My Ironic Fear of Public Speaking

My heart pounds in my ears as my sweaty hand clenches my pencil, trying to keep it steady enough to form quasi-legible words on my crinkled sheet of college-ruled notebook paper. I frantically scribble three points about a topic that I pulled out of an envelope moments before.


A kitchen timer loudly reminds me that my few moments of preparation have passed, and it’s my time to die.  I slowly rise and take my place at the front of the classroom.

A middle aged woman in a sweatshirt sits in a student desk, two rows back, dead center. She is busily tapping her iPhone with her thumbs at maximum speed when she notices the 16 year old in her mom’s power suit nervously swaying in front of her.

She puts down her phone, picks up her G2 pen and waits for me to begin.

I roll my shoulders back and make sure my feet are solidly planted on the ground beneath my trembling knees.

Then, just as my audience’s short attention starts to wander, I open my mouth and  shakily start talking about the catastrophes ahead for the human race if they decide to genetically engineer frogs larger.

About halfway through, I realize that what I’m saying makes little to no sense, but I keep pretending that it at least makes sense to me. Meanwhile, my intestines are still doing a variety of acrobatic leaps around my  insides, but I keep on keeping on through my poor excuse for a speech.

Five minutes of uncomfortably staring into the eyes of an irritated forensics student’s mom while fruitlessly attempting to explain the dangers of a frog’s whip-like tongue and powerful haunches, and I finally reach the end of my allotted impromptu speech time. I apologetically shake the audience member’s limp hand before I set off to give an informative speech on the Tennessee Fainting Goat in a room a couple doors over.

I attended four forensics tournaments last year. I also attended six debate tournaments.  I am completely terrified of public speaking.

It’s ironic to give six or seven speeches  per day on two-and-a-half month’s worth of Saturdays and then not even be able to muster the courage to give a 15 second deadline reminder shout out in newspaper. It’s scary when people listen to what I have to say.  I just have to go with whatever comes out of my mouth first. If I forget where I’m going with a specific point, the audience sits in awkward silence, waiting for me to remember. If I continue to draw a blank, a quiet ripple of nervous laughter and whispering sweeps through the crowd like a soft, terrifying breeze, nearly knocking me over in shame.

Speaking is like the first draft of a paper, except one can’t go back and edit it. If I write a stupid sentence with terrible grammar and spelling, I can revise and perfect it later. I can read it again, write it again, phrase and rephrase it again. When one says something stupid, however, he or she can’t just take it back, and, chances are, people will bring up his or her misnomers  time and time again. Blogging is awesome, but I’m not sure that I like people listening to me talk out loud.

Standing up in front of a group of peers is a nightmare to me. Feeling the hot eyes of judgmental teens bore into my soul while I stand in an unwarranted authoritative position, trying not to sound like an idiot, does not come naturally.

Forensics and debate are different than speaking in front of my friends or at some sort of ceremony. When a random debater’s mom is “judging” my speaking ability, I’m less worried about looking foolish. I will probably never see my audience member again, so it’s slightly less nerve wracking to give a speech to them.

I joined debate, forensics and newspaper because I hoped to overcome my public speaking fear. It didn’t work, but I love all three activities. Not taking debate this semester is a decision I daily regret.

I should probably get some more self confidence to remedy my problem, but until that happens, I guess I’ll just blog about it.


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