22. Take a class in public speaking and practice what you learned

5 Jun

Finally got done moving and things are starting to settle down.  Moving is like getting a cold; you don’t really appreciate your normal state of being until you’ve suffered through both. 

Also I turned 30, so the rest of this list now comes from a wise 30 year old and not some snotty nosed 29 year old.  Onto business

“Take a class in public speaking and practice what you learned”

Even typing that sentence out put butterflies in my stomach.  Public speaking is the single worst thing that life can inflict on a person.  Studies show that Americans in particular fear public speaking more than they fear death.  I took a public speaking course at a community college and the teacher seemed delighted to wallow in our terror like a succubus.  At one point, after a grueling 6 minute long rambling presentation, a teenaged student finished her speech by running out of the classroom and blowing chunks of her lunch all over the carpet in front of the classroom.   There were only 15 people in the class.

I took the class because I wanted to improve an aspect of my self that was lacking. I was always a shy and introverted kid that was better suited to writing. I sympathized with the Phantom of the Opera; sometime I just want to be left alone to wear a mask and swing on top of opera house rafters (I’ve never read Phantom of the Opera).  I needed to learn something that I was vitally missing.

During the class there were countless speakers who trembled with fright, oftentimes shaking the flimsy piece of paper they’d taken with them to read to the class.  There were many people who didn’t “speak” so much as just read and gaze into their paper.  Most of the speeches were just presentations full of fright to an audience swimming in pity for the speaker.  In other words we were  pathetic.

I only remember one piece of advise that our teacher gave us that helped me when I made a speech, and it was to use the nervous energy and channel it to your presentation.  Instead of trying to make your hand still, causing it to tremble with fright, just move your hand around!  Punch it into the air to make a point, wave it in front of you and towards your audience, do anything, just don’t stand there like a shivering fern tree.

I don’t remember the topic of my first speech after these instructions, but I do remember the audience smiling, and at first I was afraid they were stifling laughter, but as I continued, flailing my arms around and talking, I saw their eyes start to twinkle.  They looked like proud mothers (even the men). 

It seemed like maybe they were on my side.  It looked like they wanted me to succeed!  When my speech was done we all walked outside, I was in a nervous daze, but my classmates congratulated me on a job well done.

We had more speeches after that, and eventually a nerve wracking debate, and honestly one class is all I could stomach. Nevertheless I started to be more confident, like WAY more confident, and I remembered the lesson about using the nervous energy, and I found myself less afraid to speak out. 

After taking that one speech class a funny thing started to happen: people wanted to be on my side, and they wanted to give me money. Not a lot of money of course, but just enough to survive in NY.  During interviews they gave me that twinkling smile I saw my peers give me, and they took a chance on me and gave me office work here and there, and that lead to better and better opportunities.

I think most people will be saved from a fate of speaking into a mic to an audience of thousands, but the lessons taken from speech class are vital, and I don’t know where I’d be without them, and so I’ve put it on the list as advice.  Now I’m never reading this again to avoid getting sick to my stomach.


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