Naked People Speaking

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For the second time in as many months, I had to address my daughter’s school assembly last week, an audience that numbered 600+ people. That’s 1200+ eyes looking at me. It’s hard to imagine a greater hell, except if the assembly were in a mall. And I were standing near a smoothie stand whose blenders occasionally chimed in, while a small child shrieked in the background.

I have never done this before – spoken in front of such a large group. In high school, I competed in speech contests and performed in plays. I have a strong speaking voice. I practice a lot. I never, ever imagine my audience naked. First of all, in an elementary school that might make me a “person of interest”. Secondly, I am the one who feels naked – open to rejection and mockery on a grand scale. My legs shook so badly during a contest once, that friends pointed it out in jest. Ex-friends. My deodorant usually surrenders five minutes into a speech and I’m always afraid the stress will have me delivering a poorly received F-Bomb right into the microphone.

None of those things seem to impact performance time, though. Everything went well. A friend told me that she just pretended she was a rock star that people paid to see. Really? I just try not to pass out. It’s a curious sort of masochism. Yes, I know I will be anxious and sleepless the night before. Yes, I know I will feel like throwing up and that faces in the audience will suddenly seem disapproving. Some people like amusement parks, but I prefer my own reality show – bring on the fear factor! This mentality does not extend to eating bugs, though. Crunchiness needs to come from breading, not legs and mandibles.

When people talk about their comfort zone, I’ve always made the assumption that I liked to challenge myself and leave the “zone” on a regular basis. The closer truth is that my comfort zone lies between routine and constant change. I fear a static life. I fear that moment that has transformed many sentient beings into complete duds, when they decide: I’ve learned all I want to know. If my Maslow basics are stable: work, home, family – everything else is fair game to try. Except bug eating.

Having spent time in the military, rock climbing and working out at the gym, I’m familiar with the adrenalin junkie mentality. I’ve never been one drawn towards jumping out of perfectly functioning airplanes, climbing a mountain just because it’s there or running the rapids because I had a free weekend. I was born a cautious old lady. There is a rush, though, in doing things that absolutely terrify you. It changes you ever so slightly and opens the door to the world just a crack more.

In my twenties, I always assumed by now that I would have learned most of what I needed to know. I thought I’d be wise and brave and confident. This year, as I turn 46, I am delighted to say that I was absolutely wrong. I have enough wisdom to recognize that I know less than what remains to be learned and that there are still personal challenges on the horizon. Without bugs. And with clothes. Mostly.

31 Comments on “Naked People Speaking

  1. We cautiously challenge the zone for weeks on end. And then take a break to regroup. We’re kind of adrenaline junkies, but recognise our limits. Without bugs. And with clothes. Mostly. ๐Ÿ™‚
    We once climbed up spikes driven into a 50 meter tree (i.e about the same as an 18 story building) right to the platform at the top, alone in the Australian bush. One of those climb at your own risk things. Nuts. But so exhilarating!

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    • I am one of those people who can always imagine the 500 ways in which an activity can kill me. I think I was an actuary in another life. Overcoming psychological challenges seems to be more than enough for me! When it comes to physical activities, I enjoy endurance and strength challenges, but have found the fear factor does nothing to improve my self-confidence. I just figure it was luck that I didn’t die. Born to be mild…

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      • I know it was just dumb luck for me when I was young. When I think back to some of the things I did I truly wonder how I survived. I’m really quite cautious now. Mild is good too ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. You’re not alone. Fear of public speaking is one of the most common fears, but this is an example of there being no comfort in numbers. I don’t mind it because, which is a good thing because I have to do it three times within the next month. Actually, now that I think about that: yikes!

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    • Just imagine everyone is…no, that’s just very distracting and in some cases, a little disturbing. I try to remind myself that when I’m listening to a speech or watching a speaker, I’m rarely paying attention to what is being said, as I’m usually wondering where the bathroom is or why that guy on the left behind me is making a weird snuffling noise.

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    • Thanks – I’m a little rusty coming out of the gate. My spring elation turned into downright grumpiness as it snowed for several days last week! We’re getting the sun back, though, so my energy and spirits are lifted. Thanks for continuing to read my blog – I have a lot of blog reading to catch up on!

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  3. Bug eating is so overrated. So is jumping out of “perfectly functioning” aircraft. I’m with you all the way on the points you made here, especially on the fact that there is so much more to learn! Beautifully written, Michelle.

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    • I keep trying to force myself to have an open mind – humans eat bugs and various crustaceans around the world, but thus far I feel pretty adamant about insect crunchies. Thanks for reading and commenting – I’ve been offline for awhile, so it’s nice to return to some familiar “voices”.

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    • Thanks, Kylie. The more I learn, the less my brain is able to retain basic skills, like locating car keys or remembering to take ALL the grocery bags off the top of the car before driving off. Knowledge has a price!

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  4. In the Air Force, I once ate a roasted ant. Our survival instructor had a bag of them, sold as food in South America somewhere. It wasn’t bad. It tasted like burnt popcorn . . . sort of. Luckily, when I went through the wilderness training it was nearly winter and there weren’t any local, non-gourmet bugs to eat!

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    • I’m sure I’ve eaten a few bugs by accident, but I just can’t get over all those legs and antennae! It doesn’t sound like the flavor is redeeming, either – glad to have that insider information. I’ll be able to call out those people who say it tastes like chicken!

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  5. I had my own share of stage fright numerous times, Michelle, This one occasion comes to mind immediately where our little baroque ensemble had to perform in public somewhere and I was so nervous shortly before the event that I slipped and fell on my tailbone. Then I had to perform with a sore tailbone. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Nice to hear you again. You sound well! Happy Spring to you and yours.

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    • Thanks, Bill. My spring respite turned into a snowstorm and sleet, but the break from blogging and writing was a good one. Time to dig in again! Best wishes to you as well.

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  7. Take a message from the Scouts: Be Prepared! That is the mantra of public speaking. If you know the material and are comfortable with it, enough that you can ad lib a little, all will go so much better. That being said, I have never been in front of a group that large. Hundred or so the max I have spoken to. Like you I freak out with nerves up to the very last second. BUT… Once I start it always goes well and in the end you DO actually feel like e rock star!! Makes me wonder why we get nervous in the first place?

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    • Yes, preparation and practice are always a requirement for performance. I was explaining to my daughter, since we compete in taekwondo tournaments, that muscle memory takes over when performance stress would make you flub. I figure the same thing applies for speaking – if you practice enough, memory will take over when nerves fail. Fortunately, I did practice a lot because when the time came to speak, I was unable to use notes (microphone in one hand, PowerPoint remote in the other) and had to wing it.

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  8. Well written, as always! I love your humor. Congrats on the speaking engagement. And I apologize for not visiting in a while — your posts stopped appearing in my reader for some reason and, given the current state of my brain, if I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Thanks! No worries on the visits – I have barely had time to write posts, much less read other blogs. A lot of strange things have been happening in the WordPress world, so I’m not surprised to hear about the Reader issues. I’m much the same – it’s hard to remember to read things if they are not on my radar. Glad you stopped by, though – I’ve missed having time to “talk” to my blogging buddies!

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