Public Speaking

Two if by SeaImage by Leon Fishman

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Now this means, to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
— Jerry Seinfeld

I was 12 years old and heard the words that always scared me the most: oral report.

My topic was Paul Revere, and I had a week to prepare. Each day, I worked on getting ready. I researched my little facts and put each one neatly on an index card.

Paul Revere was a silversmith.

One if by land, two if by sea.

The British are coming.

I numbered my note cards and practiced in front of the mirror until I had every word and pause memorized. When I practiced in front of my mom, though, I felt the fear, beastly talons that gripped my heart.

I hid from that fear as well as I could, but at odd moments throughout the week, it would find me. I would be sitting in class daydreaming, and I would suddenly feel those talons give my heart a rough squeeze.

The day of the report arrived, and I sat not hearing the reports of the other kids. I tried to calm myself. One if by land, two if by sea….

My name was called, and I sat there, stunned. The teacher smiled at me. After an awkward pause, I went up and faced the class.

Clutching my little note cards like a life-preserver as I bobbled in the deep, icy waters of my fear, I read the first one: Paul Revere was a silversmith.

I finished whatever I said and looked out at the class. Faces stared at me with pity as surely as the British were coming. The other kids had their own fear to deal with, but they now knew that mine was the greatest.

I didn’t know whether I could make it back to my seat without falling. My teacher took a step toward me to help. Spooked, I stumbled toward the desk-and-chair contraption and collapsed into it, sweating and gasping.

That failure stayed with me. All through high school the words “oral report” would ruin my week as I dreaded the calling of my name. No matter how much I prepared, I was left unprotected from that vicious moment.

In college, I forced myself to take a public speaking class. With that small group of peers and repeated exposure, I learned to tolerate it, like an arachnophobic slowly exposed to spiders.

I was never cured, though. Throughout grad school and into my teaching career, I would sometimes voluntarily make a comment, and the talons would suddenly seize me in a surprise attack. I’d be left stammering, embarrassed that this old fear still had a hold on me, a grown-up, a professional.

For twenty years now, I’ve faced rooms full of students and given my spiel five times a day. It’s helped, but that old fear is always lurking. I assign oral reports, and I tell kids how repeated exposure helps.

I have almost completed 101 things in 1001 days, and I am thinking of new challenges. I know the one that scares me the most.

#BlogHer15, VOTY, recap  Updated 07/2015–I gave a speech at the #BlogHer15: Experts Among Us conference! My #BlogHer15 Recap as a Timid and Squeamish VOTY Featured Honoree: From Excited to Terrified to Exuberant


About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days (and beyond), and writing my memoirs. My book: Timid No More.
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29 Responses to Public Speaking

  1. Rahmath says:

    I am curious now. Why be a teacher? For someone who fears public speaking, it must have been a tough decision. I would love to know your reasons for being one.

    • Marcy says:

      Good questions, Rahmath. It is with my peers (or worse, strangers) that I feel the most stage fright, much more so than with a room of students. During the first week of school, I will feel stressed and nervous, but then I am OK in front of the kids. Having to give lectures and explanations all the time, though, has also helped me when I have to speak in a gathering of peers.

  2. While I don’t have a public speaking phobia, I’ve always been tempted to join Toastmasters to improve my skills. Have you looked into it?
    that cynking feeling recently posted..This is AutismMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      That’s the group I am thinking of joining. I have heard that you can attend meetings for a while and then decide to give a speech when you are ready for it. I think I will attend a few times and get the lay of the land before I make any commitments to giving a speech.

  3. Rose says:

    I am terrified of public speaking, but only before I get up and start to talk. Once I’m up there, I’m ok. It’s the getting up there that’s the hard part. Kudos to you to do “public speaking” every day with your students…now that’s a lot of practice!
    Rose recently posted..Silent Sundays — Meet the KizzMy Profile

  4. I don’t mind public speaking if it’s live people. Add a microphone or worse, a camera and I have no voice. I’m frozen, deer in the headlights. And I can’t play the piano for anyone. I used to have to perform for my teacher when she went to the kitchen to “make tea.” Didn’t bode well for a future as a performer. The moment someone was in the room with me, I couldn’t play. Stage fright is selective. And powerful. Great piece.
    Marilyn Armstrong recently posted..TURN WHERE? WHEN? WHY?My Profile

    • Marcy says:

      Thanks for sharing your piano story. I love that she would go to “make tea.” When I tried to play guitar recently, I messed up much more for the filming (in front of only my husband) than I did when he heard me playing it over and over from the next room.

