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Confession #4

November 16, 2009

Don’t ever pull me up on stage.

I’m guessing that it’s not really a “confession” that I don’t like public speaking. That’s pretty common. I’m pretty extreme in those regards…I even get nervous before walking in front of the congregation at church to receive Communion (a time when literally no one is paying attention to me).

But pulling me up on stage is different. It puts me on the spot. I don’t know how to work a crowd, and even if I did, I’d be too nervous to work it.

The thing is, the worst part about public speaking to me is the build-up. I don’t sleep the night before. But it’s even worse with any situation where I might be pulled up on stage, because there’s nothing to prepare, just the random chance that I’ll be picked to “perform” on a moment’s cue. So I dread–even avoid–situations where I might be pulled up on stage.

You’re probably asking yourself, “How often is this guy in situations when he might be pulled up on stage?” Not very often. It’s the type of thing that happens at stand-up comedy shows (which I rarely attend) and charity events (which I also rarely attend, but I run one big one). I like to stay behind the scenes. I like to think about what I would have said if I had been called on–well after the event.

I think I wanted to write about this because I’m of the opinion that those of you that like to be on stage think it’s fun to pull those of us who don’t like to be on stage up there with you. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” No. If that’s what you think, you have a LOT to learn about introverts. It’s not fun, not in the moments before, not during, not even after when we didn’t make a complete fool of ourselves.

How does one get over this irrational fear? I don’t know. I’m told that you just have to do it a lot, and you’ll get used to it and come to like it. It’s something I’d like to get better at if I’m ever going to get published and do the book tour/reading thing.

Read my previous confession about atomic wedgies and hazing here.

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. Joyce Lansky permalink
    November 16, 2009 10:39 pm

    Jay Leno said, “More people are afraid of public speaking than death. That means they’d rather be the guy in the coffin than the one giving the eulogy.”

  2. November 16, 2009 10:40 pm

    Ha ha…good point. There’s only one thing that scares me more: http://jameystegmaier.com/2008/01/22/my-greatest-fear/

  3. Dionne permalink
    November 16, 2009 10:44 pm

    Wow this seems like the 2nd confession in a 5 day period, or maybe its just me. Either way…way to go Jamey! I’m so proud of you! I like this confession a lot.

    I got over my fear of public speaking (i still get nervous, but no longer loathe it since my job requires me to do this often) by pretending or acting. I started doing this as far back as high school. I would simply pretend that i was an actress acting the part of a confident public speaker. I “faked” my way to giving speeches and as the cliche goes “fake it till you make it”. I finally “made” it and now I teach college freshman twice a week, and I make presentations to high school counselors, parents, academic deans, other university departments, etc.

    Don’t get me wrong- I still get extremely nervous, but I no longer freak out. It’s taken me 15 years to get to this place and there is still so much more I need to work on. It helped to stop criticizing myself and not over analyze how I thought I sounded. Once a presentation or speech is over I forget about it and never look back.

    • November 16, 2009 11:29 pm

      That’s awesome. So you just pretended that you had confidence until you didn’t have to pretend anymore. That’s a unique approach.

      • T-Mac permalink
        November 17, 2009 8:51 am

        Actually, I think this approach is pretty common. I’ve received that type of advice before as well, and I’ve had similar experiences to Dionne. I speak in front of people frequently, but I still often feel a twinge of insecurity before doing it. However, I love the idea of being a great public speak and the idea of being the person others wish they could be in front of a crowd, and so I’ve continually taken on challenges that involve public speaking. It hasn’t always been easy though. In my current position, I’ve had to speak to people of much greater tenure and stature from a position of expertise, and I’m pretty sure I made myself physically sick over it for a few months when I was learning the ropes. Every time I’d have to go before big crowds/give a big presentation for a few hours, I’d literally come down with some illness shortly beforehand. It was uncanny.

        Like Dionne though, my nerves still get going a little, and the tough part is that people form impressions of you very quickly when you’re speaking in front of them and your imperfections are magnified when all eyes are on you. When I was trying to figure out how to form a good first impression, I decided that I’d always prepare extra diligently for the first couple of minutes of a presentation so I could run through it well even when I hadn’t settled in to being myself in front of the crowd. Similarly, it might help you to have a few off the cuff jokes, an almost universally applicable story, or something else that you deem appropriate you can pull out to make a good first impression and get you past that dry mouth part of being in front of people in case you get pulled up in front of a crowd. You could even make fun of how you hate being pulled up in front of crowds.

        Maybe this is not the point of your post, but I figured I’d put my 2 cents in, in case you find it helpful.

        • Dionne permalink
          November 17, 2009 12:06 pm

          You’re right, preparation is the key. I do believe I need to be a bit more diligent in that department. Sometimes I “wing it” more often than I should, but don’t tell anyone..lol!

        • November 17, 2009 12:54 pm

          You have a really good point that people form impressions very quickly when you’re in front of them. You need to start out strong. I like the idea of practicing those first few minutes really well so you know you have the audience from the very beginning and so you have the confidence to do so.

