Evolution of Public Speech

Memoir Mondays

How do you guys feel about public speaking?

I’ve been up and down about the subject ever since I was a little kid.

When I was little – I’m talking really little – I was a talker for sure. I was social and opinionated and always willing to share my “knowledge”. And I had no short supply of adults willing to listen to me, so I talked just about as much as I could. I enjoyed being the center of attention, because that attention was generally quite positive; people constantly praising me for this or that, telling me how smart I was…that kind of thing. That continued into the first couple of grades of elementary school. I was fairly social; I had tons of cousins so being in a room with a bunch of kids my age was no big deal. I would talk to pretty much anyone, and most kids seemed to like me well enough, so it was all good.

Eventually though, as time moved on, I started to become the “nerd”. I continued to enjoy school after many kinds began to decide that math and science sucked. I preferred cartoons and video games to name-brand clothes and the hottest bands. I spent most of my time reading and writing my own stories during a time when other kids were finding places to loiter and trying to act as grown-up as possible. That divide meant that other kids were starting to tease me, which meant that I didn’t want to talk as much, and subsequently I became very nervous when it came to speaking in public. If I had to read a report in front of the class I’d be red in the face and sweating by the time it was over. If I was acting in a school play I’d rush through my lines to get myself out of the spotlight as quickly as possible. This stage lasted quite a while. I avoided doing anything that had me speaking in front of too many people at once. Certain other things – like singing – didn’t bother me, but speaking? Anything that had me standing in front of people and speaking while they stared at me was my worst damn nightmare.

Junior high school (grades 7 through 9, where I’m from) was even worse. I was one of the weird kids – I refused to dress “trendy”, I still enjoyed school and did really well at it, and I was busy drawing and watching anime while other kids were starting to date and drink – so I just got shyer and more reserved. It was a damn miracle for me to make it to a school dance, and I genuinely hated hanging out with too many kids my age. I was the kind of person who heard others laughing and assumed that they were laughing at me, so I couldn’t stand giving anyone any fodder. I pretty much assumed that opening my mouth would result in being laughed at, and at that age there were just too many weird hormones going through my body for me to have been able to handle that. I even went through a bit of an emo stage at this point – no joke. My mom called it my “Johnny Cash” phase because I wore nothing but black jeans and shirts for about a frikkin’ year.

High school was when things started to swing a little in the other direction again. I got my first boyfriend, met a bunch of new friends who seemed to like me well enough, and I even joined the cheerleading squad. When it came time to pick an elective course, I chose Drama because I’d always genuinely enjoyed acting and thought that maybe, now, I could actually handle doing it in front of people. I don’t remember a huge amount about that particular class, but I do remember that we had to do monologues once, and I was determined to do well on mine. I don’t even remember what the monologue was about, just that it was a bit dramatic, a big angsty…a kid talking about how someone had died or something of the sort…and as I was performing it I completely forgot about the class watching me and just got into it. At the end my class gave me an honest-to-goodness standing ovation, and it was honestly one of the biggest highlights of my high school career. I couldn’t have been more proud.

The years that followed caused me to slip again because I was just too occupied with too many other things. University was a busy time during which I began dating my husband, got into the bar scene (like literally everyone else at that age), plus I was getting back into writing, playing a lot of video games, and just, in general, I wasn’t putting myself in the kind of positions where I would have to talk to many people at once. Even my class sizes were tiny because not many people enrolled in the program I took, so I got wildly out of practice. The severity of it didn’t really hit me until I got my first big job at the paper mill. I had to move to another town for the job, where I knew literally no one, and there would constantly be multiple people trying to get to know me at once. It was extremely nerve-wracking for quite a while. I eventually settled into it, but then the paper mill shut down and soon I found myself traveling out West, doing the whole thing all over again online with twice as many people on the enormous work site. And maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was 3000 miles away from home, working in an industry that I’d never worked in before, dealing with people from all corners of the planet, and working with a vastly different system than I’d previously dealt with, but I never really quite got the hang of it as long as I was in the field. One thing I hated – with a capital HATE – was talking on the radios, because I knew that anyone on the site who was on the same radio channel could hear me, and I couldn’t stand that. As much as possible I would foist the radio off on whoever I was working with so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

But eventually I moved to the control room side of things, and guess what the major part of that job is? Talking on the damn radio. It was a trial-by-fire kind of system, but I can’t deny that it worked. By the end of that particular job I was talking on two different radios at once, to two or three different groups in the field at a time, without the tiniest concern for who could hear me. I didn’t have time to be concerned with who was listening in.

I haven’t been on the control room side of things for a while now, but I’m still fairly comfortable talking in front of people these days, though I do still get a flush sometimes when I realize that those people are all looking at me. But you want to hear something really weird? Nearly two years ago now I decided to start up my YouTube channel, and for the first while I was a pathetic WRECK recording those videos. Yeah, you heard me: I’d pretty much mastered dealing with talking to people in person, but talking to a camera, in a room all by myself, reduced me to a blob. I would sweat, no joke, and find myself out of breath by the end of a video. Posting the video out there for the world to see didn’t bother me…just the actual recording. How weird is that? Of course, I did so many videos that it didn’t take too long before I’d found my groove again, and now it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Still, I find it amusing that speaking to an electronic device set me back a hundred steps long after people were no longer a problem. People are funny that way, am I right?

So, I’ll ask again: how do you guys feel about public speaking?

5 thoughts on “Evolution of Public Speech

  1. Growing up I think I was quiet and shy. I did perform in a play in grade 6, but that was because my friends were in it too. Public speaking wasn’t my thing until high school. I had decided I wanted to teach and my church ewas looking for a lay reader. My mom asked if I’d want to do it so I did. Every Sunday I’d read a passage I’d never read before to the congregation. Sometimes the book wouldn’t even be open to the right page so I’d stand there looking for it. Now I have no trouble talking in front of people. I’ve never tried talking to the camera, though.

    • It’s funny how the switch can kinda just flip like that when you decide you’re done, isn’t it? I’m interested now to get you in front of a camera and see how you react. XD

      • LOL I’d stumble and bumble and stutter like a drunken fool, probably. All though, after watching some of your stuff and some of the stuff the boys watch, I might know what to do 🙂

  2. I think I public speaking is one of those things where the anticipation is worse than the thing itself. I absolutely dread it beforehand, but once I’m in front of people, I’m fine with it.

    • I agree the buildup is usually the worst part, but when I was younger the process itself would be pretty damn awful…sweating and stuttering and all that kind of thing. I haven’t been like that for a long time, but I can remember some specific moments that I was sure at the time were going to kill me. lol

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