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wshaffer
The little public speaker that could 
16th-Jun-2014 05:14 pm
cool
I just got the results of the surveys that members of the audience filled out at my last conference presentation. 71.4% "strongly agreed" with the statement, "The speaker was effective," while 28.6% merely "agreed". In the written feedback, respondents described me as "a confident speaker," and praised the clarity and efficiency of my presentation.

I say this not just to brag, but because seeing the results brings back a rather vivid memory of the first debate tournament I participated in back in high school, and the evaluation forms the judges filled out. I was a terrible public speaker back then, and I knew it, and the fact that I knew it was obvious in my performance and made it more terrible. The scores on my evaluation forms were justly terrible, and one judge told me that I was so awful that I should quit. There may have been a "for God's sake!" in there. Looking back, I'm kind of surprised I didn't quit - at least not right away. I stuck it out for the better part of a school year before my mom persuaded me that I needed to cut an extracurricular activity from my schedule. I got good enough to win the odd debate, but never got particularly comfortable with it, nor did I rid myself of my conviction that I was a terrible public speaker.

I'm fairly sure I still was a terrible public speaker at that point. I was definitely still terrified of public speaking. Years later, when I started graduate school, they sent someone around to videotape us teaching a lab session, so that we could review the tape and improve our performance. I never watched my tape. I couldn't bring myself to do it, because I was convinced it would be utterly terrible.

Grad school at least rid me of the fear of public speaking. After teaching so many undergraduate lab sessions, exam reviews, doing literature reviews for lab meetings, and surviving my qualifying exams, the mere idea of speaking in front of a group lost its terror. Once an activity stops making you break out in a cold sweat, it's a lot easier to improve it. And a lot more pleasant. I'm not sure exactly when I got "good" at public speaking, but just in the past few years there's been a distinct uptick in how often I get asked to give presentations. That may be some kind of indicator. (I put "good" in quotation marks because there are lots of people who are still much better speakers than I am. I am good enough now that I can give a talk and people will learn something from it and not be bored in the process. I've seen speakers who can hold a room full of people spellbound for an hour. That ain't me. Not yet, and possibly not ever.)

For a lot of the time in my life when I was scared of public speaking, I thought that the people who were good at it had some kind of inborn talent. Or that they were just extroverted, or charismatic, or something that I wasn't. So, if you're also scared of public speaking, let me assure you that that's not true. Public speaking is a set of skills, and you can learn those skills with practice.

And in the unlikely event that anyone out there is a judge for Lincoln-Douglas debate tournaments: Don't ever tell a kid to quit.
Comments 
17th-Jun-2014 01:18 am (UTC)
NICE. :D Yet another reason you're awesome!
17th-Jun-2014 06:39 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks! ;)
17th-Jun-2014 07:20 am (UTC)
I've had people ask me whether I get nervous when I give a reading. I think Milk and Cookies gave me a leg up in that regard (since I had lot of practice reading other people's stuff), but yeah, grad school almost certainly guaranteed that no, I don't find it scary at all. When you've spent hours standing up in front of rooms full of students, it stops being scary -- or else you stop doing it, I guess. :-P Skill doesn't automatically come with experience, of course, but the simple fact of not being afraid does wonders.

Also: congratulations! :-)
17th-Jun-2014 06:46 pm (UTC)
I always find it reassuring to realize that even though I never finished my intended degree, grad school taught me lots of transferrable skills. They mostly weren't the skills I thought I was supposed to learn, but, still, lots of skills.
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