There are two things in life that I am terrified of – spiders, and talking in front of a group of people. The former is avoidable. If there is a spider in the area, I leave. Until it has been squished dead. End of story. The latter is harder to avoid. My whole life, my heart has raced, my face goes beet red, my voice shakes, whenever I am called upon to hold court in front of a group of people. It doesn’t even have to be a big group, and it can be people I kind of know – still terrible. Even the “Let’s go around the room and everyone say your name and one thing about yourself that no one else knows” crap will get the adrenaline pumping.
So going to graduate school was a trial. We frequently had to present research we had done, in front of our peers, in front of our professors. And then I was tapped to teach an undergraduate course of 16 students. Over time, I got used to the feeling of having people watching me, and I would just barrel ahead with my lecture. The key was not giving myself time to think too much. Show up right when class is supposed to start so that there’s no time to hang around and build my nerves up.
I figured that once graduate school was over and I was out in the real world, I could relax. But NO. Apparently, one of my duties as an audiologist is to go out into the community and educate people about hearing loss, communication, and hearing aids. And – here’s the weird part – I love it. My first one was small, only 5 people came. It ended up being more of a dialogue than a presentation. I did a couple more that were a little larger, and then last week I got up in front of 40 people, just me and my PowerPoint, and talked for over an hour.
I know why it’s easy – I love the topic, and I know the topic, and I could talk about it uninterrupted for hours and hours just to share my love of it with someone else. That kind of enthusiasm about a subject is hard not to pass on. It’s not really boring when the person who is presenting is in love with it, no matter what it is. The topic could be the life and times of the dust mite, but if you really, really love everything about dust mites, it’s going to be interesting.
And now that I’m more comfortable with the terrible prospect of opening my mouth when more than two people are paying attention to me, I hardly ever go beet red. My voice doesn’t shake. I still feel my heart race a little, but I just tell myself, “Calm down. You’ve got this.” And I usually do.