It’s a completely irrational fear, but – like most fears or phobias – rationality doesn’t enter into it. I am terrified of public speaking, even on a small scale. And it’s extremely frustrating to me, because: 1. I’m not overly shy, generally 2. I have things to say 3. Professionally, it is a skill one needs to have, in almost any career 4. I see other people do it so easily.
I should say, I’m not overly shy- but I am an introvert. I love teaching one-on-one, I love inspiring confidence in students and leading by action. I can do two people at a time. But stick a third person in there and something in my brain switches. My heart starts beating ferociously, my sight becomes blurry around the edges, my voice trembles. It feels like a physical reaction, not a mental one. All that attention feels dangerous. This probably sounds silly to anyone not afflicted with the public-speaking phobia.
I think, as an introvert, I naturally interact on a close, intimate level with people. There is a back and forth, a slowness, a respectful understanding. Speaking at people in the one-directional way public speaking demands is so weird; it presumes I have all the authority and all the right words. There’s no space for me to take other people in because all my own talking drowns everything out. I’m sure I am over-analyzing this. I’m just not much of a talker. Or not much of a talker-at-er.
I could probably dance in front of a large crowd with very little problem. Surround me with a pack of twenty dogs and I’d get along just fine. It does seem to be talking that is the issue.
Today at the Archives, I had to give my first official tour. Thankfully, it was to a small group of retired people, potential volunteers at a local living history museum. Despite a few moments when I couldn’t seem to find the right word, it went alright. It certainly helps that I’ve been here long enough to actually know things. Let me tell you about those hygro-therma graphs, wowzah.
I accidentally started off on shaky footing when I insisted to the group that they lock up their bags in our lockers. This is usual archives procedure – no bags, no pens, no jackets, no water, etc. “No, no, no,” I like to say. I half-joke we should have badges that read: “NO.” Seriously though, I really hate the part of my job that forces me to police people – but it is part of the job. The leader of the group, a rather prominent and very senior museum-y type, looked me in the eye and explained that in her nine years of coming to the archives, she’d never had to lock up her bag. There she was, 91 years old and stony as heck. Somehow, I got her to do it. But she wasn’t happy. I might have given in if she was sweet about it… maybe. But one thing I can’t stand is when people use their positions or status to get special treatment. It really irks me. I can be very libertarian.
By the end of the tour, which took almost two hours thanks to the stony 91-year old’s meticulous note-taking – I wasn’t sure I’d made any sense at all. And then, as we regrouped and I answered final questions, that same formidable lady said to me: “You get four stars!” I was so, so relieved.
…and extremely thankful my turn as tour guide wouldn’t come up again for awhile!