  5. Abby says:

    I too found it interesting that you would become a teacher with this fear. I was SO awful at public speaking in college, I took a class once I started working. It’s gotten better, but I think it’s just one of those things you have to do a lot to get good at. I notice that schoolkids do a lot more “oral report” type things nowadays, starting in elementary school. I think that’s good. They don’t seem to prefer the casket!

    • Marcy says:

      Students do give a lot more reports than I used to, from what I’ve seen, and I think they are better prepared as a result, rather than the once-a-year terror. I have seen a few kids over the years, though, who were really terrified like I was.

  6. Rae Hilhorst says:

    Loved your story, I am a trainer and assessor and initially I remember those feelings of fear and failure. Now I say just fake it till you make it and at worse, keep your hands behind your back so no one can see them shaking. xxx
    Rae Hilhorst recently posted..Naturopaths, Menopause, TrustMy Profile

  7. I loved the way you jumped off the Jerry Seinfeld quote! And I agree–public speaking is arduous. I like doing it the same way I like to rock climb; the best part is when you’ve already conquered the fear.
    Samantha Shanley recently posted..Growing Up GirlMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      I like the rock climbing comparison Samantha. (Not that I can rock climb–I am seriously lacking in upper body strength and the appropriate technique!)

  8. Quinn says:

    I totally sympathize! I keep thinking it will get easier, but I never sleep the night (or nights) before I have to give a presentation. I even get nervous giving updates during my weekly staff meeting. I’m also a believer in fake it ’til you make it, even if it doesn’t get rid of the fear. Great post — and good for you for facing your fear every day!
    Quinn recently posted..Dispensing “career” advice with minimal maniacal laughterMy Profile

  9. Angela Ryan says:

    This was great, especially that you became a teacher and now have a story to relate to your students experiencing the same apprehension of public speaking. You had some really great similes here too — nice use of figurative language.

  10. Karen says:

    My heart went out to your twelve year old self! I despise public speaking (almost more than spiders). It’s amazing that you became a teacher.

    That 101 things in 1001 days blows me away every time I think about it. I love your spirit!

    P.S. Awesome quote.
    Karen recently posted..It’s All in my HeadMy Profile

  11. Good luck with that one! Public speaking doesn’t frighten me, but I can see why it would scare others. The only thing that really scares me is spiders…*shiver*
    Natalie – The Cat Lady Sings recently posted..Art SuppliesMy Profile

  12. I love that you assign oral reports to your students. And that you face your fears down, one by one. You rock
    Cindy – The Reedster Speaks recently posted..Drivin’ down the road.My Profile

  13. Kylie says:

    Yep! I used to be so afraid of public speaking, and then my mom made me try out for a play. I mean that literally. I tried to turn around and go back up the stairs and she pushed me through the doors. And I got the lead in Dracula! Drama classes helped me gain so much confidence. But I still blushed whenever I spoke up in class. The knowledge I was blushing made it even worse.
    I had to recite something junior year in high school, and even though I have a near-photographic memory, I blanked. I swore. I can’t remember if I said shit or dammit. But this was not like me… I was very shy and nerdy. Looking back, it was a great moment.
    Kylie recently posted..Toying with our Lives: Slaying at Sandy Hook #NaBloPoMoMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      Great story from class! I’ll bet the teacher told about it at home that night. Wow on Dracula. I was never sure how hard to push my kids, but that’s a great story too.

  14. Congratulations! I voted for you 🙂
    Marilyn Armstrong recently posted..LIVING HISTORY – THE ASSASSINATION OF A PRESIDENTMy Profile

  15. Pingback: Beyond Excited to be One of BlogHer’s Voices of the Year | (Don't Be) Too Timid and Squeamish

  16. Pingback: My #BlogHer15 Recap as a Timid and Squeamish VOTY Featured Honoree: From Excited to Terrified to Exuberant | (Don't Be) Too Timid and Squeamish

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