Friday, August 24, 2007

Public Speaking

I was the kid in grade school who when the teacher asked a question to the class, and was looking around for someone to raise their hand, or worse yet to call on randomly...I intentionally would not make eye contact, and try to look like I was looking for the answer. I never wanted to be called on in class, not even if I did know the answer. I would rarely raise my hand. When we had to read from our books out loud, I would count the number of kids in front of me, and count the paragraphs so I knew which one I would be reading. Then I would read and re-read it to myself, so I could be sure I read it well aloud. I never heard what the other kids read, because I was too busy 'preparing' for my oral performance. I would get very nervous when it was my turn, turn all red in the face, and hope that I did well and didnt pronounce any words incorrectly. I was relieved when my turn was over, and could finally relax and breathe easy.

This anxiety carried over into Junior High and High School. In Spanish class, I would dread having to recite Spanish words out loud. I would be mortified if I pronounced the word incorrectly. It was humiliating for me to not know the vocab words, and forget having a Spanish conversation...I just couldnt do it.

In college, I was a Cultural Anthropology major. I transferred in as a Junior, so most of my classes were upper division courses. As such, many of them were very small classes, some as few as 8 students. These classes were a double edged sword. You got the rare opportunity to truly learn from a professor and not use a syllabus. These were Professors whose work you very much admired. But, you also were often required to talk in class. These classes were a huge contrast to classes such as my Human Anatomy class, which had 850 students in it, 12 teachers aides, and it was recorded just in case you didnt make it to class that day.

One class I took was an upper division course with Brian Fagan, who basically wrote the basic Cultural Anthro book that many Universities and Colleges use. The class was one of those awesome classes, with just 8 students. I was in awe of Dr. Fagan. I loved his teaching style, I admired his work as an Anthropologist, and he was remarkably easy to talk to. After a few classes, he laid out the quarters coursework... The whole class grade was based on 4 oral presentations, memorized, 15 minutes long. He didnt want to have to read or grade anything. I was in agony. I needed this class to graduate. I was on a tight schedule, if I wanted to graduate in 6 quarters. I couldnt drop the class, and find another take its place (it was too late in the quarter).

I cried. I went home and cried. When it came time for me do my first presentation, I went into Dr. Fagan's office and cried. Yup, it is true. I cried in his office, explaining my absolute fear of public speaking. He was very kind and listened attentively, and seemed to understand. But, he was not flexible on the requirements. I gave my speeches with note cards, and for that I received a B in the class.

I have always had this fear of speaking out in public settings. I am by no means shy. I am very outspoken and have pretty strong opinions about things. I just dont like to give prepared talks in front of people, or being called out in public. I am afraid that people will think I am stupid. Yup, that is the truth. I am afraid of being judged by others.

My FIL is involved in Rotary and as such gives speeches with ease, and often. When my hubby was little, he and his Dad prepared a speech (I think it was about Abe Lincoln) that was so good they were asked to go around to all the schools and perform the speech. They both speak publicly with ease. My MIL is a teacher, no problems speaking there. My Uncle is a problem speaking in public there either. I even suffered from anxiety speaking at my own wedding!

Last year, I scheduled an interview with my now boss. He explained that the job required someone who understood and could train users on our software and could integrate companies business model into the training. Industry knowledge was a given. Also required was the ability to talk in public...duh! Anyone who is a trainer needs to have the ability to speak in front of a group. I didnt tell him about my fears. I figured that I would use this to strong arm me into becoming more comfortable with my voice. I was successful in forcing myself to become comfortable in this environment, and more at ease with speaking in public. It is also easier to do when you know what you are talking about, and have given the same talk over and over.

I still struggle however when I am put on the spot, and with speaking in public depending on the scenario. I have been forced to think about why I have these long standing issues is as a result of a conflict I am having with my hubbys best friend. We have a communication problem. The problem is that he asks very direct questions (often ones that are about my feelings-argh!), and these questions put me on the spot. I immediately feel embarrassed and defensive, and I get nervous. He doesnt mean to make me feel this way of course, although he is a teacher in real life. I think he is truly curious about my answer, and hopes to get to know me better as a result.

Because I am already nervous about being asked a question that I havent thought about before, or know how to answer...I cant think quickly. I already suffer from the inability to think and process things quickly. I need TIME to sort through my feelings, and consider all the variables. For me, it can take weeks to come to terms with some things, and be able to articulate my feelings. Hence the reason I blog. I can take however long I need to to formulate and write out my thoughts and feelings.

Anyway, I always answer the questions. Because if I didnt I would feel stupid. However, the answers aren't really how/why I feel about the question. They are spontaneous replies, and not at all how I would answer had I taken the time to think about it. But, for fear of looking stupid and not knowing the answer --I always say something. This conversational habit we have gotten into has left me feeling uncomfortable talking with this person. And over time I have become bitter and angry towards this person. Of course, this has caused a lot of strife for both me and my hubby.

I would have liked to have realized earlier that the cause of my grief was simply my inability to say-hmm, let me think about that and get back with ya. But, again...I am slow processor of info and feelings. I felt powerless in the conversations. I could have also just explained that I dont like being put on the spot...blah blah blah. But, that would have been too easy. I had to complicate it. Silly, really the whole thing now looking back.

What fun it is going to be to try and move past this one...

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