I can’t take credit for coming up with the idea for today’s story. I was inspired by a comment made by Cupcake Travels on my post yesterday. She was referencing a public speaking course she’d taken years ago, to help her overcome her fear of public speaking.
Which reminded me of how much I’ve always dreaded standing up in front of a group — large or small — and speaking. Or even presenting work. Which can be very challenging for a writer, working in advertising. We have to stand up and present our work on a daily basis.
As a child I was terminally shy. Over the years I’ve really worked very hard to overcome it. Some days are better than others, even now. But most people who know me, would be surprised to hear I’m shy, by nature. Guess I’ve become really good at faking it.
But presenting, public speaking, that was a tough one for me.
It was bad enough in school, when we’d have to stand up, even at our seats, and read our work aloud. My tongue would feel like it was three inches thick and covered with fur. Somehow I’d get through it, but I’d be a wreck for days after.
My first ‘professional’ brush with it came when I worked in the fashion industry. I was doing advertising and PR for a very well-known and successful Canadian fashion designer, Leo Chevalier. The work we were doing was breakthrough for the times. In those days, designers didn’t do consumer advertising, at least not in Canada. Even in the US there wasn’t as much of it, as there is today.
One day I received a phone call from the Publisher of one of the magazines we advertised in. They wanted me to be a keynote speaker at a Canadian Ad & Sales Club luncheon. Among that crowd, it was an honour to have our efforts recognized. But the idea of it made me sick to my stomach. I told her I’d think about it, and get back to her.
Of course when I told Leo about it, he was thrilled. And all for it. Easy for him to get excited. He didn’t have to do anything, except show up and sit in the audience. Eat, drink and be his charming self. Then I told my best friend, who looked at me like I was nuts, and told me refusing to do it was out of the question. She crossed her arms over her chest, glared at me, and literally forced me to make the call.
A move I’m sure she regretted once I’d made her read, re-read, and re-re-read my speech a thousand times. Once I’d made her sit there and listen to me practice delivering it, over and over and over and over again, ad nauseum. Even I was sick of it.
On the day I was so nervous, I was literally sick to my stomach. I didn’t just have butterflies in my stomach, I had elephants dancing. No amount of water could moisten my dry mouth. My palms were so damp I didn’t know how I’d shake anyone’s hand. And my hands were shaking so badly, I had trouble putting my eye make up on. And that was hours before my ‘performance’.
There was a speakers’ reception prior to the lunch. Marilyn (BFF), suggested I have a drink (alcoholic) to help calm me down. Throwing caution to the wind, I had several. No food. There was no way I could eat. My throat was closed to anything but liquids. How I lasted through that lunch without screaming, I don’t know. The waiting was interminable. But finally, I heard the event host call my name. Followed by applause. No backing out now.
The moment of truth had arrived.
Cursing the magazine, Leo, my friend, and the fact I’d allowed myself to be convinced to do this, I pushed myself to my feet; and, saying a silent prayer, I tottered over to the podium, clutching my notes and a glass of water. My heart was pounding so hard, I also prayed I wouldn’t have a coronary, on the spot. I had an armful of bangle bracelets on one wrist. I was working in the fashion industry, after all. And I remember, as I was laying my crib sheet down in front of me, my hand was shaking so badly the bracelets were clanging. So much so, I had to take them off.
Looking out at that packed room, gave me a real case of the heebie-jeebies. I can still feel it, today. I stole a quick look at my notes. All I could see was a blur of type. Leo smiled encouragingly at me, from a front-row table. I took a sip of water, and a large breath. Thanked everyone for being there. And began.
My voice quivered. I sipped water frequently. I held my arm behind my back so it wouldn’t thump on the podium. I pressed my body against the table, in an effort to stop myself from fainting. And, somehow, I got through it.
Later, when I told Marilyn how much I’d had to drink, on an empty stomach, she said I was lucky I hadn’t gotten loaded. I think it was all the nervous energy and adrenaline coursing through my body. That must have been it, because she took me out for a celebratory drink later that evening. One drink was all it took. I was completely smashed and ended up crashing on her living room couch. I would never have made it home.
Next morning, while nursing a killer hangover, I promised myself I would never do it again. Never. Ever.
Yeah, right. You know that wasn’t going to be possible, don’t you? Not in my line of business. More of my adventures in the spotlight tomorrow …