"Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future." -- Corrie Ten Boom
I often joke that I've never been paid to do anything other than talk, and that's mostly true. On the rare occasions when I've had a desk job I've been miserable. But there is a difference between telling a customer about the daily special in a busy restaurant, sitting behind a microphone, teaching a class at a university, or leading a tour through a museum gallery, or standing on a stage. How I got from tearful meltdown to being a professional speaker is an interesting story.
During my first semester in college I took an acting class. In the very first 10 minutes the professor pointed at me and said "stand up and sing." I looked to my left and right hoping he was talking to someone else, but no, he wanted me to go to the center of the stage and sing. I got up oh-so-reluctantly and stood before my classmates. I was utterly petrified. You see, I can't sing--at all. I had been teased about my singing as a child and that shut me up for good. I lip sync Happy Birthday. And to be fair, even my loving husband says I whistle flat.
So there I was, all eyes on me, sweating and shaking and cursing my decision to take the class. I suggested, meekly, that the professor show mercy and allow me to dance or tell a joke. "SING," he roared. (Come to find out, he'd been a marine drill Sargent.) I could feel my classmates squirming; they were suffering right along with me. The minutes ticked by and I knew I had two choices: run or sing. So I sang--a pathetically soft, flat verse of the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslas. When I finally whispered the last lines and slunk back to my front row seat, the audience sighed and applauded. I don't remember anything that happened after that except that I took three Valium. (Hey, it was the 70s.) I do know that the next day I dropped the class.
I also know that I was determined never to feel that kind of fear and humiliation ever again.
I joined the college radio station and a eventually took another acting class. I kept talking, although not singing.Eventually, and rather ironically, I had a 15 year career in on-air broadcasting doing everything from rapid-fire traffic reports in a small plane (now, that's scary), to working with a partner in a morning team, to serving as news director for WRCH FM in Hartford, Connecticut. Later, I went back to college and got a Master's degree in English--you'd be surprised by how much speaking you do in grad school--and then I began teaching in high school and college. More recently I joined Toastmasters to further polish my speaking and leadership skills. I've made a few changes to accommodate my growing interest in communication too. I now teach more communications and public speaking classes than I do literature classes at the Community College of Vermont. I also work as a guide at Shelburne Museum and do the occasional commentary on Vermont Public Radio. I have plenty of opportunities to practice speaking. But my favorite thing to do is teach, coach, and mentor.
Teaching communication and coaching people to speak publicly has been profoundly fulfilling for me. I've met so many people who live in fear of public speaking or who arrange their lives so they don't have to do it. This fear silences a lot of voices that should be heard; it prevents questions from being asked, ideas from being shared, and people from moving forward in their careers. I've also found that while at a college we can train someone to do a job, if the student can't walk into a job interview with confidence, shake hands while smiling and making eye contact, and listen carefully in this very noisy world, they are in not going to have a good interview or get the job they may well deserve.
So I teach self confidence. I help people learn how to use (and read) body language, how to find nuance in their voice, how to pick the right words and images for a presentation, how to relax before they make a speech, how to dress for success, and how to listen to understand.
By helping others I have helped myself. I am a happy and fortunate woman--doing what I've always done--talking. And singing. I'm not longer afraid. I'm not too good, but I don't let that silence my voice.