Tonight, I attended the Phoenix Active 20-30 Club’s Awards Ceremony.  Crisis Nursery and six other awesome nonprofit organizations were recognized with a grant from their foundation, The Children In Need Foundation.  Everything was going great until I had to get up and say a 3-5 minutes speech.  Easy, right???

Maybe for some people, but for me…not so much.  For me to get up in front of people and speak makes my stomach knot up.  People say to imagine your audience naked if you have a fear of public speaking.  I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work for me.

I know there are many things I’m good at. I’m good at articulating ideas in writing.  I’m good at presenting ideas one-on-one.  I’m good at networking; I have no problems engaging with people.  I, even, do well with TV and radio interviews.  But get me in front of a group of people to do a presentation, I quickly fall apart.

I’m a lot better now at public speaking than I was when I was a teenager.  I remember when doing presentations, I would get up there and immediately my legs felt like they were going to buckle underneath me.  I felt myself getting red and sweat would slowly drip down the side of my face.  My glasses began to fog up and it would get so bad that I had to take them off just so I could see.  Fortunately, I made it through my presentations.  But I think the only reason why I made it through my presentations was because I would write them out word for word.  All I had to do was read it.  I don’t think I ever looked up once from my speech to maintain contact and for the most part, it only took a few minutes for me to finish.  After each presentation, I was always glad to get it over with, but I knew deep down that they all basically sucked.

Upon entering high school, I received a letter from the high school debate teacher.  I’m sure every eighth grader received the same letter, but something clicked in me.  I thought in order for me to be more successful in life, I need to get over my fear of public speaking.  I have no idea where I pulled that out of, but I found myself signing up for debate class.

The first few weeks of class were spent learning the basics to Cross-X debates.  We spent time researching and looking for information we could use in our debates.  I loved the research part.  Then we had to get up and debate.  Now that’s the part I hated.  The day of my debate I was so nervous.  I had butterflies in my stomach and was trying to think of every way possible to get out of class.  I was too much of a goody-goody to skip class.  And I was such a bad liar, if I were to fake illness I was certain the nurse would see right through it and make me go back to class. 

I went to class and did my debate.  Even though I was nervous, I had fun.  With my teacher’s positive feedback and practice I got better and better.  I got so comfortable with it that I decided to join the Forensics League.  I competed in some cross-x debates, but I found that I was a lot better at individual events like storytelling, poetry and prose.  After high school and into college, my time in Forensics helped me to do presentations in my college classes.  At one point, I felt so comfortable with it that my anxiety went away.

Now fast forward about a decade, my current job that I’ve been at for three years tomorrow, doesn’t require a lot of presentations.  Most of the time, I’m behind a computer writing  a press release, content for our website or latest newsletter, or emailing.  Last month, my supervisor asked me if I could attend the Phoenix Active 20-30 Club’s Award Ceremony.  She thought that I would be the best person to go because I’m in the same age range.  The Phoenix Active 20-30 Club is a group of philanthropic, professional young men in the Phoenix metropolitan area whose goals are to improve the quality of life of the children in our local community through fundraising and hands-on events.

I knew going into the dinner that I would have to do a quick presentation.  I was fine with the thought of doing the presentation or so I thought? I got up there and I think in my mind I froze.  My mouth was still moving and words were coming out, but about what…I DON’T KNOW.  I kind of felt like Charlie Brown when he talks to his school teacher.  All I remember saying is… Blah, ba blah blah blah!  Maybe in my mind it seemed more horrible than I thought.  But after watching my fellow colleagues get up there and present such moving speeches, I totally felt out of my league. 

I know that they are use to public speaking because they do it a lot more frequently than I do.  And I know I’ve been out of practice for some time.  I’m not going to run out and join Toastmasters, but what I am going to do is be conscious of what I need to work on.  I am all about self-improvement and I will take on this new challenge.  I don’t expect to be the best speaker in the universe, but if I can get to the point of being comfortable again with public speaking.  I’ve won.