Public speaking

Sometimes, my mind can be a real son of a bitch.

I was seven floors up in a Chicago high-rise, being asked to deliver a speech to an audience much bigger than the one I’d envisioned. The only respectable way back to the ground was by delivering my spiel and taking the elevator. So, why was I eyeing the windows as exit routes?       

Rather than jumping away, I leapt in front of the audience, employing the same abandon used for jumping off of high rocks into the river back home.

Like buzzing flies at a picnic, my thoughts had been pestering me about how scary it is to stand and share a story in front of strangers.

“What if they ask me to sing?” My mind asked.
“Why would they ask me to sing anything?” I replied.
“Well, they might want to know a quirky fact about you and you’d probably tell them you sang in an opera and then they’d do an inspirational slow building clap until you demonstrated your baritone.”

My body went hot with fear.
“That could happen,” I replied.

So, I swore to myself to never reveal to them that I’d played a small role in an opera.

Bullet dodged.

“You could think of everyone being naked,” my mind suggested.
“That’s distracting,” I thought back.  
“Some of them would look really nice naked and that wouldn’t do my speech any favors."
"It’s good you’re thinking these things through, my mind remarked in a consoling tone.”   

“What if they’re thinking of me naked?” I wondered.  

Centering myself in front of them, I nodded politely and exerted a smile. Yes, exerted. They thought I was being friendly, but I was smiling to make myself feel better. I’d read somewhere that even if your smile is insincere, endorphins would still flood into your brain. Endorphins don’t withhold their love based on insincerity.  

Fake smiling helped. Thanks, brain! And the audience smiled back at me, which then caused a genuine smile to spread across my face.

An outline I’d written in my notebook was lying on the floor. I’d incorporated a portion of my speech to involve reading from it, which allowed me to get my feet wet before diving into the talking phase. It was a helpful trick because I can read for days in front of anyone. If he’d allow it, I’d read the President bedtime stories.    

Speaking, however, is another animal; one that I’ve yet to tame. Talking in front of one hundred staring strangers is kind of a nightmare. I'm just afraid the wild animal in my mind is going to start feeling a little too confident and then flaunt around like a show pony and end up breaking something important. That’d be embarrassing. Especially because this speech thing was a job interview of sorts.

The audience giggled at something I said, but I told myself not to take it as too much encouragement. They laughed again and my mind started telling me that I had a future in stand-up. “You’ve got them eating out of the palm of your hand,” my mind said, but I told him to shut up and get a life.

Then the applause came and they were still smiling. Some of them gave me high fives, back pats, and handshakes as I walked back to be among them. It was over and nothing had been broken.  

I took a deep breath as my head surfaced from the water. I thought about how I’d survived to jump and swim another day.

“Next time,” my mind thought, “let’s pick an even higher rock.”  

...ramble on...

1 comment:

  1. What a great story! I felt like I was in your head, I'm definitely going to think about this the next time I stand in front of a crowd to speak. Thanks for sharing such intimate thoughts.