Like most people, I’m terrified of public speaking. As a terribly shy, quiet person, speaking to a group of others goes against the very nature of my existence. I mean, talking one on one with people I don’t know makes me nervous enough. How am I supposed to carry on in front of several people at once?
Having graduated from college and settled into my newspaper job, I thought my days of public speaking were essentially over. That is, until my colleague happened to be a professor, who wanted me to speak infront of her class. Cue panic.
I can’t quite remember when I started to be afraid of speaking in front of others. All I know is that eventually, it happened. In fourth grade, I was the teacher’s pet and was therefore asked to assist him with a skit he was doing for a school meeting.
Let me back up a bit. In our elementary school, we had “school meetings” where the entire school would pack itself into the gym and sit on a dusty floor that hadn’t been cleaned for decades. You’d go with your class and your teacher and listen to the principal and Other Important Figures discuss things that I can’t really remember now because I spent most of my time staring dreamily at my crush and talking with my friends about which Spice Girl was better.
The one thing I recall about the weekly meeting was Safety Man. Safety Man was my teacher. Only, he had a cape and wore an orange cone on his head. Oh, and he took off his glasses. This was obviously a seriously convincing disguise (since, as anyone who has ever watched a 90s teen film will know, taking off one’s glasses makes said individual unrecognizable and, usually, hot — though Safety Man was far from that).
Safety Man would stand in front of the school and explain to us the importance of being safe. No running in the halls! Always carry scissors face down! Never stick a cat in an oven! To this day, I am not sure why Safety Man existed. But he did.
For the end-of-the-year meeting, Safety Man wanted some of my classmates to assist him with a demonstration. I was the first person asked. I declined. Then, I was not only terrified of being in front of a huge group of people (the entire school), but I knew that being associated with Safety Man would ruin me socially.
Later, at the school meeting, I realized that all of the students who had volunteered to help Safety Man received CANDY for doing so. I was seriously pissed that I’d declined. I was willing to debase and humiliate myself for some motherfuckin’ CANDY. HE DIDN’T MENTION CANDY.
Nevertheless, the following year, when I won a spelling bee , I refused to compete in front of other people and forfeited my title. Obviously because no candy was involved.
I do think it’s sad (and maybe even sort of tragic) that we’re all so terrified to speak in front of others because we’re afraid of being judged by our peers, being laughed at, or of making a mistake. In some people, the fear can be crippling; in others, it can just make them very nervous beforehand.
Either way, you’d think, by now, someone would have come up with some really great way of coping, ASIDE from the asinine suggestions of “practicing” (nobody wants to practice speaking in front of people because that means you have to speak in front of people more than you had to in the first place, okay?) and of trying to picture the audience naked or in their underwear (which is just plain creepy).
In high school and college, public speaking usually meant my voice would be really shaky and I’d laugh nervously and awkwardly like Natalie Portman at the Golden Globes:
(For the record, her laugh is WAY extended in that clip, but it makes the awkwardness much more palpable and, of course, funny.)
Since being really awkward hasn’t actually worked to my benefit (shocker!), I had to find a new way to deal with public speaking. That’s where my college friend comes in. As someone who blushes profusely when put on the spot, she came up with the ingenious idea to bring in baked goods, which she would strategically pass around at the start of her speech, hoping delectable chocolate brownies would be enough to distract people from noticing her flaming red cheeks.
And guess what? It worked. Every time. It even worked when she and I were partners for a class project.Know why? Because people fucking love treats (as illustrated by my fourth-grade self who was full of regret for not embarrassing herself in front of the school for some Now and Laters!). They suddenly don’t care if you’re in front of the class pretending to be a cheetah or curing cancer; they just want to know if there’s enough for a second helping.
So, my bestie at work wants me to speak to the class that she teaches. I’m not sure I’ll accept, but if I do, you can bet your ass I’ll bring in a batch of cookies. Or brownies. Or cake. Or maybe a whole dessert table.