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Public Speaking: A Universal Phobia

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Public Speaking: A Universal Phobia

You're sitting dutifully at your desk, index cards stacked neatly in front of you. Your feet pitter-patter restlessly on the linoleum tile floor, as if manipulating invisible drum pedals. Your heart bungee-jumps inside you, starting up in your throat, then free-falling headfirst into the pit of your stomach. splash. Droplets of sweat appear at the edge of your hairline and on your palms. It's like you're trapped in some invisible time warp, with one half of your body on the equator and the other half in Antarctica. You're scared mudless. What's to be scared of? It's only death, what's so scary about that? Your name is called. It's your turn.

The rest of the class swing their heads around like robots and gaze at you. "Better you than me!" their faces say. Your eyes bulge from their sockets. Your heart has stopped its bungee-jumping routine and now just thuds heavily in your chest like the footsteps of a malevolent giant. Its vibration rings thickly in your ears. You begin to trudge nervously toward the podium situated at the front of the room, but the floor has melted benath your feet, the tiles now a thick, oozing linoleum goo. The podium stands about a thousand feet away, mocking you. After an eternity, you're finally there. You look out at your classmates. Their mingled mixture of brown, blue and hazel eyes stare intently at you. You begin to speak, but your voice is slurred, as if drunk. Your words sound foreign, like some alien tongue. Your classmates begin to change.

Their eyes, which had previously been the colors they had inherited from their parents, are now an intensely bright, school-bus yellow. They glimmer evily in the classroom's overhead flourescent lights. They pull back their lips into ghastly grins, revealing long, razor sharp fangs. They drip with saliva. Their fingernails transform into long, sharp claws. The remnants of yesterday's manicures litter the floor like decorative snow. They move away from their desks and amble deliberately toward you in unison, like a flock of migrating birds. You're paralyzed with fear. You try to scream, but terror has placed a gag order on your vocal cords. Your mouth has been stripped of saliva by an invisible sponge. You try to run, but the gelatinous, linoleum ooze is now rock solid concrete. It wraps around your ankles, locking you in place. You're going nowhere. Your classmates descend upon you, yellow eyes blazing with hunger and anticipation. They emit a horrible laugh that more resembles a gruesome snarl. They poune and...

Okay, so maybe public speaking isn't quite that bad, but let's face it: For most people, the thought of standing before a gathering of people, especially ones you don't know, and expressing prepared thoughts verbally is about as enjoyable as a very long dental procedure. The idea conjures up images of almost absurd nightmarish evils, like childhood monsters lurking hungrily inside the dark closet of our minds. Your agonize hoplessly over the waiting process. How's my hair? I don't have any zits, do I? Oh, for crying out loud will you just call ON ME ALREADY! The speaking itself invites a feeling of raw dread. Your guts turn themselves inside out at the thought of being watched. You feel boxed in, the walls seem to be closing in on you like a medieval torture device. Your voice sounds distant and not your own, like you're speaking inside of a closed telephone booth. If you weren't claustraphobic before, you are now. If you already were, then look out. Your heart hammers away, sending miniature earthquakes throughout your entire body. The ticking clock softly but steadily pounds on your brain like Chinese water torture. Through all of this, crouched down in your mind like a tiger waiting to pounce, is that horrific feeling of being watched. After about two or three days it's finally over, and relief pours over you like water onto a thirsty flower. Your audience begins to applaud. Their eyes are the right colors and their teeth are the proper length. You lived.

As an aspiring criminal prosecutor, public speaking will play a critical role in my everyday life. My job will be to convince twelve total strangers that the person sitting in the defendant's chair is guilty. The manner in which I present my evidence in court, not the evidence itself, will be the key to my success. The way I use my voice (when to attack, when to back off), and my eye contact skills will play a central role in whether I win or lose. Public Speaking class provides the perfect forum in which to hone these skills. It'll be difficult, but it won't be any easier when it's the real thing and someone's life may very well be on the line. If I'm to overcome my fear of public speaking, now would be a great time to start.

Public speaking will never be easy. People will always associate it with feeling of anxiety and fear. The best way to deal with public speaking, in my opinion, is to just get it overwith. When public speaking, I try to clear my mind of all thoughts and just let it rip. Much of what I say is impromptu, almost never what I wrote down in preparation. Notes and index cards just seem to get in the way. Fumbling through them to find the right place only compounds my nervousness. It's important to realize that public speaking is not the end of the world, although it may feel like it at the time. Just relax. You're not going to die, and your classmates will not eat you. Except, maybe, for that one with the school bus yellow eyes sitting right next to you...
Published: 2006-07-09
Author: Mike Brown

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