Unaccustomed as I am: my fear of public speaking
It took a week to shepherd sentiments into words. Consulting with friends who had been through the experience only heightened my apprehension. “I’m not going to lie to you,” one said. “It’s awful. Petrifying. You won’t be able to enjoy yourself until it’s over.” Another friend nodded gravely, adding: “Once you do this, you’ll be able to speak in any situation.”
Late-night calls to James about my progress elicited nervous groans. “It’s not too late for me to go with the no-best-man option,” he said, demanding the speech steer clear of his past and personality.
“Look,” I retorted, “I can either say all this at the wedding or at your funeral – and we both know you’re far more likely to live longer, so it has to be now.”
With four days to go, I began typing up some notes and the speech materialised unexpectedly. Still, it seemed short. The word count added up to 666 – hardly auspicious – but maybe the stage fright would pad things out.
After absorbing YouTube tutorials on presentation skills, I began rehearsing to an empty room, imagining every pause filled with clicking cameras, awkward silences or distracted yawns. Saying the speech aloud revealed what worked and what needed tweaking, but seeing footage of myself in practice mode proved too excruciating to watch beyond the first minute.
A friend implored me to recite the speech for him, but I couldn’t do that either. The self-conscious barrier wasn’t budging.
By the morning of the wedding, I’d contracted a cold, and a last-minute trial run did not bode well. There was a false start, a 10-second gap in the middle, and I forgot the most important paragraph.
I kept telling myself that I played a relatively minute part in the bride and groom’s special day. “There’s no such thing as a stressful situation,” I reminded myself. “Anxiety is an optional reaction.”
But my inner critic wasn’t buying it, relishing all the best-man horror stories people felt compelled to share with me. Even at the altar, waiting for the bride, the priest said he recently attended a wedding where the best man was so sick with nerves that they had to get the speech over with before the meal.
James’s brother chipped in to say he’d been to one where the speech was skipped altogether because the best man wasn’t up to it.
As we filed into the dining hall, the sight of the microphone stand in the corner tightened my stomach. Despite repeated assurances from James to the contrary, I would have to act as MC, introducing the cutting of the cake and three other speeches. The dread built up steadily through dinner, leaving me mute.