I’m a competent public speaker – meaning I don’t think I say “um” a lot (I might) and I don’t get so nervous as to lose my train of thought. Give me a small group and I’m quite comfortable – it’s well within my comfort zone to be able to present to a group of say 10 people. I make eye contact, and carry on a conversation on a topic I’m familiar with. I can be funny and engaging.
Give me a larger group – say 35 – and I’ve lost my comfort zone. This isn’t to say I stumble over my words, or lose my grip, but it is to say that it’s no longer an intimate conversation. And I still see maybe a handful of people. To the point that while giving a presentation this week to a group of people who really didn’t want to be there about a topic that can make people a little uncomfortable, I had someone fall asleep. And I didn’t even notice. Because she wasn’t one of the people I could “see.”
Now, I suppose it speaks volumes that I was so engaging that someone decided it was better to fall asleep than to listen – in my own mind I can rationalize that in all kinds of different ways, and besides, that’s not within the scope of this post – but in the end the fact of the matter is that I just didn’t even notice.
It was no longer a “conversation,” but a presentation. I’ve never spoken to a BIG group – Bill Clinton or Laurie Ruettimann - but I’ve done a little large group speaking; the one talk of this kind which I’m most proud was the eulogy at my father’s funeral. But even then, I saw a few faces and was so concerned that what I was saying wasn’t registering with them that I failed to notice the church’s AV system had crapped out. Of the group of people who came to honor my dad and to support my family, I was so nervous I had only seen a handful. The larger the group the tighter and smaller my line of vision – almost like looking through a paper tube, where I can see only the few people I focus on.
I wonder if this is a typical thing, or if its a part of that introvert-pretending-to-be-an-extrovert thing. I don’t worry about stomping up to be the focus of attention, I worry about goofing up. When I put myself in position to be a public speaker, I know what I’m capable of presenting and capable of discussing – but inside I think I go through this inner turmoil worrying that I’m going to get a “stumper” question that I can’t answer or just go about the topic at hand all wrong. Imagining the audience in their underwear doesn’t help – I don’t “see” them. I’m worrying more about giving the presentation and realizing I’m in my underwear…or worse, wearing the emperor’s clothes.