When I was in recitals for dance, it was a little easier to get over my stage fright for a couple of reasons. Because of lighting, it was hard to see past the first few rows of parents, whistling for the class, and waving at their children. I couldn’t see the other how-many-hundred people that fit in the room, and I was thankful for that.
I was also grateful that I couldn’t see my own parents, because for some reason, my family makes me more nervous than strangers do. And I was in a class with twenty other girls, so I couldn’t have been the only person being watched.
Public speaking is different. Especially in a classroom, when I’m the only one in the front of the room. I can see every face, and they’re all watching me. Critiquing me. Waiting for me to slip up.
Okay, maybe not the last one. I was the one who waited for that.
I don’t like to make a big deal out of that fear of talking in front of people, but hey, I don’t even like talking to people one-on-one when I don’t know that person that well.
But talking over people, trying to take charge of a group of people, or even a roomful? I can’t do that without psyching myself out: Nobody wants to hear it. Who’s going to listen? No one cares.
There’s something about talking to a bunch of people, and keeping their attention, without going mental. Honestly, I don’t know how teachers do it. I give them so much props.
When I would do assignments in a group of three to five people, it was kind of like my dance recitals: a little easier to deal with. I would either look specifically to my friends in the room for encouragement, or the paper for what I needed to say, and I’d be fine. A little tripping over my words here or there, but I’d push through it.
My chest always knotted up when I had to speak by myself. No matter how confident I was about my work, I was not nearly as confident about how the words would come out of my mouth. I tend to stutter and babble and say the wrong words in the moment. On a piece of paper, I can think through what I want to say. In person, I have to be good with being In The Moment.
I can’t even be In The Moment in real life, how was I supposed to do that in class?
They say, “fake it ‘til you make it,” right? Well, that was what I started to do in high school, and that worked for me. Kind of.
I thought, well if I crack a joke here or there, no one would be the wiser. But I think that ended up making it more obvious that I was nervous.
Thinking fake it ‘til you make it definitely helped push me through what I had to say when I was alone, but that didn’t mean that my voice didn’t crack under pressure. It most definitely did. It did stop the stuttering entirely, and minimize the babbling, but my voice still cracked, and my chest still felt hard and heavy.
I can push through having to talk to people, but I prefer not to. I don’t even like talking on the phone. That’s how bad I am at being In The Moment. I know that I have the time to think through an email or text, but with a phone call…I’m just horrible at them. I sound like someone gave the phone to a man child. (I say man child because tone is childlike, but my voice sounds like a man over the phone. I’ve been mistaken for my father and little brother a couple times before.)
So if I have no other choice, I’ll do what I have to. But if I can opt out, that’d be ideal.
Prompt: Are you comfortable in front of people, or does the idea of public speaking make you want to hide in the bathroom? Why?