Greater Than the Fear of Death

I hadn’t responded to a WordPress prompt in a while, so I found this one:

Are you comfortable in front of people, or does the idea of public speaking make you want to hide in the bathroom? Why?

Supposedly public speaking is more greatly feared than death. I vaguely remember reading about the reason for that: something to do with the fight-or-flight decision and some kind of primordial instinct that’s still down there in the human subconscious mind.

Back in high school and college, when I had to make a speech in front of the class, three things helped me allay the awful fear of death public speaking:

  1. Writing out the entire speech on paper, whether it was required or not. No notecards with “talking points.” The whole friggin’ speech, word for word, even notes like “pause here” and random stuff I’d write on the paper to make me smile because I forget to smile while talking in public. I would make a terrible politician; I’d have to rely way too much on the teleprompter. Plus, I make a lot more sense in writing than in speaking. If I had to speak extemporaneously, I’d be all, like, um, eh, er, what? So if I write the speech out, I am more confident in what I’m saying.
  2. Being one of the first people in the class to make the speech, so I could get it over with. Being the last person in class to make a speech is awful; you have to squirm through everyone else’s speech, anticipating all the things that could go wrong with yours. And it’s even worse when the guy before you takes up all the time in the class period, so you have to wait a whole ‘nother day before you get to make your speech.
  3. Saying the speech out loud beforehand, so I wouldn’t trip over any unpronounceable words (you know how there are some words that you can pronounce in your head, but when you try to say them out loud, they don’t come out right?). They always tell you to read your writing out loud as a method of editing, and it really does work. You can catch all kinds of flaws, from odd-sounding sentences, to unintended double meanings, to accidental alliteration that comes off sounding comical.

Anyway, I don’t think I answered the prompt question. Why does public speaking freak me out? Because I don’t do it often enough. My job involves sitting in front of a computer screen and editing science-related documents. The closest I come to public speaking at work is when I get a phone call, which is not that often. I also teach Sunday school, which is kind of like public speaking, but it’s a lot less intimidating speaking in front of 8- and 9-year-olds than speaking in front of peers or older people. Also, teaching is more like a conversation than making a speech, so the pressure isn’t quite the same (but that might even be a post for another day).

6 thoughts on “Greater Than the Fear of Death

  1. They say that there are more people who are afraid of public speaking than of death. But I’m sure if both situations presented themselves, most everyone would choose public speaking over death!

    I’ve so far made it through life with minimal public speaking. When I have, I’ve discovered that my biggest fear was of being judged and/or feeling lesser than those I was speaking to. The instant I told myself “they’re just people, just like me, no better, no worse,” the fear was abated. That being said, I am still loathe to public speaking!

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    1. That feeling of inferiority is a part of my fear, too, but you’re right: you have to keep telling yourself that people are all basically the same and everyone has their own flaws and good points.

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  2. I’m fine with public speaking (probably one factor, as you say, is that I’ve always known my subjects very well), but I tend to be very shy in social situations where there are a lot of people I don’t know — parties and so on.

    Either one is preferable to death, though. 🙂

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