“The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the minute you’re born and never stops until you get up to speak in public.” –Anonymous
As a teacher of both English and Communication, I am constantly impressed by my students. I have to ask them day-after-day to do things that scare them, sometimes to the point of near passing out, and they rise to the challenge and accomplish what they once thought impossible.
For example, my Public Speaking classes are more often than not filled with students who need a communication credit, but are terrified of getting up and speaking before an audience. This is not just a college student occurrence of course. Glossophobia, or speech anxiety, is the fear of public speaking, and the internet is filled with people who are willing to help you overcome this fear, no matter your age or experience. But these are students who just want a college credit. Approaching our first few assignments is a time full of questions and emails to me of why they can’t do it, asking if they should transfer out, and deer in headlight looks when they step up the first time. Yet they all survive it, which surprises the students most of all.
This week they had to do their second speech, impromptu. This adds a whole new level of fear to the mix, as they not only have to get up and speak, but they have to pick their topic out of a hat only minutes before. But to get my point across about just getting up there and commit to speaking not reading, I make sure the topics I choose help ease the tension.
“We are cannibals; convince us to eat your buddy first.”
“You are the President, announce to the country that we have made first contact but the aliens are not the brightest lights in the galaxy.”
“You’re Darth Vader. Make a more convincing argument as to why Luke should join the Empire.”
“Explain to Superman why he can’t be in the poker game anymore.”
Well, you get the idea. Usually, when I hold up the hat the first time I get exactly zero volunteers to start the party off. Then someone gets “volunteered”, pulls their topic and laughs. Everyone else’s interest is piqued. A laugh was not expected. Then they start speaking, and everyone gets it. People start lining up. In fact, one class this week, when they were done, volunteered to do another round for fun. People who were ready to pass out at the start of class have forgotten they were supposed to not be able to do this.
What surprises them even more is when I announce that I will never teach them to stop being nervous. But that’s why they’re there. That, and the grade, were the only things they wanted from me. But I explain scientifically what nerves do for us. They kinda get it. Then I tell them a story from Anthony Quinn.
This prolific actor of the 20th century was asked once if he still got nervous before performing. He responded that he did every time. Every single time. He explained, “If you ever stop being nervous, that’s the day you should quit.” The nerves prove you care. If you’re not nervous, you’ve stopped caring.
The same holds true for writing. I have found myself before, and right now in fact, too nervous to continue on a project. It’s not writers block. I know what I want to happen. But a scene or character has gotten too big in my mind, and I’m nervous that I cannot do them justice on the page. No matter what I write, it will not be as perfect and wonderful as what I’ve imagined in my mind. It is too pivotal to be trust to me, the author.
But that just means I care. I care that this scene needs to be encoded into written word well, so the audience can decode it just as well and experience the magic that I am seeing behind my eyes. I have to remind myself, that if I don’t do it, no one will even have the chance to. Just as my students did, I have to have the courage to commit myself to sharing my words and trust that everyone will get it.
And so with care and nerves, I shall plunge in and brave these pivotal words. See you on the other side of Act III.