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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Discuss Amongst Yourselves ... 

Well, I guess that could have been much worse. As I mentioned yesterday, I don't do public speaking: I'm phobic, nervous, shy — however you want to characterize it, I don't do it. I probably should for personal and professional reasons, but I don't.

Which is why it was more than a bit odd to find myself sitting on stage at an Academy for Educational Development event this afternoon. A coworker had been asked to add his perspectives to the panel and in agreeing he asked me to come along too to offer an international perspective. P---, while not necessarily at home on panels like this, has theatre training and does some acting.

Me, the last time I did anything like this was my senior year in college, defending my undergraduate thesis and reading a letter from Jamin Raskin to the rally a group of us organized to protest David Duke (then making a bid for the U.S. Senate) speaking on campus at the invitation of the College Republicans. In both instances, things didn't go too well. At the rally, I slipped into a bit of a monotone and my voice trailed off as the letter went on; during the thesis defense, I started reading instead of explaining and my thesis director ended up cutting me off to help me get to my conclusion.

So, even though I am interested personally and professionally in what radio can do to aid development efforts, I was pretty torn about agreeing to join the panel. It took me about two days to convince myself, and after I agreed, I felt a bit sick.

This afternoon, when I arrived at AED and got the pretalk prep, I asked if I could have a vomit bucket for next to my seat on stage (I'd warned them that I was nervous and didn't really do these sorts of things). Everyone thought it a terribly funny/witty thing to ask for. I wasn't really joking.

The panel was set up so that I didn't have to have prepared remarks. Instead the authors of the book spoke first and then P--- and I responded. P--- agreed to take the microphone first and to basically lob the discussion over to me after that. As the speakers went through their points (and it was an interesting discussion about how effective radio can be at disseminating information and education to a wide group of people as part of aid/education/development activities), I was feeling pretty good about things. I was okay on stage, glancing around the audience. Making some quick notes about what was being said and lining that up with the information/ideas I'd jotted down while preparing for the event. But as the microphone passed to P---, the realization that I would be speaking came up pretty strongly. And, then, when he lobbed things over to me ...

Well, I didn't need the vomit bucket and it wasn't the spectacular failure that I probably feared, but I did sort of rush through my three or four points, reiterating what I thought was one of the most important issues (the importance of being as local as possible, including using local languages/dialects to the greatest extent possible), and then passed it back to the organizers.

During the Q&A portion, only one of the questions was directed at a specific individual, but I managed to add a few points as part of some of the answers. And there was only one total brain/tongue freeze moment when I stammered over a verb. (I think I was trying to say "link up" but it was coming out "look" or something and I ended up stammering over the word a few times before switching to "hook up.")

Afterward, the organizers all pointed out that I didn't need the bucket, and said that I did fine. I have some doubts, but it wasn't the horror show I feared, so maybe I'll be a little quicker to respond if I ever get another such invitation ... but I think I will demand that vomit bucket.

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