The assignment. What the hell was I going to do? I haven’t been to any readings, except one in the beginning of the semester, but it’s more a vague hangover wine-beer-vodka headache than a memory of that reading. Last semester, I went to half a dozen readings. I even read in one. By the will of my professor. I didn’t know whether to be happy, cry or laugh hysterically. Actually, I think I did all three.
So, what should I do about this assignment?
Well, as luck would have it, I have been to a seminar, in which a guy spoke about how to start an internet business. Actually, it should have been entitled “these people made tons of money doing vague things on the internet, so buy our products and there’s a small possibility that you might too.” What a dumb-ass. However, I did learn several things about speaking publicly that should be useful for the purpose of this discussion.
I have learned that there are three types of people who have the courage, inclination, or pressure to speak in front of others. There’s the confident guy that struts up to the mike, beer in hand, takes a swig, then starts out with a booming voice that instantly captivates. That same guy can scan the audience like nobody’s business, and watching him you think, “hmmm, he must have it memorized. Wow.” And people laugh at appropriate times, there are stunned silences, and a great amount of clapping when he gets up and does a little “embarrassed” bow, while taking another swig of beer.
The next type is usually a woman (it’s true…). She can speak fair enough, she can mostly captivate, but she’s not as powerful a presence as the first. Her flaw is that she cannot scan the audience well; she looks up at inappropriate moments, and talks too slowly or too fast over instances of profound funniness. Maybe she’s nervous, the audience thinks, she’s still got something of quality to say, and we’ll laugh when she pauses. We know she’s got a good story to tell. Well written. Published. But she’s trying to be like the first guy, and she’s doing okay, but she doesn’t get the gut-laughs or the shouts for an encore. But even she can handle the squawking of the microphone and is self-depreciating enough that she is instantly liked because she knows that she has something to say.
Then, there are people like me. The pressured. I get up there and feel like I no longer have knees. It takes a profound concentration to stand and breathe at the same time, let alone speak, or (gasp!) read. I get up, see the faces looking at me, and forget my name. I start to read and try to scan my dutiful audience, but I lose my place, even if I’ve read it over and over aloud to my cat until even she leaves the room (for food, she wasn’t annoyed). I need two shots of Yeager before I can even attempt this astounding feat. I try to keep my voice strong, I try not to squirm too much or rattle my papers as my hands shake like I’m a crack whore, but it’s a skill that I do not have. But there’s an envy and a need to imitate the others that keeps me on my feet. I need to do what the last guy did, I think. He had a really powerful pause and looked up, and the audience laughed deafeningly. I need to do what that lady did earlier, she didn’t sway on her feet, and you could tell she really liked reading aloud because her voice sounded cheerful, and that was enough to instantly captivate.
And that’s how it’s done. Imitation of those who went before you. Imitation of those who did well, spoke clearly, got that splendid applause. Imitation for the only purpose of staying on your feet while the audience blinks (so loudly that you can hear the thunderous booms) in confusion. Like acting. Become the “speaker.” Unfortunately English majors like me are terrible speakers by nature and all we can do is learn what makes us suck and move on, while we try not to blush too furiously, or throw up on the front row.