Friday, November 29, 2013

Me, a Speaker?—Carolyn R. Wilker

Children speak naturally enough when they’re small. They find out that their words cause pleasure and joy, and even laughter. They, too, may be silent when a parent asks them to perform in front of family or friends.  
 I’ve decided that when the world becomes a stage, humans either jump into it or shy away from it, and I wonder whether Shakespeare was more comfortable writing his plays than performing them.
Standing in front of my peers and speaking was never easy. In school we were expected to present a speech or book report with virtually no guidance on presentation other than to practise at home.
 Even before that, I have a memory of a Christmas program at our one-room schoolhouse when I was in Grade One. We had practised our lines and songs for days and we knew them well and were excited when the day finally arrived. A large stage was set up at the front of the classroom, and parents, grandparents and others would fill the chairs in the audience that evening. Near the end of the program, when the entire student body was on stage singing, I ran to the edge of the stage, to my mother, after my nose began to bleed. Mom must have learned to sit near the front, because it happened more than once.
 By Grade 5 I was doing better, and my classroom speech was deemed worthy of entry into the county level competition. My mother held the copy of my speech that evening as she sat in the audience. I was allowed a prompt if I needed one. I looked out at the dark quiet audience, then straight over people’s heads at the clock at the back of the room as I had been instructed. At one point, I forgot the next words, froze, and only resumed when my mother prompted me. I finished the speech and walked off stage.
I didn’t go on to the next level. There may have been some measure of relief and perhaps some disappointment, for I knew my speech well, but it would be years later before I answered a question easily in class.
According to Wikipedia, glossophobia, or speech anxiety, is the fear of public speaking, or of speaking in general. Public speaking sits at the top of the list of fears, according to Mandel Communications, higher than financial problems and even higher than the fear of death, leading Jay Leno to joke, “I guess we’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.”
The Wikipedia article also notes that an “estimated 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety when public speaking.” The article lists Toastmasters International and other speakers’ organizations under help and relief.
 I joined Toastmasters in 2004 and am glad that I did. The experience has been incredibly helpful in overcoming that fear. Many speakers I know who are Christian ask for prayer before going on stage; I suggest a combination of speaker training and prayer. The training can add an extra level of poise and professionalism, and the prayer will certainly help with courage and knowing that others are supporting you as you give your message. A speaking coach in our networking group had a line on his business card: Get the “um” out. The “ums” are just one of the possible distractions for an audience.
 Incidentally, one Toastmasters meeting was not enough; continuous practice in a safe environment has helped me gain confidence in myself and my message. Professional coaching has provided additional benefits.
 When my first book was published in 2011, I enjoyed the promotional events— the reading, speaking, and conversation at book signings. Do the nerves ever go away? Not necessarily. We just get better at channelling them.

Speaking to Rotary Club in November



Donna Mann said...

Thanks for sharing those childhood memories. I can identify! It sounds like Toastmasters has been a great experience for you. Blessings. D.

Peter Black said...

Carolyn, I'm sure your family are proud of you, especially regarding your growth and poise in public speaking, and so are your friends -- we're proud of you too, and I salute you!
I smiled at the image of your dashing across the schoolroom stage with your nose bleeding, for I was nose bleeder too, as a kid! :)

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