Visual & Written Story 3: Public Speaking

Public Speaking


I can hear my heart beat in my ears.

The blood’s pounding, pulsing through my veins.

The butterflies in my stomach just.won’t.quit.

My right hand shakes in the slightest as I jot down just a few more notes on the piece of printer paper…

Creaseless, perfect, with only computer-processed words on it, my words, gorgeously printed in black ink…

Well, up until about 5 minutes ago when my internal thesaurus kicked in and red-flagged what is now striking me as an incredibly unimaginative and uninspiring word: [insert word here]. Cross out, re-write, draw an arrow, remember to say “this”…

I stop jotting. Pull my face up from the paper to rejoin what is happening around me.

My left hand’s now experiencing sympathy tremors.

I glance back down and find I’m now holding a creased, folded in-half, blue-ink-notes-over-black-font-print piece of paper.

This always happens. No matter what, I always end up making edits right up until it is time.

“…please welcome to the stage, Emily Bailin.”

Now it’s time.

I stand up, pulling my pants up and my shirt down.

For a moment I think my heart rate has slowed, I’m calmer this time…I think.

I wear a half smile as I walk towards the podium, only facing my audience once I am up there and settled.

“Good morning,” I say and am greeted with an immediate echo.

I tend to break the ice by calling attention to and commenting on the way I have just awkwardly handled a situation in the mere moments that have passed since leaving my seat—whether I slightly tripped on my own pant leg on the way up to the stage, was not able to lower the microphone mount when I arrived at my destination, or now feel that the stage lights are only reaching half of my face.

Imagining people in their underwear never worked for me. Number one, who the hell has the time and presence of mind to take a few moments to actually visualize their audience not wearing clothes? And number two, did it not occur to anyone, particularly adults imparting this so-called “advice” unto kids, how potentially distracting and, more importantly, traumatizing such an exercise could be to youth in their formative years?! No thank you. I’ll stick to opening with a mildly self-deprecating, yet harmless, joke.

— cue: laughter [and hoped for applause! applause! BRAVO] —

As the aftermath of my comic relief subsides, I look back down to my paper.

I iron the sheets that I’ve unconsciously folded in half (again), a smear of blue ink at the top of the first page, consequences of a sweaty thumb.

I forget to take that last deep breath and a mild thump returns to my chest, my ears…but I nonetheless begin.

By the second sentence, I’ve regained a regular heartbeat, and am delivering my thoughtfully constructed sentences—which are intertwined with notions of cultural relevance, engagement, citizenship, criticality, encouragement, hope, and passion—as if I’ve read them a hundred times before…

[begin inner monologue:] Some people engage in extreme sports activities for an adrenaline rush. I engage in public speaking.

My love for public speaking is uncommon and I often make people uncomfortable when I express just how much I love speaking in front of large audiences.

Surely, it’s not for everyone. In fact, some studies have found that a small percentage of people fear public speaking more than death.

There is a unique and certain type of space that public speaking provides.

I found my voice and agency as a girl, a young woman, a woman through writing and through opportunities I had to speak to large audiences. Public speaking not only reinforced my sense of self and confidence, but also provided me with a platform to make sense of and share my lived experiences and connect them to pertinent and pressing issues regarding coming of age, applying to high school, being in college, making deeper and better sense of the media-saturated world in which we live…[end inner monologue].

…As I come to my last few sentences, I remember to slow down (something I’m still working on doing throughout my delivery…) and finish with a “Thank you.”

Most times as I walk back to my seat I realize how much of a blur the last two, five, ten minutes have been, as if I blacked out and have just regained consciousness.

I sit, feeling unsure of how I’ve done—if what I’ve said has resounded with the audience. The residual shaking in my hands starts to calm and I finally take that deep breath that is many minutes and one speech overdue.

I sit back, cross my legs, and regain focus on the person who has taken the podium after me. They too seem to be spending the first few fleeting moments on stage ironing out wrinkled, damp papers.

But they haven’t chosen to make light of the situation, joking about the self-inflicted watermarks now on the white sheets.

I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I’ve been there. When the seconds it takes to get settled on the stage feel like an eternity and you have no recollection of all of the other speakers you’ve seen in your life who have been flustered, and awkward, and sweating; you forget how, in those moments, as an audience member you forgave the speaker’s momentary clumsiness and almost wanted to shout out, “You’ve got it!”

The audience waits patiently, silently. Finally, despite both hands still visibly shaking, the speaker’s world slowly rights itself back on its axis and everyone is happy to resume.

And in that instant, as my nerves relax, I realize how much I’ve improved as a public speaker, but am also aware of just how much the mission to perfect the art of public speaking will be an ongoing, lifelong process that I will continually aim to improve, but which will continually evolve as society, culture, and I all inevitably continually change and adapt to new concepts, issues, trends, concerns, and possibilities. I’m up for the challenge. I look forward to a life full of last minute edits, permanent butterflies, and the exhilaration I get from providing audiences with useful advice and information that makes them think and want to engage with the world around them in deeper and more meaningful ways.