TGIF: Thinking out loud? it’s only a figure of speech
I’ve often mentioned that being the editor of a newspaper was but one of three career options I considered while still a youth. The other two were in architecture and ministry.
The doors of opportunity opened for the newspaper option, and I walked through, but of the other two possibilities, only becoming an architect was even feasible. I’m an introvert at heart, and public speaking is not my strong suit.
However, there is a fourth career I might have pursued, but it was quickly eliminated for the same reasons that being a minister wouldn’t work for me, because it also involves speaking in public. After hearing great motivational speakers do their stuff, I wondered if I had what it takes to do likewise. I decided no. Having the words is not the primary problem. I offer words, in print, right here every Friday. But delivering them in a speech takes a different talent.
According to “Psychology Today,” fear of public speaking is frequently — but incorrectly — cited as people’s biggest fear. Actually, there are many other things that scare people more than being asked to give a speech. Genuine fears, like flying, spiders, and heights. Nevertheless, fear of public speaking is common, and it’s probably the first one that comes to mind when asked about people’s phobias. Approximately 25 percent of us report experiencing it.
Speech is not my first choice when communicating. Given the time, I prefer to write something down, study it, and study it again. After a series of back-spaces, across-the-board deletions, rewrites, and sleeping on it, I’ll decide it’s time to start the memo again.
If it weren’t for deadlines — self-imposed or otherwise — I might never quit rewriting stuff. Even now, I avoid as much as possible re-reading things I wrote and published in the past, because invariably I want to have it back to edit some things here and there.
It wasn’t for a lack of love for words that I retreat from public speaking. I don’t enjoy doing things I’m not good at, and never mind you’re usually not good at anything unless you practice it. As far as public speaking goes, it could even be that I would rather be quiet and have people think I’m ignorant, rather than open my mouth and remove all doubt.
As a shy kid, and now as a shy adult, I’ve never been one who savored stepping into the spotlight. You’re never more in the spotlight than when you’re speaking in front of people. Horrors! What if I misspeak?
Nevertheless, there have been times when it can’t be avoided. These days, that happens at church, and I’ve resigned myself to believe that nowhere on Earth — and I mean nowhere — is there a group of people who are more forgiving of your goofs, and who wants you to succeed more. I sometimes wonder if it’s actually relief that they weren’t asked to step up on the podium. My conclusion tends to land on the side that God sends angels to help people through things.
However, any relief is fleeting, and it’s certainly not enough to warrant the mandatory preparation and recurring waves of anxiety. Please, just let me just find my place in the shadows.
I didn’t take a speech class in college until my senior year. I knew the course was required for my degree, but I also knew I needed to take it. I put it off, not wanting to put myself through the ordeal. Communicating ideas clearly and presenting them openly in a public forum is an essential component of success in several areas of life. Skills in public speaking help propel anyone’s career.
While I was working, speaking invitations would come my way occasionally, so my practical education was ongoing. I’m learning even today. Whether I’m listening to a motivational speaker, a preacher in the pulpit, or a manager cheering on the staff, I still consider myself a student in the real-life class of public speaking. Every speaker has a valuable lesson to teach. Sometimes it’s with the ideas. Sometimes it’s with the presentation. Sometimes it’s the lesson of a bad example.
This is the age of video and broadcast journalism. My generation is perhaps the last one where presentation of a writer’s message seemed less important than the message itself. I’m fortunate to have been born when I was.
It’s not enough anymore to write brilliantly, or perhaps even thoughtfully, and then only get up before a crowd to read it. I admire those who are able to stand and deliver, and to do so with style.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.