.

imagesMy first experience with public speaking was with the Reynoldsburg, Ohio Optimists’ Club. I was in fourth grade (I think?). My memory is not so good here, probably because this was not a positive experience. Sorry, Optimists!

There were lots of other kids lined up to speak. Probably 25 or so, several from each grade level in the school district. We were somewhat on home turf for me as the event was held at the church I grew up in. Methodist. (This was before my brother and I transferred over to St. Pius X, which led to my later becoming Catholic.) All of us waited in a hallway outside a very small, hot and stuffy library where each orator had his or her brief shining moment. The judges chose the best orator from each grade level and presented awards to each at the end.

I was more than a little intimidated while waiting in the hallway for my moment. I was nerdy, like everyone else there, so I had no reason to feel self-conscious. but I was probably more obsessive-compulsive than the rest and had an amazing ability to worry about every possible worst-case scenario. Here’s what was going through my head:

  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I open my mouth and nothing comes out?
  • What if I pee my pants?
  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I sweat so much that a puddle starts forming underneath me?
  • What if I pee my pants and sweat so much…..and so forth?

I had a good hour of running through these questions in my mind, visualizing each one of them happening, over and over. By the time I got to the front of the line, I was on adrenalin overload. I could have accomplished a major athletic feat, but instead I walked into a very hot little room with lots of serious-looking grown-ups who’d likely had their fill of kids giving speeches. I felt like I was free-falling.

Here’s what happened:

  • I did not get the notecards out of order, clam up or pee my pants.
  • I DID sweat a lot, have a very shaky voice, almost drop the notecards because my hands were shaking so much and talk so fast thatIgotthroughmyspeechinabout30seconds.
  • I did not win an award, nor did I deserve one.
  • My poor dad. He was there in the audience and probably wondered what the hell happened to me out in that hallway with the other kids. (He once defended my honor when I dropped a ball I should’ve caught while playing left-field with my third-grade softball team. Another parent made a critical comment in the stands and he nearly created a scene. Will write more about this another time. Go, Blue Blazers!) Mom was not there as she was stuck at home with severe agoraphobia. Afterward, Dad congratulated me and told me I did a really great job, and he was proud of me.

I am really grateful to my dad for his hopeful attitude about my future. I don’t think I gave him a very good glimpse of it that night, but he believed in me anyway. And I am happy that I don’t get nerves before speaking anymore.

To date, the Optimists remain my most difficult audience.

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3 Responses to “An Optimistic Start?”

  1. gmonteith June 19, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    You’re a braver soul than I. While I can do it, I much prefer to prepare speeches for others. My bad experience was years ago at a retirement home. When I finished my presentation an old man stood up and gave me pointers on my demeanor. It took a long time to get that out of my mind.

  2. Michele C. Hollow April 14, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Your dad sounds special, and I know what you were feeling. I’m a writer, and I love the solitude of writing. Right before my talk at blogpaws, I went into the doggie play room, sat down with the dogs, and had them lick my face. They really calmed me down. Also, the dog in the front row and I exchanged loving glances. Each time is a new experience; I just wish I could have a dog with me when I speak.

    • toknowbetter April 14, 2010 at 11:27 am #

      Michele,

      Thanks for your comment! My dad is a self-described “Classic.”

      I was doing the same thing with that Border Collie in the front row! Animals sure are good for keeping us in the present and grounded, aren’t they?

      A lot of times before I present, I’ll take a brisk walk around the block (or inside the conference center, hotel, etc.) to burn off that natural adrenaline. Works like a charm…or running in place in a bathroom stall! Done that, too.

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