Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In Which I Speak

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.


cbs111 said...

Ahhh, I hate public speaking. I can have the best speech ever planned out in my head, but as soon as I'm center stage, I mutter and mumble like an idiot.

Take Vodka in a water bottle, it might help take the edge off.

J-Bird said...

I was on the debate team in high school and won awards for my impromptu speeches so I've never crashed and burned quite like you did but I do understand the nervousness of it all.

Try not to look at your audience. I've never looked directly at the people I'm speaking to. Just scan the room above their heads. If they have questions, you'll still see their hands.

If all else fails, fart... loudly. You'll get a good laugh (be sure to laugh too) and it should release a lot of the tension.

The Shanner of Attention said...

Ugh - I feel for you. Public speaking is a b!tch. I just recently gave the MOH speech at my best friend's wedding. She had almost 300 guests. As I was giving my speech, the hand holding my notes started shaking feverishly and every.single.person in the room saw my arm move around like it was dancing techno by itself. And I hate techno. :(

Witless Exposition said...

I always feel fine while giving the speech (apparently my face turns violently red, though), but the moment I'm done I feel like I'm going to pass out.

Public speaking's a bitch. I think it's a vote of confidence if you're boss is "asking" you to do it though.

Or he hates you and wants to see you suffer.

Good luck on the next one!

lessonsinlifeandlight said...

My pulse was actually quickening as I read this--you made me nervous FOR you, lol!

Didactic Pirate said...

If it'll make you feel better, I can tell you about the time I walked into a class of 30 students with my fly unzipped.

Or the time I walked into a class full of 30 students with a giant dried booger hanging out of my nose.

Or spinach between my teeth.

Or major pit stains on my nice white shirt.

It's a long list.

Jennifer said...

I absolutely detest public speaking. More power to you if you're able to get through it fine, but it's not for me. At all. Ever...

Big Sky Heidi said...

I detest public speaking too. Any by being the most junior one on the job, guess what I'm called on to do?

Jasmine said...

I feel for you, I hate it too. You must have done well, though, or they wouldn't have picked you again.

Writer Ninja said...

My condolences, Badass. I remember once I was in my high school play and I turned to this character named Edgar and I shouted, “So long you ratty eggroll!” The line was supposed to read, “So long you rat, Edgar.”

Only when the audience was convulsing with laughter did I realize my unfortunate mistake.

Dude, I wanted Chinese food.

Chuck said...

You failed to picture them all in their underwear...ya, doesn't work for me either. Use a lot of pregnant pauses and they will start to feel uncomfortable. And direct eye contact...

Nes said...

Well. Poor you. At least for next time you're prepared!

Nej said...

I don't mind talking in front of people...but my face thinks otherwise. It turns about three shades of red, eventually switching over to something resembling purple. I'm not I'm not sure what the issue is exactly. :-)

Badass Geek said...

Cbs111: It also might make me swear.

J-Bird: I'm not sure I'll try the fart tactic, but rather save that for an escape plan.

The Shanner of Attention: Techno isn't for everyone. =)

Witless Exposition: I'm hoping it's the former more than the latter.

LessonsInLifeandLight: It wasn't a good experience, that's for sure.

Didactic Pirate: You mustn't get embarrassed by much these days, then.

Jennifer: Me, either.

Big Sky Heidi: You lucky dog. =)

Jasmine: Good point.

Writer Ninja: Chinese food is fucking tasty.

Chuck: Picturing people in their underwear can backfire.

Nes: At least slightly.

Nej: I'm sure there's a scientific reason for it.

bama Cheryl said...

Y'know, they are all so scared and intimidated of their first day at A Big Company that they took what you said as gospel and didn't question (or look) for humor in what you said. You probably looked authentic to them rather than disheveled. Give yourself a break. Remember how you felt in their shoes!

mice_aliling said...

For some reason I hate public speaking but when I'm onstage and act, it's a different thing. Good luck on your next talk.

What I do is pretend they're ants. Or, try to maintain an eye contact. That connection will make you feel at ease. Another one would be starting off your talk with a question then tweak that answer as introduction to your talk. :)

Daniel said...

I taste your pain, Sir... I know pretty much exactly how that feels, and it drives me nuts when I'm directed to do things like that where I work. Oy...

Interesting looking blog... I'll check it out some more.

Kelly said...

Public speaking is EVIL! I started running meetings for my department 2 years ago and I STILL get stressed out about being stared at while I impart information. I like the vodka in a water bottle suggestion, from cbs111, though. At least my face will have a reason to be red.

Opto-Mom said...

Just say, "fuck" a lot, and eventually someone will complain, and you won't be asked to speak again, LOL.

Love your blog, and I'm following you now. come check out mine too!

Post a Comment