I don’t know why I did, but I said “Yes”. In fact I said “Yes, that’s fine, no problem, I look forward to it”. That was six months ago and it didn’t seem like a problem then, it was fine and it was a long long way ahead to look forward to. But now there’s only a month to go and I’m wondering why I agreed….to give a public talk. An hour-long one at that! I know this is no big deal to a lot of people; giving speeches, lectures or presentations is just part of daily work. But it is a big deal to me. Over the last ten years, working freelance from home and burying my nose in paper and paints most of the day, talking usually involves no more than two people at a time. And that’s just me and my husband. No shyness, no inhibitions, no requirement to please... Oh, and no payment either. Now I’ve agreed to talk to a group of people I don’t know and of an unspecified quantity – although I’m told it could be near the hundred mark – and I have a small remuneration to justify. The pressure is on.
The first time I stood in front of a really large group of people and opened my mouth to speak was when I was seven. My best friend at school had persuaded me to join her in reading something for morning assembly. The butterflies appeared in my stomach from the moment I awoke that day, and throughout breakfast and the short walk to school they turned into monstrous pterodactyls on speed, crashing against my rib cage from the inside. By the time Ruth and I stepped into the hall, with its freshly polished parqué flooring and the smell of its junior gym equipment suddenly becoming more nauseating than ever before, I was a quivering mess of blushing self-consciousness. In front of us was the school’s entire population of teachers and pupils: around 8 grown-up, big people and nearly 200 fidgety, farting, nose-picking little people. It came to my crucial moment – I opened my mouth – something came out – but not the words on the page in front of me. It was some stumbling, stilted, stuttering version of what it was supposed to be. Finally, in what seemed like a lifetime later, it was over. I turned to Ruth, mortified. “It was my teeth” I said, “there’s something wrong with my teeth.” Of course there was nothing wrong with my juvenile molars. The sad truth is that, at the tender age of seven, I already realised that it was too embarrassing to even admit to being embarrassed.
Well that was long ago and I’m a little more confident now - Ruth would be proud - but nevertheless it feels like a daunting task. I’ll be talking about my work and experiences to a group of fellow artists/enthusiasts so I know it’s a safe subject and a relatively non-hostile environment. With several props and quite a few ideas floating around my head, I need to put it all together and come up with something that will keep the audience interested – lots of planning and practice runs might help. Strangely, in spite of my nerves and fears I can’t help feeling quite enthused at the challenge; as a kind friend said, I’ll probably feel exhilarated too once it’s done. Right now, though, it’s still a big deal and I know I’ll be embarrassed. I can admit that now. I'm filled with dread. I’d better book myself in at the dentists before the big day.
How NOT to trip over your words....