On Public Speaking

In 1993, I went off to college. One of the required classes for freshmen is “Speech.” It seems fairly simple, every freshman must take speech class.

I dropped the class.

Then in 1994, when I was entering my second year at Michigan Tech, the adviser kindly reminded me I had to take speech class. I signed up, and went to the first few classes. Then, my first speech (something like a 3 minute thing) was coming up. I didn’t sleep. I got sick. I considered walking out into traffic just to avoid speaking in front of my peers.

I dropped the class.

I find it extremely ironic that much of my current livelihood involves public speaking. I think it’s even more bizarre that I love to speak in front of people now. It’s not that I don’t get nervous, I do, but really I enjoy speaking to a crowd. Whether it’s teaching youth group at church to 20 teenagers, presenting a technology proposal to a school board, or yammering on about Linux to a room full of fellow geeks — I really enjoy the thing that used to terrify me.

I have to constantly remind myself that most people dislike speaking in front of a crowd. Many people are terrified of it. Some people even get as worked up as I did in college, and would rather get struck by lightning than to simply announce “it’s time to eat” to a crowd of people. It’s easy to forget how real the fear is for others.

Oh, and for the record? That’s how I feel about dancing. 🙂

6 thoughts on “On Public Speaking”

  1. That’s funny. Me too. I could get up and talk about anything now where I used to prefer skipping a class to talking in a minute or two late.

    I’m not embarrassed of my dancing, but I’m told I should be. 🙂

  2. I don’t have much to say to a crowd of peole, If I did it might be different but on the dancing thing, if you put on some country music even I can’t stop myself from dancing. You can ask your sisters, they have actually tried to hold me still. lol

  3. I hated public speaking as well (my required speech class was as a senior in high school; and I had the same feeling of running out into traffic). I had to do plenty of presentations at college, but I really never got *that* nervous about it.

    Where my most nerve-wracking presentations were, actually, were at my last job. I was presenting to the “head engineer” of my department (at least a 10th level exec). My biggest presentation was a design change that we had been working on for 3 months. The engineers who were supposed to back me up weren’t there. I presented, got approval, and walked out like I was on top of the world. It was much easier to present after that one experience.


  4. Yeah, I HATED public speaking when I was younger as well. Now, I’ll just get up there and yammer until I’ll consume all the oxygen in the room and everyone passes out.

    I think it has to do with being comfortable in your own skin. As a kid (or college student or whatever) there’s still a lot of awkwardness and self-doubt. Now, as an “old fart” — you’re confident that you know you’re stuff, and you don’t care about the stuff you don’t know. 🙂

  5. For me, it’s partly an ego-thing. I’ve been writing SW since ’70 and, for the last 15, I’ve also been teaching it — in private industry. I’ve worked for most of the RTOS companies — I’m at Wind River now — and have wrestled with Linux since about ’95 — and worked for MontaVista and probably enjoyed that more than any of the others … uhm, I’m starting to ramble.
    Anyway, I love the classroom, of being up front and speaking, and being “under fire” with questions and having to think on my feet and, yes, on occasion having to say, “I don’t know.” But I’ve learned that smart people respect that.
    So, yeah, my ego gets stroked being the center of attention.
    That is, as long as I don’t get shot down in flames too often.


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