  4. Bob permalink
    November 16, 2009 11:31 pm

    Having been reminded of it twice now in short succession (by posts sharing the atomic wedgie story and on public speaking), how in the world did you give a 20-25 minute talk in front of some 70 people on a retreat during college? Were you heavily drugged for the event, or was it the non-spontaneity that made in manageable?

    • November 16, 2009 11:36 pm

      Not just any talk either–a deeply personal talk.

      The short answer: I don’t really know. I think I had lower anxiety then than I do now. I was asked to give the talk–I never would have volunteered to do so. I also enjoy being “read,” and reading in front of people was the closest I’d ever gotten to being read.

      Other answer: I still don’t know. When I started to give the talk, my mouth was really dry and I didn’t even notice. Fortunately, my fellow table leader noticed and came up to give me a drink of water. That allowed me to take a step back, wet my lips (which really made a huge difference), and carry on.

      Maybe that’s the solution to public speaking: Water. Moisture. So simple, yet so effective.

  5. November 17, 2009 1:31 am

    I’m really enjoying these confessions. I had formed the assumption (based on what I’ve read) that you were competent, confident and successful in everything you do. Nice to know you have flaws, too. 😉

    It’s interesting to me, as an extrovert and a writer/ blogger (who is uncomfortable in nearly zero situations), that you are a self-proclaimed introvert, uncomfortable in public speaking situations. You come across as so sure in your posts, that I would have assumed (had I ever thought about it) that you would be comfortable and confident in any situation.

    I tend to forget that many writers are introverts. I suppose because I am so NOT! Writing is just yet another opportunity for me to share, not the only.

    I promise, if I ever bump into you in public, I won’t pull you up on stage. (But you might have to listen to me sing karaoke!)

    • Dionne permalink
      November 17, 2009 12:08 pm

      Lauren I might get on stage with you to sing provided a) there were only 3 other people in the room b) and it was a crazy, drinking song we were singing (i.e. Family Tradition, The Road Goes On Forever, etc). I think that would be fun.

      • November 17, 2009 12:19 pm

        Yeah, and a little liquid confidence goes a long way, too. 🙂

        • Dionne permalink
          November 17, 2009 12:22 pm

          Heck yea!! Bring it! Lol!

    • November 17, 2009 1:00 pm

      Of course I have flaws :). I just wasn’t promoting them on the blog so much.

      I’m much more self-assured in my writing than in speaking. I like to think through what I have to say before saying it, and writing gives me the time and space to do so.

      I actually do have an extroverted side. It’s just limited to people I know. Some people like walking into a room where they hardly know anyone. I’d avoid that room at all costs. But I really like walking into a room where I know most people, especially friends.

      I forgot to mention karaoke in the post. In Japan, I loved karaoke, but it’s different than over here. Over there, you rent private party rooms (for the most part) and sing with your friends. I’m a terrible singer, but I loved every minute of it. Totally different situation if I’m in front of people I don’t know.

      • Dionne permalink
        November 17, 2009 1:20 pm

        I wonder what your results are on the Myers-Brigg: INTJ? I am an ENFP.
        As for the Karoake…in San Antonio/Austin there are places where you rent the rooms and sing Karoake with friends. I like that style since it’s also BYOB. Ahhh good times.

        • Dionne permalink
          November 17, 2009 1:22 pm

          Actually I need to double check my MB result…lol. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

        • November 17, 2009 1:22 pm

          Another good plug for Austin!

          You know your Myer’s Brigg’s…INTJ is exactly correct. I and N are very low, while T and J are very high. Does anyone else know theirs and care to share?

          • Dionne permalink
            November 17, 2009 1:29 pm

            Ok found my results. I am an ENFJ, but when I took the MB a second time I came out INFJ. So I guess it just depends how I’m feeling in that moment.

            • November 17, 2009 1:40 pm

              Yeah, I think those tests depend on a mood a little bit (even though the try to overcome that hurdle).

  6. krw permalink
    November 17, 2009 6:03 pm

    This is a cool coincidence because when I was reading your last confession I thought to myself, “If I had to confess something, I would confess that I have trouble with pubic speaking.” And immediately after that I thought, “I shouldn’t confess that because if I say it out loud, it will become a fact, and I will never conquer it.”

    I have been working in a new position for a couple months now. I knew when I applied for the position that I would be dealing with people a lot more than I was used to. It was scary and exciting at the same time. I ultimately went for it because I knew it would be good for my career, even though it is really out of my comfort zone. Every Tuesday I lead two back to back meetings in the afternoon. The first Tuesday went really well and I was pleased with my performance. However, the next Tuesday, I faltered a little and felt somewhat disappointed. I let it get to my head and I really wasn’t sure I’d even live through the third Tuesday. I started noticing that the people staring at me looked bored, angry, confused, and judgmental. I lost my confidence and forgot everything I was trying to talk about. I even took a vacation day on Wednesday, haha!!! For me, my audience makes a huge difference. I did several talks in college about my research and even though I felt nervous, I did it and felt good about it. When I talk at these meetings at work, everyone in my audience is at least 20 years older than me. I just knew they were thinking, “Who is this kid and what does she know?”

