UNACCUSTOMED AS I AM
TO PUBLIC SPEAKING...
13 March 2002
"So what do you think?"
She tossed the question out to the group of people. My mind raced with ideas. My hands
became clammy. My face began to flush.
She looked around the room asked the question again.
I looked out the window, praying she wouldn't look in my direction. I must not have
been alone. We all seemed to be looking elsewhere, sitting on our hands. Praying teacher
wouldn't call on us.
But we weren't in school. She wasn't the teacher. We were at a Weight Watcher meeting
and we were all there to help each other, yet we couldn't bring ourselves to speak out.
I don't understand fear of public speaking.
I especially don't understand MY fear of public speaking.
It's not even "public" speaking. Get me in the formal setting of a
"meeting" with three people I work with all the time and speak casually with
every day and expect me to make a comment and my face turns bright red, I stumble over my
words, and nothing that's in my head comes out of my mouth. It's all stupid gibberish.
I spent seven years leading meetings for La Leche League, teaching women how to
breastfeed their babies. Seven years of monthly meetings on a subject about which I had a
wealth of information and years of experience. But I had stage fright every time. My brain
and I eventually reached a compromise -- a point where I could shut off my brain and let
my mouth go on auto pilot, but if I stopped to think about the fact that I was sitting at
the center of a room full of mothers, all with infants at their breasts, waiting for
wisdom to come from me, I lost it.
It was an incredible marvel to me that the only time I ever spoke in public when I wasn't
embarrassed was a convention for La Leche League when I was a panelist speaking about
something or other--toddlers, I think it was. I made NO notes. I spoke totally off the
cuff and it worked.
Hey! I'm an extemporaneous speaker, I thought confidently. And the next time I had to
speak, I made certain to make no notes.
This issue comes up today because I just came from my weekly Weight Watchers meeting (2
more lbs gone today). It's a small group of people--maybe 30? people. There are people
sharing experiences, feelings, ideas. I know that this is the whole point of this
program--you learn from me, I learn from you, we all learn from the leader. But I can't
bring myself to speak up. Today's topic (sabotage, and how you keep from sabotaging
yourself) was one that I really had ideas about, experience with, feelings about. But
could I open my mouth to say a thing? Of course not.
There's something about being put on the spot, being required to speak out. I did speak
up at one meeting. I can't remember now what the topic was. I had a couple of sentences to
say. I could feel the blood rise to my cheeks and I knew that my face was bright red just
from the effect of having to turn around and say a couple of sentences to a group of
It's so stupid. But I can't seem to get past it.
It is a marvel to me that I seem to have given birth to a family of children who have
no fear of doing anything in public. I'd watch all of them on stage playing music
and dancing for hundreds of people, totally at ease. I'd watch Paul in his monologue
shows. That guy held back nothing. He was never more accurate than when he took the stage
at David's memorial service, looked out on the full theatre and said "those of you
who know me know that I'm more comfortable in front of 300 people than in front of 2
people, so this is the most comfortable I've been all week."
Where did these people come from? I was embarrassed enough to just be noticed in
the audience when I went to one of their shows. Let alone actually do anything.
They must be Walt's kids, not mine. I still remember the band concert where Walt not
only got up on stage and sang a brief solo (and he's not a singer), but also did a
stage dive into the waiting arms of Tom and David. "Wow--your Dad's cool!"
people told the kids. The newspaper review talked about the "60 year old man stage
diving" (he was only 55 at the time).
I want to be cool. I'd love to have that abandon. To feel unafraid to stand in front of
a group and speak my mind, or share a thought.
Maybe as I continue on this Weight Watchers program I'll eventually get to a point
where I can at least speak up. It's a lot easier to exercise and lose weight than it is to
actually speak in public.