I’m not a public speaker, which comes as no surprise to my friends and family. I prefer to be that anonymous non-speaking blob in meetings praying we don’t have to perform any icebreakers or group skits and repeating my name in my head so that I won’t forget it if I’m called on.
A few of you remember my last public speech, which took place in the ACL studio and went something like: “No, I don’t have anything to say. If you’d like to gather around me in small groups later, I’d be happy to talk.” There was a long pause as people stared at me in a pitiful attempt to use their collective mind powers and will more from me. “No, seriously. I love you all. Let’s go to Amber.” I turned and stared at Amber who fortunately had a LOT to say (I suspect that’s why she got the best parting gifts.)
If you don’t count having to recite a section of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in high school, then I pretty much managed to avoid all sorts of public speaking for decades. You see, there was an emotioanlly scarring incident in 8th grade where I made the yearbook for getting in front of my English class and delivering my autobiography. I had the honor of being the only kid who uncontrollably shook throughout the speech. In fact, in the Q/A section at the end one girl raised her hand and asked about it, thus forever placing herself on my “list”. To me, this was a sign that I should never again attempt to stand before people and speak. It’s just a special bonus that this day is forever immortalized in the yearbook so I can see that look on my face.
I’m pretty sure this deficiency of mine contributed to killing my grandmother. I’d already began killing my mother by possessing absolutely no discernible athletic abilities (she was all-star everything in school – popular for her prowess on whatever court got in her way) and the rest of the family was ok with my sports disabilities, because Mom must have been adopted – only one or two in the family truly shared her gift. My grandmother, on the other hand, was a socialite and among other things was president of her sorority, an officer in Toastmistresses and Order of the Eastern Star. She seemed to thrive in crowds. She was the type of person to sit at the head of the table among strangers and take on the role of hostess drawing everyone into the conversation. In fact, there is a story of her doing this while Mom sat back and watched in awe; my grandmother was in her element. Sadly, it seems I must have only inherited recessive genes that left me both weird and squirrelly; the shame of my grandmother.
So, imagine my surprise this week when I agreed to join Toastmasters. It wasn’t my fault, I was caught off guard and heard myself say “yes” before I had the opportunity to collapse on the floor and throw-up (that was later when my brain caught up to my mouth). I really can’t blame myself for this soon-to-be social mis-step. No, the fault really lies with one of the members who stroked my ego first, “Beth, I’ve been wanting you to join. I really think you’ll add an interesting perspective to the club…. you laugh very easily.” In hindsight, none of that sounds really “positive”. In fact, I think it makes me sounds like a nervously laughing twit who has the occasional really bizarre idea they shouldn’t lend a voice to but unfortunately can’t resist.
I can already smell disaster. First, there’s the shaking thing and they apparently have short spontaneous speeches that last 2-3 minutes and you don’t have time to prep. This could be really bad. You see, I suffer from a heretofor undiagnosed neurological disorder which causes my brain to empty out when faced with any questions. A simple “Let’s go around the room and do introductions. Let’s start with Beth. Beth, would you introduce yourself?” causes my brain to leak and then, I have to work back to get to the details. Ok, she’s looking at me and used the word “Beth”, that must be me. Seems like a good name and doesn’t seem unfamiliar, we’ll go with that. I’ll say “my name is Beth” and if no one looks stunned, I’ll just look over at this person next to me. I wonder how I got that name? I should write that question here on my notepad. Oh crap, she’s still waiting. “Hi, I’m Beth. I’m uhhh here today to… ” (god, what does this agenda title say) “uhh learn more about this room. ” (GAH! did I just say that, ok smile and pretend it was a joke.) “Haha” (did that sound forced?) “No seriously, I’m just here to learn more on the subject.” (Close one, stare at the next person. Make note to die straight away when the meeting adjourns.)
My first meeting will be on Wednesday and then I promise to recap everything on Thursday where I describe in detail slinking out of the room to get ill.