After speaking at the Montreal “Books and Breakfast,” an event I wrote about a few months ago, I thought I had mostly overcome my fear of public speaking.
A large audience, including many from the publishing industry, all gathered in a large ballroom of a fancy downtown hotel had their eyes trained on me for fifteen minutes straight while I babbled incoherently about my recently published book, With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood.
Looking back, it was sort of like peeling the Band-Aid off all at once. With a machete. For someone with a fear of public speaking it was a ‘trial by fire crash course’ kind of scenario.
In the end, as I’ve previously wrote about here, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. Sure, I didn’t exactly sound off-the-cuff with my crumpled-up cue cards scrunched between my sweaty, shaky palms. But I had been afraid that when I walked up to the podium, I’d forget how to speak, becoming temporarily blind, deaf, and mute.
I admit that, looking back, anticipating it was much worse than actually doing it. (Okay, that’s not actually true. Doing it was much worse than anticipating it. I just say this to make myself feel better.)
After the Books and Breakfast event, I figured I’d be up for anything. I was now a war-hardened, veteran public speaker. Compared to the Books and Breakfast, speaking at the Ingleside Public Library would be like just talking to a small group of close friends. Right?
So naturally, I was a complete nervous wreck.
At the Books and Breakfast, something that was surprisingly comforting was the fact that I felt like I couldn’t see the audience. My field of vision was limited to the three inches between my face and the cue cards. The ballroom where the event was held was so large, and the lights were so bright, it was almost like the audience was lost in a fog. Sort of like that saying about “not seeing the forest because of the trees.”
But in the library, I was going to see each individual person. They weren’t some large anonymous crowd who, if I utterly humiliated myself in front of them, I could cry and run off the stage and drive 500 kilometers away and begin the slow, painful process of blocking the memory out and hoping it never resurfaces.
This was a room filled with people whom I’ve known for years and consider many of them to be pretty close friends. People that I really care about what they think of me. Especially considering how personal and raw and vulnerable the subject matter of my book is.
I’d be speaking to people like Jackie from the post office, who my son Scott, at age four, vowed to marry one day. And Sandy Winchester and Margaret Power, two of my children’s favourite teachers, the kind of teachers who make life long lasting impressions on many of their students.
In the end, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself not to worry- that it really would be like speaking to a group of my closest friends. And that I think I’ve finally overcome my fear of public speaking.