Fear Friday: Public Speaking

April 15, 2016

Fear Friday: Public Speaking

According to The Washington Postmore people are afraid of public speaking than they are of zombies. ZOMBIES, YOU GUYS! Seriously, we’d rather risk having our brains eaten by the undead than talk to a bunch of totally alive people, who will probably not try to make hors d’oeuvres out of our hypothalamus.

It doesn’t really make any sense.

But I totally get it.

I once watched about twenty minutes of a Walking Dead episode and I regretted it for the next 20 hours — which was exactly the amount of time I was unable to sleep for.

But I’d still definitely rank my fear of public speaking way above my fear of brain-munching corpse-people. Especially when that public speaking involves my having to act like a professional and like I might actually know what I’m talking about.

Despite all of that, I found myself applying to do professional presentations at three different conferences this year.

My first presentation was for a Michigan teaching conference. I was scheduled to present at 8 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday. And, not to brag or anything, but I did AWESOME. Mostly because I was too asleep to figure out what was going on. And because exactly three people showed up.

My second presentation was at a conference at my university and I did even better at that one because the only people in attendance were me and my co-presenter.

What can I say? I’m really, really unpopular.

Given my track record for really low turn-out rates, I was expecting a similarly dismal turn-out for my latest presentation — this time at the TESOL conference in Baltimore last week. Sure, it was an international conference with thousands of people in attendance. But I was scheduled to present at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I figured there was no way a bunch of teachers were going to hang around until 4 o’clock to listen to me screech on about teaching. After all, most teachers I know became teachers expressly for the purpose of being able to get out of work before 4 o’clock. I know I did. Besides, it was the first day of the conference. Surely, everyone would be off having first-day-of-the-conference cocktails. Which is TOTALLY A THING.

My first clue that I might not be so unpopular after all was when my co-presenter and I showed up to the room that we’d be presenting in to find a line of people.


For us.

And then more people just kept showing up until the room was so full that people started sitting on the floor and standing in the back.

I’ve definitely never felt so popular.

I’ve also never felt so terrified.

But somehow I ended up speaking to all of them and I don’t think I sounded nearly as screechy or nervous or unhinged as I usually sound at those kinds of things.

It helped that I had a co-presenter, who, apparently, has a lot more experience with being popular than I do because she acted like it was no big deal that seventy-some people were staring at us.

It also helped that the audience was really nice and enthusiastic and seemed really into what we were talking about or, at least, they were really good at pretending to be into it.

And, well, it helped that there was the promise of first-day-of-the-conference cocktails for afterwards. Followed by I-just-spoke in-public-and-didn’t-die sangria. Which, again, is TOTALLY A THING.


How do you feel about public speaking? Love it? Deal with it? Dread it more than zombies? 


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On April 15, 2016 at 1:26 pm Meg said:

    Haha! I spoke at a conference a couple years ago where my colleague and I had 6 listeners (and one was my husband), which was kind of the best because they were all really interested in what we had to say, and the Q&A section was just a great discussion.

    I don’t know how you do those huge lecture-hall speeches! 70+ people LOOKING AT YOU! I would be super nervous, and that creates a negative feedback loop where I obsess over possible mistakes and get more nervous…
    Meg recently posted..Adulthood Is The Worst

    • On April 16, 2016 at 11:11 am Sally said:

      I think having a co-presenter REALLY helped. Especially since she was so cool and collected. Plus, I was talking about something I’m super excited about and the audience was super interested in — so that made it fun. But, yeah, I was still super nervous.

  2. On April 15, 2016 at 5:40 pm kathi g said:

    A few years ago I had to speak at a conference, to an audience of about 100-ish. I was terrified, didn’t sleep the night before. Like your first experience, I was the first speaker of the morning, and the crowd was unengaged at best, and most likely, terribly hungover! So I started my spiel, desperately trying to win them over. Just as I felt I was making some momentum, the tornado alarm went off and we all had to evacuate into the hotel basement. And that ended my presentation, although I did walk from person to person and offer to deliver it one on one.

    • On April 16, 2016 at 11:09 am Sally said:

      OMG. This is the craziest story ever! I don’t even know what I would do if there was a sudden alarm in the middle of my presentation. I would probably just keep prattling on!

  3. On April 16, 2016 at 8:21 am RickMichigan said:

    I’ve done training to groups of 30 or less and to larger groups in the 150+ range and I’m more nervous in front of the smaller groups. Kinda weird. Kudo’s to you for doing “The Moth”….if it was 30 or 200 at that event I’d never find the nerve to tell a story.

    • On April 16, 2016 at 11:08 am Sally said:

      The Moth was definitely the scariest kind of public speaking. First of all, you have no idea if you’re name is going to be called until it’s called so you’re sitting there the whole time going “OMG OMG OMG, WHY DID I PUT MY NAME IN?” And, secondly, because then when your name does get called you have to actually get up there and tell a story about yourself and it’s probably going to be something really humiliating. Oh, and there’s usually something like 200 people in the audience. Luckily, the audiences are SUPER supportive.


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