This week was a little slow in the fear department. I did some more work on my fear of heights and sleeping alone in my apartment, and I said “no” to a friend when I couldn’t swing the favor she was asking. But the big news is that I faced my biggest fear— public speaking . So that counts, right?
I’m a writer, so I should be able to develop and deliver a decent speech, especially when the subject is someone I’ve known since I was two. Unfortunately, there’s something that happens between my brain and my mouth—I’m not sure if there’s a roadblock or if I have a case of Joe Biden-itis, but I’m terrible at (and thus terrified of) public speaking.
Everything just comes out wrong. Even if I’ve worked on the material for weeks and said it over and over in my head, by the time I stand up in front of a group, my legs shake, my voice trembles, and the words squeak. Oh, and then my faces flushes, and everyone around me can tell how embarrassed I am.
Given this adverse reaction to public speaking, it’s not a surprise that I tried to back out of my rehearsal-dinner speech at my brother’s wedding. It wasn’t a formal thing—my dad was saying something, my brother’s best friend from childhood was supposed to give a toast, and then there was me.
“You’re the best writer I know; why is this such a big deal?” My mother asked, once I told her I was probably going to sit it out.
“Because… just… because.”
I couldn’t explain to her that for me, writing and speaking are two different things. I can write the most eloquent of cards, but when I express my feelings through the spoken word, they often sound trite and insincere. I didn’t want that for my brother.
But I also didn’t want to disappoint him by not saying something. So, I decided I would just have to get over it.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say. I practiced saying the speech out loud in the shower. And for the first time—because of this challenge—I didn’t write it out. I knew that if I did that, the written copy would be a crutch.
The night of the rehearsal dinner, I was seated on the periphery, behind one of my mother’s more intense friends. I was chatting, drinking wine, hoping everyone would kind of forget about the speeches. Then the glasses clinked and my father rose.
After his touching words, the glasses clinked again, and my brother’s friend began to speak.
Once he was finished, the oppressive silence fell on my shoulders. I tried to talk myself into standing but my legs wouldn’t work.
“Well, aren’t you going to say something? You’re a writer, you really should say something.” My mother’s friend turned and was in my face.
“I—I need to use the restroom and then I’ll get up there.”
“OK, you use the restroom, but then you’re speaking.”
My legs were already starting to shake and it was everything I could do not to trip in front of the entire party on my way to the bathroom. Not actually having to pee, I sat on the toilet for what must have been an eternity and practiced the words I’d been repeating every day for the previous two weeks.
Then there was a knock on the door, “Everything OK in there?” It was the restaurant owner who’d seen me enter and was obviously afraid I was defiling the one bathroom in the whole place. I wanted to shout out, “I’m not drunk, just scared.” But instead, I pushed myself to stand, unlocked the door, and walked back to the party.
My legs were unsteady as I stood in front of my family and friends, but I faced my fear, managed a smile, tapped my glass with a utensil and said, “OK, now it’s my turn.”
I don’t think everything came out exactly as I’d planned and my voice shook a little at the beginning, but at the end of the day, my brother appreciated what I said. And after all, that’s what mattered.
Lauren Hargrave is a freelance writer, former finance stiff and a fan of all things funny. She copywrites to pay the bills and has contributed to the The Atlantic, Active.com, and various business and technology blogs. She also finds time to tell you funny stories on her personal blog at WriterLauren.com.More from this Author