At a Toastmaster event, I learned that one of the top fears for most Americans is public speaking. It ranked above fearing diseases and death. If you have different statistics, please go after Toastmaster, not me.
At one of my jobs, I was to read aloud, numbers and words, in front of 70 people, at a conference room, overlooking the middle of Time Square, with floor length windows, in a room that was always set to 15.5 degrees Celsius regardless of the natural temperature. My other responsibility was to convert temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius to throw off Americans. I hated it. Not the conversion, the public speaking part. It was my least favorite activity and I had to do it every Monday morning.
Every Monday morning, I would sit in a meeting, with 70 other people, which was my entire department, waiting to be cued to give the verbal report. I rarely knew when I would be cued because that’s how we rolled at work – at a dangerous and unpredictable rhythm. I would stare at the paper that contained my reading material which I had laid lay out on the icy conference table. I highlighted, circled and underlined the words and the numbers, just in case I forget where to find them. My entire “speech” usually lasted a minute.
I would read the information as quickly as possible, with full enunciation so I would reduce the chances of someone not hearing me and asking me to repeat myself. After I was done, I would do a nod, to indicate that it’s over and for everybody, all seventy of them, to stop looking at my face!
Some people were surprised when they learn that I do not like public speaking because I have done it in front of them, plenty of times, and by my choice. I tell them that I am shy and don’t like being put on the spot. It’s not that I don’t like public speaking. I like it. But I also hate it. Allow me to explain.
I hate it when there is anticipation, when I don’t know when I am scheduled to speak. It doesn’t matter how prepared I am with what I am about to say. It’s the anticipation that drives me insane.
For instance, when I was a Freshman in college, there were so many social events, orientation activities and classes that just required me to say my name, my major, and maybe something else the facilitator had requested. I was not a fan of these introduction activities. Years later, I read this article from someone who pointed out the following: “Well, I know my name, I know my major/career/position, so why the hell do I get so nervous when I have to introduce myself to a group?”
After reading that, I felt a bit relieved that I wasn’t the only one who hated public introductions. I would also cringe when someone would add superfluous information to his or her intro. This threw off my calculations of when I’d have to make my own and it would set this invisible expectation to share more than requested. I would usually pull out a knife and throw it at the person.
Recently, I gave a presentation on Breaking the Glass Ceiling in America in front of a regular sized crowd. I had prepared the presentation well in advanced. It was not only a topic that I enjoyed discussing in my life but also a topic that I knew a lot about, or at least I think I do.
A week leading up to the presentation, I started to get nervous. Then I started getting nervous every day. I told myself to relax. What was I so nervous about? To make matters worse, one of my friends made a comment that I had developed this accent since I had spent some time in China. Gulp. My presentation is supposed to be in English and now I’ve developed an accent?! No accents are allowed with presentations in English!
The accent wasn’t what was intimidating me, the pauses I’ve developed were. This is what happens when I’m bilingual. To prepare myself, I started to recite, aloud, articles from the New Yorker. Doing so served as a warm up and an injection of intelligent words into my brain. This worked! Shortly doing so, I spoke to someone in complete English and noticed I was speaking a lot smoother. I used this strategy to warm up to speaking and gave myself a pep talk before the presentation. I said, “Tiffany, when in doubt, throw knives.”
In the below picture, you can see little me giving that presentation on Breaking the Glass Ceiling in America.
To this day, I have done a handful of public speaking in front of small crowds to huge crowds. I can’t piece together the particular factors that make me nervous. Sometimes I am prepared, and I’m nervous. Other times, I am not prepared but I’m not nervous. Or I am…OK, you get the point.
I hate public speaking…but I do it and I like it.
Oh by the way, in 1993, when Conan O’Brien first started out as a television show host for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, he was so nervous that critics poked fun of how long the show would even last before they fired him. The show placed Andy Richter, the announcer, close to Conan so he’d be more relaxed when interviewing guests. And what happens later, you already know. And if you find different facts about Conan than what I am telling you, go after Conan, not me.
What am I trying to say again? Oh yeah. I hate public speaking, but I love it, I think.