I was asked to speak in front of a class of new hires last week at work. Being asked was flattering, considering that there are other people who have been with the company much longer than me that would have been better candidates, but management apparently thinks enough of me to approach me about it. To be truthful, I wasn't really asked so much as told, as I wasn't given the option not to do it. They outlined it for me, and all I had to do was talk for a few minutes about my job, simple stuff like how I like my position, what my typical day is like, and what the challenges are. It didn't seem too intimidating, so I didn't think much of it. I was surprised at how not nervous I felt, walking towards the conference room to give my speech.
That all changed when I opened the door.
When I was a new hire, I remembered going to one of these meetings. There were four other new hires other than myself, so it was a pretty small group and we got a really personalized experience with the person who came in to talk to us. I was expecting a similarly sized audience for my speech, but when I walked into the conference room, I was greeted by twenty-three curious faces. Twenty-three.
I just about pissed myself. I hadn't spoken to a group of people that large since the time I threw up during class in the fifth grade and made some quip while bile dripped from my nose.
The surprise over seeing how large of a group I'd be speaking to threw me completely off guard. My mouth dried up, my armpits started sweating like crazy, and my stomach started churning up clouds of gas that gurgled uncomfortably and loudly in my stomach. I stood awkwardly by the door and waited for the trainer to finish what she was saying and introduce me, spending a majority of that time looking down at my feet, trying to compose myself. While looking down, I noticed that the shirt I was wearing had a stain on it. Awesome. I imagined the thoughts of the new hires, wondering why they had some overweight guy who looked like he hadn't shaved in a month, dressed in wrinkly khakis and a stained button-down, come in and talk to the newbies. I hoped fiercely that I had remembered to zip up my fly.
When I was finally given the green light to speak, all of the things I had prepared myself to talk about had long since evaporated from my mind. The trainer had a list of talking points printed up for me, so I went off of that. I wish I could tell you that I calmed down and fell into a good rhythm and it all went smoothly, but I think you'd know better than that. You see, when I get nervous and have to speak in front of people, I have this tendency to breathe in too much. I don't know even how I do this, but I keep inhaling despite the fact that I have more than enough air to finish what I'm saying. Before long, my lungs are filled to capacity and I have no choice but to exhale which, of course, is done with enough force to blow away whatever notes or talking points I have in front of me.
Oh, and then there's this neat thing that I do where I say really stupid things. Like really stupid. Take the following statement for example:
"Once you've gone through the product training and software training and you've learned everything, you will know all there is to know."
I couldn't tell by their silence if they were awed by my brilliance, or if they felt embarrassed for me. Either way, that particular sentence was met with heavy silence.
Not surprisingly (but thankfully), none of the new hires had any questions for me when I was done speaking. I stood there while the trainer wrapped things up for me, and all I could hear was my pulse thudding in my ears. I eyed the door handle anxiously, and finally I was allowed to leave. The class of new hires clapped weakly for me as I left, but I was already out the door before it really amounted to anything. I made a beeline for the Men's Room to release the major gas bubble I could feel in my gut. It felt like I swallowed a balloon animal and it was fighting to get out. Gotta love nervous stomachs.
This was the first time I had been asked to speak for the new hires, and I wish wholeheartedly that it was going to be my last. Unfortunately (both for me and for them) there is another class of new hires coming in next week, and I've been picked as the guest speaker again. I'm hoping that now I've got one under my belt, the next one will go a little more smoothly. It's not like it can get any worse. Well, actually, there are many ways it could go worse, but I'm going to choose not to think about that.