Tuesday, February 2, 2010

You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain

“You” being public speaking, of course. There’s nothing like the thought of talking in front of a room full of people to send my nerves into a panicked frenzy. And unfortunately, I have to learn to get over that pretty quickly. Like, tomorrow. Because that’s when I’m heading back to college to speak in my old copywriting class.


You see, I know in my head that I’ve had great work experiences to share with the students. And I know I have a lot of insights into what it takes to get a job, adjust to the “real world”, the real power of networking, etc. But it’s the actual talking that scares the crap out of me. And the whole being-in-front-of-other-people thing.

I like to joke that I totally fit the artsy, hard-to-understand creative stereotype. Because while I’m good at thinking and writing, it’s the whole socializing bit that trips me up. Sure, when I’m with friends I’m a total chatterbox. But when it comes to serious discussions with strangers, I suddenly develop every speech impediment under the sun. I trip over words, forget what I’m saying, mispronounce things, stutter, sweat profusely, my voice gets all quivery and the absolute worst—I forget to swallow. And that most certainly leads to a watery little gagging noise in my throat that is quite unattractive.

Sure, I can write a story no problem. But to actually tell a story? Yikes. I’m the girl who skips to the punch line, leaving people wondering what the heck I’m talking about. I sometimes forget that people aren’t in my head, following my train of thought. Boy, I wish they could (well…maybe not).

The professor, who is actually my old professor and former boss, told me my time in class should be really informal. He told me I should just get up there, tell them about my career thus far and show off some of my work. No preparation necessary.

Um, right. Winging it isn’t really my style. I can just see it now: Me standing in front of a bunch of bored college kids, stumbling over my words, talking in circles and sweating like an ice cold margarita in the hot summer sun. (In other words, A LOT.)

But honestly, I think that’s what I have to try to do. If I write up what I want to say, it will make me even more nervous. So right now I’m just going to take a deep breath and try my best to shake away the butterflies. I’m going to try to focus on what I wanted to hear when I was in their shoes. Reassure them that the real world isn’t that scary. Actually, it can be pretty fun. And make sure to remind them to soak up every last ounce of college while it lasts. Because time sure does fly.

Despite my incredible case of nerves, I’m so honored my old professor asked me to come in and speak. I can’t even believe I’m the professional now. How weird is that? I still feel like I should be sitting in a classroom, fretting over exams, cute boy crushes and sneaking beer into the dorms. But I’ve grown up. And for the first time, I actually feel grown up. And I think I kind of like it.

So wish me luck. And please remind me to bring extra deodorant. I’m going to need it.

What about you guys—are you terrified of public speaking? Or does it just come naturally to you? (Lucky duck!) Any embarrassing stories? I have my share of them, but I’ll save those for another time….


tris1978ton said...

Good luck to you! Must be an honor though!

And yes, like most people, I do not like public speaking. I find that a good night's sleep is very important, because the only time I did not get sufficient sleep before giving speech, I forgot my entire speech! Pretty embarrassing.

Katty said...

I find public speaking really strange. Sometimes I'm brilliant at it, I feel confident and get the point across. But other times ... I'm just horrible. I clam am, and get a very dry mouth and sound like I don't really know what I'm talking about.

I think in one way it comes down to how well you know the subject material, the preparation that's been put into it and just allowing yourself the confidence needed to deliver. If I doubt myself, that's usually when I falter.

Good luck for your speech!

MonsteRawr said...

Public speaking is further complicated by the fact that I have a fairly prominent stutter. I do really well as long as I don't have to stick to a script, because it means I can swap out the words I'm having trouble with. Hand me a script though, and I am absolutely useless.

Michelle said...

Public speaking for me comes very naturally. I actively participated in national Debating competitions all through junior high and high school, and made it to being the captain of my entire house at sixth form-think head of gryffindor house- after speaking in front of about 300 students. Now, I do sales pitches/presentations for the current company I work for.

That said, I am always a nervous wreck before every debate, every speech and every presentation. My stomach always feels like it's going through a rollercoaster and I have to go to the toilet a million times before and get all light headed. But once I start talking, it all goes away.

I really think preparation is key. The more you prepare, the more confident you'll be with the material. So eventhough your professor said to 'wing it', it really isn't advisable especially when you want to be as informative as you can to the students.

I find that structure always helps when talking to a large crowd. It helps them to follow what you're saying and the points you are making. so just think of a couple of topics you want to touch on and go through each one with details. then summarize what you've touched on in the end. I think you'll be brilliant!

Maris said...

The key to calm down those nerves is to practise and practise - take every opportunity to speak publicly as a good chance to improve your skills.
Of course this is not good advice as you have to perform tomorrow..

But here's a few tips that I have found helpful:

- Be yourself and don't worry if you make a few mistakes - people find it easier to like you when you're not Miss Perfect. Being a bit clumsy (but NOT TOO much) makes the audience wish that you would succeed and they start to cheer you on unconsciously. I've even heard good speakers suggest that one should drop a pen before the start of the speech or something of that sort - so that you would be perceived as a "normal" person.

- It should be easy to talk about yourself. Include your thoughts, feelings, opinions into the speech - open up about yourself. People are interested in that kind of stuff.

- Talk SLOWLY. What this does is two things: you yourself have time to collect your thoughts and force yourself to calm down when speaking slowly AND the audience will thank you for being clear and emphasizing important points rather than blabbering on uncontrollably.
I have found this the best tip in practice. If you pretend to be calm, self-assured and are showing it by speaking calmly - you fill soon find out that you actually do calm down.
The faster you speak, the easier it is to get confused in words and get more nervous and start to blabber even more etc, etc..

Hope it goes well!

Corporate Chickee said...

Good luck! Hang in there - it won't be as bad as you think!

I am lucky - I inherited my public speaking skills from my Dad, which means I can 'wing it' in pretty much any circumstance. My 'claim to fame' is that I once gave a 10-minute presentation with 0 preparation in college (I had no idea a presentation was required). I managed to get an A+ on the presentation, and everyone in class was saying to me, "Wow - that was so great!" HA.. Little did they know I was just making it up as I went!

We all have our moments though - I was once giving a grant speech in class, and had to say "3,585 dollars" or something like that. I have no idea what happened, but I somehow lost my ability to translate the numbers into words. I sat there and stuttered and stumbled over the words for what felt like forever - until I finally just laughed and gave up and said, "Well it's a big number." My professor in the back of the room was laughing so hard her face was bright red - and we were videotaping the presentations - so I actually have that one on video!

Moral of the story - there's nothing you can't laugh off! Good luck to you!


Katie said...

Public speaking is my nemesis! If the rare events that I have to speak in front of a group, I always keep a pen in my hand. Seems to help absorb some of the nervous energy. :) Good luck!

Seattle Kim D said...

Good luck, you're going to do great! I share a similar fear, while it's so easy to talk and talk with people you know, it's intimidating to speak in a professional setting with people you've just met. After five minutes you're golden but the first few feel like they drag on forever.

Monster Librarian said...

Good luck! I'm sure you will do great!

Rebekah said...

Hope it went well! I'm a stutterer too, so I completely relate.

In college, our Spanish class' final project involved a group of four discussing a topic for 20 minutes in Spanish. And everyone had to speak at least five minutes. I got stuck with three guys who I thought were total slackers (I was wrong), and I cost us some points for stuttering. I pointed out to the professor that I stutter in English too, but she just shrugged.

The happy ending is that my now-husband was in that group, and doing that project was how he got my phone number. And we still got a B.

Lady Mel said...

I am learning how to deal with my nerves.