Unaccustomed as I am: my fear of public speaking
I was delighted my friend was getting married, horrified that I had to make a speech, writes CIAN TRAYNOR
My hands are trembling, I’m dripping with sweat and stumbling awkwardly through a cringe-inducing speech. The words jumble up, the jokes misfire, and it’s only when someone shouts, “Can’t hear you!” that the stage fright truly takes over, leaving no toe uncurled.
That’s the scenario I envisioned when a friend asked me to be the best man at his wedding, casually giving just two weeks’ notice. After seven years together, James and his partner Tressan had decided to get married with as little fuss as possible. Any impulse to say, “Congratulations” or even “Who gets married in December?” was sideswiped by an alarming prospect: I’d have two weeks to overcome my fear of public speaking. Two weeks to steel my nerves, improve my posture and project an air of charisma. “Two weeks to become a completely different person then, yeah?” said James, laughing wickedly.
I always wanted to be that gregarious personality who can light up a room and charm their way in or out of any situation. Things didn’t turn out that way. Throughout school, I was the kid who blushed at teachers’ questions and froze up around the opposite sex. Even today, I go quiet in groups, I automatically veer away from the loudest voice in the room, and I struggle to maintain small talk with people I don’t know.
In recent years, though, I’ve realised that insecurities, regrets and criticism hold only as much significance as we allow them. Learning to let go has been liberating, but confronting my biggest fear? That would be a test.
On the scale of challenges one faces in life, giving a speech may seem trivial. Yet a fear of public speaking is so common that, as the old joke goes, most people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy. If done well, however, a speech can be both memorable and moving – and James is possibly the only person I would even attempt one for.
We first met as teenagers, taking all the same classes in college and, having travelled and worked together through the years, it’s fair to say James got the best possible head-start as a psychologist just by counselling me for so long. In a way, a speech on his wedding day would be drawing a line under that time in both our lives, but it also offered the chance to craft a gesture of appreciation. I just needed to learn how to do it.