May 04, 2017

Ready for My Public by Susan Barclay

Please don't call on me; I'm busy daydreaming
I always hated public speaking. All through elementary and secondary school, oral presentations were my greatest academic challenge. My heart raced, my hands went cold and clammy, and there were multiple trips to the bathroom before I had to deliver any speech.

That being said, I managed to do well on them under duress (my face may have been pale, my knees knocking, but I still got good marks). That is, I did until my freshman year English class at university.

We'd been asked to dissect a poem and present it to the class. We had to prepare a handout and then orally share our thoughts on the assigned piece. Tables were set up to form a rectangle and we could give our 'speech' from our seat. 

I don't know what to say!
How much can you say about a single poem? The challenge was too great, at least for me. While others managed to come up with a verbal report that differed from their handout, mine was pretty much a mirror image of what was on my paper. My professor was not impressed. When I'd finished, she kept her head down, then simply instructed the next student to proceed.

I was humiliated. After every previous student, she'd had something to say, even if it was just a simple 'thank you.' After me, nothing. I mean, she couldn't even say 'thank you' for my effort? It's not as if I hadn't tried, even if it didn't appear so in her eyes.

I got my first (and only) C in English. After that, I determined not to take any more courses that required a verbal element. I decided not to pursue a Master's degree in Psychology because there were seminar courses. Unbeknownst to me, oral presentations awaited in the Master of Library and Information Science program!

More than twenty-five years later, I still remember that insensitive English professor's name. But I also remember another name much more fondly: Adele Fasick. She was the Library School professor who taught the Children's Literature courses and it was she who helped me gain my confidence, using one simple sentence.

We'd had to prepare an oral presentation and paper. I believe it was a group effort, though we all had individual submissions. When I got my paper back, Professor Fasick's comment included these words: "An excellent presentation as usual, Susan."

"An excellent presentation!" Wow! "As usual"? Double-wow! Really? I was so happy!

I'd be happy to speak to you!
Public speaking didn't necessarily become my favourite thing to do, but after this moment, it got easier and easier with practice. I took one Toastmasters class at my local community college, and as a Young Adult librarian, had the opportunity to deliver many oral presentations - in the form of book talks and instructional classes on researching an essay, writing a paper, etc. Once I became a writer, I began to perform readings of my work at Word on the Street and at the library. I participated in an author panel discussing romance writing and even went on the radio for an interview following the publication of my first short story.

I have well stepped out of my comfort zone. I am ready for my public. And I know that words are important: they can destroy or build up. I know what kind of words I want to use! Don't you?
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  1. This is a great testimony of how God can help us face and even embrace our fears!

  2. Thank you for this. I have also struggled with public speaking and have had to step out of my comfort zone at times and do it anyways; not as much as you have but it still felt like a giant step each time I've done it. This is a really encouraging piece and it always amazes me how God overlooks our weaknesses and will ask us to do something beyond our own strength.

    1. Thank you, Gloria. And I agree - isn't it much like how God chose to use Moses, a stutterer? Face the fear and do it anyway, in His strength, not our own!

    2. Moses is my hero for exactly that reason. I don't stutter, but I do have a speech impediment that I am self-conscious about. Usually no one notices after a few moments of talking, thinking it is just an accent. We do make huge barricades out of such little things!

  3. Like you, I was so nervous in Highschool when it came to public speaking, Susan. I did everything I could to avoid it - staying home 'sick', asking the teacher so many questions that there was not enough time for me to give my speech, and so on. Once I finally gave my speech in Grade 10 I loved it! It's awesome how the Lord has helped you overcome. We really are overcomers through Jesus!
    Pam Mytroen

    1. I will probably never LOVE public speaking. That would be more of a miracle than the one I'm already enjoying :) I'm glad you overcame your fear!

  4. Like most writers, I tend to be an introvert. It's much easier to put my thoughts down on paper than express them verbally in public. But, as with most things that you fear, it becomes less difficult once you've made a start. I joined a Toastmasters club almost two years ago, and I have found their words of encouragement have helped me build up my confidence. Along with prayer!

  5. i know someone else who joined Toastmasters several years ago and has found it a very effective program. Coupled with prayer, I'm sure it makes a big difference!

  6. Such an encouraging blog, Susan. Thanks. I notice how you remember and give tribute to the professor who helped you break your cycle of fear. In the early days of my teaching, I remember one principal, Mr. McNeilly, who told me, "You did your usual good job!" Although the students and parents seemed to appreciate my teaching, Mr. McNeill, with that simple remark, gave me the feedback other administrators had failed to provide.

    May we all use our words, written or spoken, for encouraging others, as you have beautifully done with this blog..


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