Posted by: Jeremiah Graves | November 21, 2011

Things at Which I Suck: Public Speaking

Public speaking scares the piss outta me.

Seriously, every time I’ve got to stand up in front of people and ramble on about something, I fall into a total mental tailspin.

I feel my face turning red. It suddenly feels like the temperature in the room is 10,000 degrees. I can feel every set of eyes staring at me. I mumble, I say “um” with alarming frequency, I look like a total jackass and all-in-all it’s not a real enjoyable experience.

The worst part is that I wasn’t always like this with public speaking.

Growing up, I was—and brace yourselves, this may be shocking—one of those “class clown” types. I made lots of jokes and tried to be the center of attention whenever possible. I had no problem being in front of a room full of people because I considered it a performance of sorts.

Throughout high school I was involved in a bunch of plays and competitive speech where I did things like improv, ensemble acting, mime and other things that fall into the “nerdy-yet-totally-awesome-speech-stuff” category.

I loved it.

I was pretty darn good at all of it too. I could get up in front of a room and just do my thing without an ounce of hesitation.

Heck, I even got the honor of speaking at my high school graduation where I gave a speech that I would consider pretty memorable, but that’s a story for another time and place.

As you can see, this whole sucking at public speaking thing hasn’t always been the case, but I’m fairly certain I can pinpoint the exact date and place that it all fell apart: June 23, 2006 in Sanborn, Iowa.

It was my brother’s wedding and, as his best man, I was slated to give a speech. I said earlier that I’d done improv in high school and for years after that I often used the “make it up on the fly” mentality when giving presentations. This was one of those situations, I had one key joke in mind and the rest was going to be me winging it.

They had just run the video montage thing that seems to be a requirement at every modern wedding and it was speech time. I was handed the microphone and stood up ready to delivery my opening line: “You know…you’ve always been like a brother to me.”

I figured it would kill.

"...and, um, what's the deal with cummberbunds, right?!"

Unfortunately, I started talking and the microphone wasn’t on. So I started fumbling with it and it took like 30 seconds before I got it to work and before I started in with my opener, I looked up and saw a gigantic room full of people staring at me and I totally panicked.

I don’t know why that moment was different, but it was.

I strung together a good, but not great, speech and lots of people really dug it, but it wasn’t the speech that I wanted to give. It also bombed with most of my friends who knew it wasn’t the speech I wanted to give and they mocked me endlessly for it. So much so that when I was set to give another best man speech at my buddy, Craiggers’ wedding a few years later, I went into total panic mode.

In the end, there ended up being a huge faux pas in the planning of the wedding. The wedding was in one town and the reception was in another, roughly 20 miles away. There was roughly an hour or better lag time between the end of the wedding and the start of the reception.

There was also free keg beer.

By the time I got around to giving my “speech” it was drunken me rambling on about burying hookers in the desert with Craiggers and a senator…or something?! No one has really ever transcribed it back to me and that’s probably for the best.

Anyway, long-story-short, it was after my brother’s wedding that I really started overthinking every instance that involved me in front of a crowd.

I have led trainings and given presentations at work over the past couple of years and every single one of them has been a huge, steaming pile of tongue-tied garbage.

I don’t know what the hell happened to me, but I certainly suck at public speaking.

If anyone out there has a proven method for ridding me of this suckitude and returning to my previous levels of awesomeness in front of crowds, I’m all ears.


Responses

  1. I would like to say the MC….. aka Kara’s now probable future husband. Actually panicked and started the Larry the cable guy Jokes…. as in Edible underwear. Granted you were probably to plastered to remember that part.

    • You know, I suppose that’s a good point.

  2. It seems to me that people are afraid of things that they want to be afraid of. You said so yourself, in this post, you used to have no problem speaking in front of people. You created a fear because you lacked proper planning and practice and therefore flubbed during an important event and followed that up by flubbing again on another one. I think that if you were comfortable with the material you were presenting and had practiced your “teaching” before you did them it would help to break this bad habit you have developed.

  3. ARE YOU KIDDING ME! THE FORMER SPEECH CAPITAN CANNOT SUCK AT SPEECH! DO I HAVE TO COME OUT THERE, SET UP SOME PRACTICE TIMES AND WHIP YOU INTO SHAPE???

    Consider yourself yelled at.

    Hardcore

    • Wowza! You brought the a-game with the all caps.

      I do certainly consider myself yelled at…I’ll do my best to stop sucking at the public speaking.

      How hard could it be to regain my verbal swagger, right?!

  4. For some of the work ones, I think it’s a matter of perceiving a presentation as a performance when there is a difference between the two. As much as you’re going to scowl at me for saying this . . . perhaps you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to be funny.

    • I would counter that my issue is probably more related to my not wanting to look dumb or uninformed in front of a crowd. Work stuff always feels like I should know EVERYTHING about what I’m talking about and be prepared to have a great answer to any question that comes up, otherwise I’ll look like an uneducated boob who shouldn’t be telling people what to do.


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