I‘ve been prompted to discuss my first time doing something. Immediately what came to mind was my first time doing public speaking.
When I was a little kid I was beyond shy. I like invented shy. If you weren’t a family member of mine, I’d be the quietest child you had ever met. I’m not sure why I was like this, but my shyness often took a back seat to my urinary tract.
Anytime we would be doing an activity in class I’d go about my business until I had to do my business – get what I’m saying? I had no problem approaching my teachers one-on-one to let them know that things were stirring down below. I’d be excused to go to the bathroom and come back and it was no big deal.
But one day, in the middle of some lecture the teacher was giving, the urge to use the bathroom hit me like a sack of bricks to the face. It was so sudden that, without thinking, I jumped up from my seat and raised my hand.
At this point, I am more aware of my bladder than I am of what I’m doing. I know that asking to go to the bathroom (the whole “May I” instead of “Can I” question correction thing was so annoying, you remember that?) was a question; and when you asked questions you had to raise your hand.
But then my self-awareness came flooding back to me like a monsoon. From every direction of my peripheral vision, I could see the eyes of my classmates all looking right at me as I opened my mouth. Beady little eyes, eyes full of judgment and giving me their undivided attention.
I had a panic attack, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. The question I wanted to ask had vanished from my vocabulary. My palms got all sweaty, my lips were quivering and mumbling “uhh, umm, uhh” – it was disastrous. Then, my teacher finally takes notice of the only kid raising her hand and singles me out in front of the class.
I could just feel the eyes getting bigger and closer, everyone’s eyes just pointed directly at me. It was the worst feeling of all time. My knees were buckling and I was on the verge of losing my bladder juices on my jeans out of pure fear instead of need. What had I done? Everyone must be expecting me to say a question related to what my teacher had been lecturing about! I was just gonna ask to go to the bathroom! It would look like I hadn’t even been paying attention!
I could picture the sequence of events so perfectly in my head. Everyone would watch me as I walked to the door. They would whisper amongst themselves about how long I was in the bathroom for. Crack jokes about my bowel movements. They’d all stare at me as I walked back into the room, sitting in my chair. Maybe one of them would lean towards me and whisper “pee-pee” or “poopy head” – OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE? THIS IS A FIRST GRADER’S NIGHTMARE.
So because my body was pumping full of adrenaline, and because my vocabulary had gone out the window (along with my sense of security), I just blurted out the most coherent thing I could think of.
I think I caught my teacher off guard, because she just sort of stared at me. And I was just kind of staring at her with my arms up in the air. So there was this good minute or two of us just staring at each other, saying nothing. The kids around me didn’t say anything either. It was just a weird moment in time when I think everyone was trying to process what just happened.
After blinking a few times, my teacher just kind of asked me to sit down and told me that the next time I raise my hand I should ask something that has more relevance to the topic at hand or productively facilitates learning, or something that makes sense even.
I felt so exposed. I huddled into a little ball in the middle of the eyeball sea. Everyone had continued to stare at me even when I sat back down. My plan to distract attention away from me had clearly backfired.
As I kept huddled in that little shy and embarrassed ball I was quickly reminded of the reason I rose my hand in the first place. The adrenaline was washing away and the blood rushed back to my vital organs and my bladder went back to returning signals of urgency to my brain. I still needed to pee, bad. But I held it in, ignoring the painful bladder, because I dared not raise my hand again.
This, my friends, is the first time I can remember being absolutely terrified of speaking in front of others. Hence why I refer to to this as my first time public speaking.
This fear would continue to carry over into actual public speaking situations, such as (but not limited to) reciting lines at children’s plays, presenting a project to the class, reading aloud in class, or being called upon the teacher when no one volunteers and being expected to answer their question.
For the longest time I would despise public speaking, without fully understanding why. I just understood that people would stare, people would talk, and people would judge.