It’s feared more than spiders, heights, and Jello molds. Some would actually rather be dead than do it.
Amazingly, public speaking is more frightening to people than going an entire night without cable TV.
And that’s what I was doing last week. I rarely talk about my “other” job, but after eight months of being self-employed, I think it’s time.
I used to work for the state government as a nurse surveyor. This meant that I got to visit home health agencies, hospices and even a few hospitals to evaluate their compliance with state and federal regulations. We’ll just say nobody was happy when I walked through the front door.
Now, I help the same companies that I used to scrutinize. I provide training and education on how to interpret and comply with all those federal and state requirements. This means that on a monthly basis I give presentations. In front of people. For like hours.
This is how I felt about public speaking in college:
And that feeling stayed with me into adulthood, although it lessened over time. Soon, I was able to verbalize my thoughts in front of a group of five or ten people without this happening:
But a four hour presentation in front of twenty or so strangers? Hmmm…. Maybe that coffin doesn’t look so bad.
My first presentation brought on some nerves. To help, my body decided to recruit my sympathetic nervous system, which resulted in:
Nausea – I knew those three bites of toast would come back to haunt me
Tachycardia – The fancy word for a fast heart rate
Cotton mouth – I had no idea my tongue could be this dry
Trembling hands – We’ll just forget about using the laser pointer
The need to pee every five minutes – Now I know what it’s like to be my mom
And pretty much the overall sensation that I was going to die.
Thanks, body. That really helped create the illusion that I was confident and composed.
Now, eight months later, I am more confident and composed.
I still get a little jittery before each presentation, but instead of feeling like my heart might explode for the full four hours, I go through the following:
-It’s almost time to start the presentation. Everyone is looking at me. Wow, my heart really can beat 200 times per minute. Maybe I should go throw up really quick. Or just pee. I think I have to pee again.
-Wow, I’m already 30 minutes in. And I’m rockin’ it. Look they’re laughing at my jokes. They’re asking questions. They’re nodding like they understand. I’m awesome!
-Ugh. We’re only two hours into this thing. Is that person sleeping? Yes, I think they’re sleeping. I’m boring them. Better say something funny.
-Says something funny. Everyone laughs. They all go back to sleep. And I don’t take it personally.
-We only have a half hour left. I can do this. Maybe I need some caffeine? Where’s that racing heart beat? I think I need that again. A little shot of adrenaline just might spruce up the last bit of this presentation. Ugh. Body, come on. You were so generous with it earlier.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is this public speaking thing does get better. The more I do it, the easier it becomes. I almost even like it sometimes. Crazy, huh?
As a side note: My cousin and I are attending our first writing conference this weekend and we’re planning to read the first page of our novels. Out loud. To an agent. And an audience. I have a feeling that pesky sympathetic nervous system will be kicking in again.
As another side note: My cat was sitting on my mouse the whole time I was writing this and she bit my hand every time I tried to use it. But don’t worry – she hardly has any teeth left.