I stood in the bathroom stall and watched my hands shake. The breakfast I had eaten in my dorm room was threatening to reappear and I gulped air like a fish jerked out of the water, trying to keep it down where it belonged. My breakfast, not the fish.
Speech 101 was a requirement in my course of study, which is a logical thing when you’re working toward a degree in teaching. Logical, maybe. But certainly not pleasant for young adults like I was at that age: socially inept, painfully shy, and generally miserable.
But there I was, in the cavernous bathroom of the red brick building on campus where the speech class met twice a week.
Hoping the sky would fall or someone called in a bomb scare, anything to postpone my agony.
No such luck, though. Dissidents never show up when you really need them, and the sky stayed stubbornly in place. I did end up getting the speech over with that day, at least for that one grade. I think this was where I also learned the trick that helped throughout college: volunteer to go first, because no one in the room would be listening to you. They were too busy wrestling their own demons to the ground as they anticipated standing in front of the class in terror. After my turn was over, however bad it was, I could sit and relax. (I didn’t listen to anyone else’s speech, either, but at least mine was OVER.)
I later took a popular public speaking course, only because my boss at the time suggested it, and I didn’t think it professionally wise to refuse him. That was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me, but I shook a lot during those days, too. I visibly trembled all over, including my voice and lips as I stood in front of the group. I know that surveys say that public speaking is one of the biggest fears most people have and I can attest to the sheer fright of it all.
All of this is strange to me in retrospect; I have made much of my living since then standing in front of people talking about a variety of things. I also learned that there is a difference in speaking to one’s peers and speaking to students. Sometimes the former is still intimidating.
But I have also learned something else.
Before I show up for a workshop or speech, I still dread it. The day arrives, along with an overall veil of angst, a sense of discomfort that takes me back to my college days. But once I stand in front of the group, whoever they might be, something happens to me. A switch is thrown somewhere deep inside me, and the gloom is gone. It feels as if I become someone else for that period of time. And it’s great. I enjoy myself. I enjoy the interaction between me and the people listening. I’ll admit that I enjoy being seen as someone worthy to hear.
The question is this: Which one is the real me? I still carry that shy, withdrawn person inside me. Sometimes she is the dominant personality. I’ve even been called a “party pooper” (actually, lots of times!), once very recently. But then an occasion arises where I must “perform.” Those of you who are aging to perfection along with me know that I even became a ballroom dancer, complete with a public performance thrown in for good measure. And I loved it. The energy associated with it is intoxicating.
So, which one is the real me? Did I finally let the true person out of hiding, or did I create a new persona to meet a need for my work?
And you thought aging meant this stuff got easier, right?
“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” -Dale Carnegie