Why public speaking terrifies me…

Last weekend, I was at the Indiblogger Word Up 2015 in Gurgaon and I had to make a presentation. As far as speaking in public speaking goes, let me confess, I’d rather sit through a root canal without anesthesia. It terrifies me. The thought of being up there, with all those eyes on me, narrowed, waiting, tapping their heels impatiently, putting their hands into their bags to bring out those rotten eggs, calculating the trajectory they’d need to throw it at so it splatters on my head….

You know.

Once upon a time I said no to all the invitations that needed me to speak in public. Then a very lovely friend, who has completely reinvented herself (you know who you are) gave me a firm talking to about why it is essential to be out there. I took her words to heart. And I realised the only way to deal with a fear is to tackle it head on. So I try, every single time. No matter how paralysed by fear I get, no matter how my mouth goes dry, my tongue feels like lead in my mouth and my hands start dripping cold clammy sweat, I get out there and up there and do what I need to do. And try to do it well.

This event needed a presentation as well to accompany my talk. I claim to love extempore, and I manage to wing it most times, but that is only my sloth dressing up as insouciance. I dread the making of presentations too. As presentations go, I am not of the genus who is comfortable coming up with wise and pithy statements on a powerpoint, to be expanded on at length. I question the temerity of me assuming I have wisdom enough to impart to others. I question my life decisions. I question whether what I say will have value. Then I collapse and begin from scratch again.

Once upon a time I gave powerpoints for a living and could make them in my sleep, complete with slide transitions, animations, and special effects enough to give Pixar a right complex, but given that the last powerpoint I presented was to a client (I was in advertising then) when I was at a mammoth 9 months, full term and the brat would make his squalling appearance into the world three days later, the break has been long and complete.

Needless to say, I approached the powerpoint and the making thereof with all the efficiency that I did not possess. I ignored the necessity of making it until it was no longer possible to ignore the fact that it would have to be made, and God help me, there was no putting it off anymore.

When I sat down to the task, I realised I could type out reams and reams on a blank word document, but when confronted with a blank powerpoint, creativity shuddered and quietly gave up the ghost in a corner. I found myself doing horrible things like putting down cold bullet points, barking terse commands and worse, breaking out into a cold sweat at the realisation that I would have to stand in front of an audience, who, if the speakers before me had been fabulous, would not be so kindly towards me. And given that I was slotted before the lunch break, would be keen to have me done with because I would be the sole thing standing between them and solid nutrition. It was a scary proposition no doubt.

I have always been a shrinking violet. Push me onto the stage with a mike and my stomach knots up into a thousand untangle-able knots a boy scout would be proud of. I break out into a cold clammy sweat. I look into the faces of those sitting in front of me, scanning desperately for a kindly face that might be gentle and forgiving and not bring out the ripe tomatoes from the handbag for the hurling. Put me up in front of an audience and all I can do is hurtle through what I’m supposed to say and run away before they get galvanised into action involving booing and throwing of over ripe fruit at my person. It makes me nervous, being the focus of attention in a room full of people. Those who know me, know that at a public gathering they might find me behind a pillar or under a table. At social events, I’ve been known to sidle in, mark my duty attendance and sidle out before folks come hunting me down in order to make conversation.

But then, that’s me. I know folks who are absolute magic when thrust into the glare of a spotlight with a mike in their hand or at their lapel and just know how to work the crowd. I envy them. I wish I had their ease, but then I never know whether, within them, they’re battling the same gut contracting levels of nervousness that I do. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. But isn’t that what it is, one can never tell what demons another battles with, and that sometimes one might share demons with another.

I called the offspring to help me with the powerpoint, he of the top marks in the computer practicals and the err-well let’s not discuss it in public marks- in computer theory, to help me with the powerpoint. Leave it to me, he said with the confidence of one who is born to make these things, when I begged him to jazz up the presentation. And so I did. It was a lesson I learnt in trust and how one child’s definition of interesting would not match one’s own definition of getting the audience’s attention. Well, the bomb, ambulance siren and such like sound effects he peppered the slides with would definitely have woken the most stupefied audience but there was no guarantee they wouldn’t hustle me down the stairs and pack me out through a back door, with a quick handshake.

So it was back to the drawing board, throwing out the baby, the bathwater and the sound effects injudiciously added. Having agonised about the fact that there would be many professional presentation givers at the event, I decided to keep mine as simple as I could and resist jazzing it up with fancy effects. It was a decision I think I should stick with for everything in life.

Come the day of the event. I stomped onto stage in very high heels, so high in fact that when I went off stage and took them off to slip into more comfortable flats, had to wave to folk to inform them that I was down there. The crowd was thankfully, gentle and forgiving, perhaps I could put that down to the fact that they’d just finished a rather wonderful lunch, and that better speakers before me had done the ground work. I marched through my slides, clicking the clicker ferociously. I rued the fact that there had been no benevolent Bertie or Jeeves to flood my gullet with injudiciously spiked orange juice enough to make me braced enough to bite a tiger.

And there it was, done with. I could breathe again. Until the next event. Until the next time a cold clammy hand of dread clenches my intestines into a mess of tension.


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