    I ended up talking to a trusted supervisor at work last week (someone whose public speaking skills are the best I’ve ever seen from a normal, everyday person). He confessed to me that giving presentations used to make him ill and bring him to tears. I guess you never know what goes on inside others’ minds–we are all more similar than we think. I think it’s psychological and we have to train ourselves into believing that it’s no big deal. Because it’s really not! This Tuesday (today) went fine, by the way. 🙂

    I think those who commented before me are right in saying, “Fake it until you make it.” I believe that it does get easier over time. The hardest part is not giving up.

    • November 18, 2009 12:04 am

      I appreciate you continuing to share your confessions as I share mine!

      I definitely understand what you’re saying about the audience impacting your confidence. When I’m talking at a meeting, if people aren’t nodding or looking at me, I start to falter. Even just having a few people nod along really helps, so I try to do that when I’m listening to other people at meetings (I’m always surprised at the number of blank looks around the room even when they understand what the speaker is saying).

      What kind of good advice did your trusted supervisor give you? Anything beyond “fake it until you make it?”

  7. Colleen permalink
    November 18, 2009 1:23 pm

    Jamey, I’m impressed that you are sharing your “confessions” on your blog! As far as public speaking goes, I can’t stand it. I had to give so many presentations in high school and college, and I would make myself nervous weeks beforehand. I would absolutely dread the day that the presentation finally came – I would feel sick to my stomach and my hands would shake – and to make matters worse, I would always wait until the very last minute to volunteer to give my presentation. I’ve had several experiences where people in the audience would even say, “Speak up!” – and having that happen at the very beginning of a presentation that I was already nervous about made it ten times worse! It just was not my thing.

    But, I think my anxiety has gone down since I’ve been out of college and am working now. I’ve had to give presentations for my job, and trust me, the first time I had to do it, I was still completely nervous. (I tried to get out of it, which didn’t work!) But, like others have commented, I’ve also tried to fake it and just pretend that I am completely confident and know what I’m talking about. One thing that I’ve found helpful is to practice projecting my voice. (I’ve had to work really hard on this.) I’ve learned that when I do have a presentation that requires public speaking, that I really need to speak VERY loudly. Since I am fairly soft-spoken, that’s really hard to do – I literally feel like I am yelling sometimes, which makes me feel weird – but I’ve realized that no one else knows the difference, and in the end, it makes for a much better (and audible!) presentation.

    I think a big difference between then and now is that I am so familiar and comfortable with my job and the work that I do now, that it’s almost second-nature to me – and it’s something that I truly care about, so it’s easy to talk about it and share it with others. Something that I’m really proud of (and still quite surprised at!) is that I was asked to give a presentation at our national mission meeting this past April. There were about 200 people at this meeting and I was asked to speak on how to connect blogging/internet with missionary work and young adults. I was nervous beforehand, because it was a huge room full of people that I had never met before and it was an important meeting. But, as soon as I got up to present, I suddenly felt so completely at-ease with the people and the situation that my nerves went away! I think it was due to the fact that I was in an environment where everyone was so passionate about the same thing, including myself, so I felt totally encouraged. It gave me a lot of confidence for future presentations related to missionary work (which really is the only subject matter that I’m ever going to speak about for my job). Not that I love public speaking now or would volunteer to do it – but when I have to, I know that I’ll believe in myself a little more and know that I am capable of doing it.

    • November 18, 2009 5:13 pm

      Hey, thanks for your response! That’s awesome that you’ve been able to get over your fear. I think you have a great point that if you’re really knowledgeable and excited about the topic, that really helps. That way you’re not nervous that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

      I don’t have a quiet voice, but I have heard other people yell out “speak up” or “can’t hear you” for other speakers, and it’s definitely not helpful at all. I guess they have to say something, but those words come across as aggressive and demeaning.

      • Colleen permalink
        November 19, 2009 11:59 am

        I haven’t totally gotten over my fear, but I’m better at hiding it now and giving the impression that I don’t mind public speaking so much. (While on the inside, I’m still like AHH.) But yes, I think it’s totally true that it helps to have a subject matter that you are familiar with and passionate about. I personally like that it helps my presentations come across more like conversations WITH people, rather than me standing at the front talking AT people.

        And, I agree – it’s rather embarrassing when people yell out comments like “speak up”! I’ve had people in the audience be pretty rude about it, while others have been more understanding and encouraging. Either way, I try not to take it personally because I know it’s true – so that’s why I work really hard on that particular aspect of my public speaking. On a related note – since I’ve seen the same thing happen to others (as well as them getting nervous, maybe even more so than I do), I’ve learned to be supportive and encouraging and show interest while I am attending their presentations. I put myself in their shoes and know that they are probably feeling the same way that I would be feeling. I know that I definitely feel more at-ease when people smile, nod, and make eye contact with me, so I try and do the same for others. I think you mentioned something similar to this in a previous comment. At any rate, I really believe that it does help the presenter to feel more confident and know that the audience is actually listening and valuing what they are saying.

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