According to pretty much every survey ever, it seems that everybody is terrified of public speaking.
This is not news.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m scared of it, too. I’m afraid of public speaking. (Although, arguably, this is worse.)
The funny thing is, I didn’t always feel this way. No—in fact, in elementary school, middle school, high school, and for most of college, I was pretty okay with it. I even enjoyed it sometimes. I did things like drama clubs and plays and student leadership and even joined a debate team in college for about half a semester (but that’s another story).
I always assumed that people were born with fears, and then they learned to overcome them with lots of hard work or hypnotherapy or by drinking a lot.
Turns out, you can develop fears. This is probably already pretty obvious to everybody but me.
Now, I understand that someone might develop a fear of flying after being in a particularly awful plane crash, or develop a fear of being buried alive after, you know, being buried alive. But I can’t say that I have anything to blame my fear of public speaking on. No traumatic events, no pants splitting in front of everybody or my voice cracking in a really hilarious kind of way. Nothing.
I think what most people are afraid of when it comes to speaking in front of people is that they’ll forget their lines or that they’ll sneeze and fart at the same time in the middle of their speech.
But not me.
Somewhere along the line, I got this little piece of fiction stuck in my head. In my worst nightmare, I’m up there, giving my impassioned soliloquy about how to lead the most fulfilling life imaginable or whatever.
I start my speech. I click my powerpoint. I look around.
Everybody looks back at me.
I keep talking, but the words run together like some kind of verbal crossword puzzle, incomprehensible and mind-numbing and frustrating for everybody.
I keep talking. They keep staring.
I finish, walk out, and one by one, they turn to each other with quizzical looks and say, “Did you understand a single word of that?”
And of course I overhear them and get really embarrassed because I just gave this long talk and NO ONE UNDERSTOOD ANY OF IT. Not a single word.
So now, every time I have to speak in front of more than ten people at a time, I feel like I’m speaking a completely different language than everyone else. A crazy language that isn’t even a language, just random beeps and boops. I feel like I’ve transformed into R2D2 in front of a crowd who’s never seen Star Wars and also doesn’t understand robot talk.
And that’s why everyone is looking at me.
They’re not looking at me because I’m the one talking and because it’s polite to pay attention, no—it’s because they can’t comprehend any part of what I’m trying to say.
This gets worse the longer I’m up there. Instead of calming down the further I get into my speech like most people, it’s the other way around. I start out fairly confident, having spent the previous hour psyching myself up to say the exact right words in the exact right way.
But as soon as I notice people looking at me, I start to panic.
This leads to me completely abandoning any notes I might have had, because, obviously, I need to explain things better. So I explain what I just said, and then I explain that, and on and on, and it turns into a huge jumble of crap that I’m sure no one DOES understand by the end.
When I finally finish, I slink back to my seat, my face red and my hands clutched, knowing that everyone is snickering under their breath about all the babbling that just happened.
And that’s why I am afraid of public speaking. Because it’s the just the worst thing ever.
So all of this to say, the next time I’m giving you a speech, just keep your eyes to yourself, please. Don’t look at me.
Stop it. Seriously. Stop looking at me like that. Is that too much to ask? Geez.