I am not a good public speaker.
One of the perks of my career as a copy editor is that I don’t have to stand in front of large groups for, well, anything. I get extremely nervous beforehand, then one of two things happens when it’s time. Either I completely lose my train of thought and can’t get it back, or I get on some tangent I hadn’t originally planned to talk about and veer way off from what I’m supposed to be talking about but can’t get myself to shut up and get back on track.
I probably should have, but I did not offer a story during the “sharing time” of my mom’s memorial service in April. The pressure of public speaking at such an emotionally delicate time was too much for me to handle, so I declined. (Which I don’t regret, by the way. My mom would have understood how uncomfortable it would have made me.)
Seriously, it’s bad. Or rather, it used to be, when I had to do such things back in my school days. But thankfully those days are largely in the past for me, so on a day-to-day basis, it’s really a non-issue.
So I was quite conflicted when I got an email from The Big Sis’ teacher earlier this week asking if I would come speak to the class on Friday about my career and my career path. On the one hand, I would LOVE to! I was one of those who knew pretty early on what I wanted to be, and I did follow that path to where I am now. Copy editing isn’t a “flashy” career, but it’s one I’m passionate about.
But on the other hand: ACK! Public speaking! And they’d be inviting another class into The Big Sis’ class for the presentation, so there would be 50 sets of eyes on me. Sure, those eyes belonged to 6- and 7-year-old kids, but the thought made me nervous all the same.
The teacher even gave me a perfect out, saying she would love to have me come in and talk to the class but understood if it wasn’t my cup of tea. Honestly, it WASN’T my cup of tea, but next thing I knew, I was replying that I would love to do it.
I guess I figured I should look at it as a challenge. Just because I’m scared to do something…why should I let that stop me from doing it? What if it were The Big Sis in that position? Would I encourage her not to take on that challenge, or would I encourage her to face her fears and find it within herself to do it?
So I began to prepare what I was going to say. I’m bad at public speaking, but I’m even worse at impromptu public speaking, so I needed to have an idea of what I was going to say. I didn’t want to read from a piece of paper, but I couldn’t just go into this unprepared. So I started practicing, first developing an overall point to my talk, then filling in with details and examples and anecdotes. Once I had a general idea of what I was going to say, I started practicing saying it out loud — in the car, in the shower, at the office before anyone else came in for the day…just whenever I found myself alone with a few minutes.
At times my practice went awesome. At times I couldn’t keep my concentration and would forget what I was going to say next. But I didn’t let that frustrate me too much and I kept practicing. Throughout the process, I would ask The Big Sis for some advice and feedback on some things I wanted to talk about, and she was actually very helpful in guiding me in some areas. By Thursday morning, I really felt pretty confident about my talk and I just wanted Friday morning to get here already! I practiced a few more times that day but felt pretty ready, so I didn’t overdo it.
Friday morning, I put on some nice clothes (skirt! pantyhose! heels! I never wear this stuff to work!) and headed to school, ready to do this. I was actually relieved to find out I was the only parent talking to the class about their career. Part of me was afraid there would be someone else there who had a super-interesting career and mine would seem boring in comparison, but it was just me there. I got up in front of the two classes pretty much as soon as I got there, and I must say…everything went perfectly.
Seriously, I’m not sure it could have gone much better, which is more a product of my preparation beforehand and practice, as I can assure it wasn’t a natural thing for me to be doing. But I engaged with the class, involved them in what I had to say, kept their interest the whole time, and even got some good questions at the end. All told, I was up there for 30 minutes, with probably half that time being my talk and the other half them asking me questions and me asking them some questions about what they’d like to do when they grow up. It certainly didn’t feel like that long — it felt like I’d been up there for 10 minutes (which had been the plan). The Teacher was particularly interested in what I had to say, as she said she usually thinks of writing when she thinks of journalism, so it was good for her to hear about a different side of things.
A couple of funny things: I’d brought “The Diary of Anne Frank,” as that was a big reason I went into journalism. I held it up, and one kid raised his hand, and I wasn’t going to call on him until the end, but it was too distracting so I called on him. He said, seemingly randomly, “My dad’s name is Frank.” At first I thought, “What the…?” but then I realized the book was by Anne FRANK. He heard Frank and made that connection and apparently just HAD to tell me. Somehow I managed to not lose my train of thought with that one.
Another girl saw the book cover and said, “Oh! I think I’ve read that book!” I thought to myself, “Wow, I HIGHLY doubt that…” and then she asked me, “Anne Frank is the one who is blind and can’t talk, right?” Sorry, kid. That’d be Helen Keller. Not quite the same. 🙂
I’m so glad I did this; I felt like a million bucks as I was walking away from the school after it was over. I was able to conquer a fear of mine (at least this one time — I’m not “cured” by any means), and most of all, I did it without embarrassing myself or The Big Sis.