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Fear of public speaking comes back to roost

Abby Hutchison, Sun Staff

Nothing makes my stomach churn more than public speaking.

When I am told to offer a presentation in front of an audience, as I was three times last week, I suddenly long to be curled up in my mom’s lap with my thumb in my mouth.

While I’m fine in the small group setting – even known often as the one who won’t shut up – speaking in front of 10 or more people is downright terrifying.

Sometimes I turn pale white, while other times my face glows like a Halloween pumpkin. Most of the time I stumble over my words and become really attached to repetitive connecting words (or sounds). The real intelligent ones, like “um.”

So last week was a painful week for me; and my mom was too far away to seek the comfort of her embrace.

The first public speaking obligation I actually somehow managed to avoid, although this admission is bound to reaffirm that obligation. As a brand new member of Truckee’s Sunrise Rotary Club, I am required to give a five-minute speech in in front of my fellow Rotarians about who I am. For many this is a simple task, for me it’s a death sentence.

There are three new Rotary members and we all have to speak. Fortunately my editor, who is also a new member, took pity on me and offered to go first.

“You’ll go next week,” he said with an evil laugh, and the rest of the group nodded.

At Rotary this week I somehow scarfed my breakfast down and waited throughout the meeting to be called to the podium. But it never happened – they forgot!

I didn’t get away so easy in other matters, but now that those are behind me I feel relieved and a little better about myself.

Our former publisher, Eric Henry, and I traveled down to the Sierra Health Foundation in Sacramento last Thursday to receive an award for outstanding contributions to children and families in Northern California. While the award, nominated by the Children’s Collaborative of Truckee-Tahoe, was an incredible honor and one I hang proudly on my office wall, I panicked when I was informed we would be giving a small acceptance speech and participate in a workshop panel.

As four awardees before us gave both brilliant and moving speeches to an audience of at least 60, I realized that Eric and I were part of a small minority who had not prepared our speeches. I pleaded for Eric to accept the award for both of us.

Fortunately, he dutifully stepped up the to microphone and gave a short charismatic speech that was not only brilliant and moving, but funny too. I tried to take mental notes on how he did it.

In the panel discussion, which was about building positive relationships and partnerships with the press, there was no way for me to sneak out of it. Media members were seated officially in a row of chairs across the stage with bottles of water under each chair. A microphone was to be passed along so each person could add to the discussion. I was about the sixth person in from the edge, and as the microphone came closer, I began shifting in my seat, shaking and praying that sudden winds would blow the tented roof over.

The next thing I knew, Laurie Martin had finished introducing me and the microphone was in my hand, and … what was I saying? I was talking, a whole lot or maybe not enough, about my job and how I interact with different people on a day-to-day basis. I felt so nervous I could puke, but looked around and people were smiling and nodding their heads in interest and my voice wasn’t even shaking.

The next morning, I went to school. I was to give a presentation to two of Stephanie Bacon’s sixth grade classes at Sierra Mountain Middle School about informative writing and my job as a reporter. I felt good about this one; I was ready.

Ready as I could be until I was pulled over on my way to the school by a sheriff’s deputy for expired tags (got it taken care of!). That shook me up a little and I nervously entered the classroom a few minutes late.

But her classes were great. I loved speaking with kids – they were my favorite audience of all. They asked a lot of interesting and sweet questions and even wrote prompt thank you letters and furthered our discussions about informative writing.

If only I could invite those students with me to Rotary next Tuesday morning.

Abby Hutchison is the Sierra Sun’s education and features reporter.


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