I have next to no talent when it comes to public speaking—or public anything, for that matter. Even group texts stress me out to a degree. It’s just not in my DNA—dealing with a live audience, large or small. I much prefer to express myself by sitting at my laptop and stabbing at the keys, hopeful that I will convey something meaningful to those who happen to be on the receiving end of my words.
That said, I am a ridiculously shy person who would do almost anything to avoid being in the spotlight. Crowds instill within me not a sense of excitement, but sheer panic. Call me crazy, but I’d be more inclined to endure a root canal than to set foot on stage in front of throngs of people. And for the record, I find little comfort in the old adage JUST IMAGINE THE AUDIENCE IN THEIR UNDERWEAR AND YOU’LL BE FINE AT THE PODIUM. I should know. I tried that during my high school commencement speech and it did nothing but fuel my anxiety. Plus there was the whole boxers vs. briefs issue and I didn’t know which I was supposed to envision.
By some strange twist of fate, my youngest daughters (one, a gifted actor and singer, and the other an incredibly accomplished musician) absolutely thrive in the limelight, having little or no reservations about performing in front of swarms of people and/or cameras. I have no idea how this happened. I only wish I had one iota of their courage and an ability to put one’s talents on full display—critics be damned. Even my husband has a special knack for public speaking, usually armed with a single index card on which he has scrawled roughly six words. I can’t even fathom how he generates an entire speech out of that.
By contrast, I fear I will wither and die whenever I must step out of my comfort zone and address a gathering of people—with or without an index card. I couldn’t even eulogize my own parents or say a few words when my brother passed. On a lighter note, it’s amazing I ever made it through the eighth grade since it was there that I was required to deliver a four-minute speech on how to hit a golf ball. Of course, I chose this topic because it was one of the few skills I possessed and if I had to talk about something, it might as well be something I felt relatively comfortable discussing.
Looking back, I’m quite sure I found the experience to be decidedly intolerable. I think the closest I ever came to enjoying myself on stage was when I played Chicken Little in elementary school. Granted I don’t recall having many lines, but I do remember being in love with my costume. My beak was comically oversized as were my feet, but the best part was getting hit in the head with a pine cone that someone offstage threw at me, because, of course, THE SKY WAS FALLING. Drama like that was beyond fun. Another time in grade school, I snagged the role of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and sang Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo in a small, but packed gymnasium/auditorium. In both instances, perhaps I was too young to care what people thought of me, or maybe I was patently obsessed with the idea of frolicking around on stage instead of sitting at a desk doing schoolwork.
At any rate, I’m still perplexed by the fact that I spent a number of years as a teacher—each day having to overcome at least some measure of performance anxiety. Thankfully the kids were terrific. Hopefully, they were none the wiser.
Planet Mom: It’s where I live, gearing up for my book signing on First Friday at Otto Bookstore in Williamsport where there may be crowds, but happily, I’ll only have to speak to one person at a time. Please stop by between 6:00 and 8:00pm on June 1st and pick up a copy of DELIVERANCE: A Survival Guide to Parenting Twins. Bear in mind that it’s not just for parents of twins. It’s a real hoot for anyone who has ever raised children. If you can’t make it, please visit me at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. Caricature by Simon Ellinas.
Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel