My Stupid Mouth

Thursday, June 14, 2012

It is well-known amongst my friends & colleagues that public speaking is, uh, not my strong point. I could pretend like it is, act like I don’t know that I’m the world’s worst public speaker. Maybe in time, I’d fake it ‘til I make it, suddenly become the world’s best public speaker or some reasonable facsimile thereof, but I find its best to be honest about our faults & let others help us to grow, so I admit it: I am terrified of public speaking, & I really suck at doing it.

I work with a lot of people who are really, really good at speaking in front of crowds. I work with clergy & musicians & intellectuals who think nothing of stepping up to the podium or onto a stage to speak their piece with composure & confidence.

And then there’s me.

Look, it’s not just that I suck at it. It’s that the thought of speaking in front of a large crowd makes me physically ill. In my D.C. office, we ran a few weekend-long seminars every year to teach high school students how to be advocates for social justice issues. Each weekend, I ran two workshops on LGBT equality - & before almost every single on, I vomited. I’ve never vomited in front of anyone, thank goodness, but like clockwork, just before my presentation began, I’d quietly slip off to use the restroom. I’ve gotten moderately better since then, but not by much. Instead, I’ve become accustomed to carrying gum, breath mints, & even a toothbrush with me when I know I may have to address any sort of a crowd. Earlier this week, while at a staff retreat with 75 or so of my coworkers, I got up to share my opinion about something & think I actually blacked out – like, I have almost no idea what I said, except that my old supervisor congratulated me on sounding pulled together & not as nervous as she knew I must’ve been.

Being a terrible public speaker is 100% at odds with the rest of my personality. I love telling stories & sharing my opinion; I’m outgoing & at times, even boisterous; I will even confess that I enjoy being the center attention, vain though that may sound. But when it comes to speaking in front of a group in any sort of formalized setting, I’d always rather write than talk. After all, writing has never affected my gag reflex. When I write, I can choose my words carefully. When I write, I can control my messaging. When I write, I can go back & edit anything that sounds stupid. But unscripted speaking? I don't trust my brain to convey things properly on the fly.

There it is, perhaps my most embarrassing secret: I have written 700+ blog posts & have more than 2,000 Twitter followers, & yet I can’t open my mouth to speak in public without feeling like I’m going to pass out cold. I power through because, hey, that’s how life works, & sometimes you have to talk to people. I volunteer for speaking-related activities because I keep thinking this will go away; I teach social media seminars for work, & did I mention that I once gave my high school’s commencement address to 1,000 or so people? Willingly? I try, but nothing seems to work except for trash cans & gum.

I don’t know if this is something I’ll ever get over, but I do know that I’m too opinionated to let a little bit of barfing or blacking out scare me silent.

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