Giving presentations is incredibly fun – at least, once I get started. That confident part of me comes out and realizes that this is what she loves: telling stories, sharing thoughts and feelings, and communicating ideas to people. But not until the moment I begin. Up until that moment, I’m a shaking ball of anxiety that can’t be calmed down for even a moment, and nobody should bother trying to help me relax. Public speaking has always been something that I’ve struggled with, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, I speak incredibly fast – so fast that to others, it definitely sounds like I have a stutter, and my immediate family spent much of my life making fun of me for it. Secondly, run-on sentences are kind of my thing, as you can see clearly from this blog post alone (let’s not even talk about the number of times I say the word “like” when I’m speaking). Thirdly, I am equally as terrified of being on stage, with everyone’s eyes on me, as I am desirous of the attention. Lastly, and most importantly, as well as most detrimentally, I don’t think before I speak. Rather, I think while I speak.
None of these things are conducive to public speaking – especially not that last one. People seem to have an issue with that last one even in casual, colloquial situations and conversations, which is something I’ve never quite understood. Personally, I absolutely love to see that look in peoples’ eyes when their brain is working through something. That crinkle in between their eyebrows when they’re struggling to figure something out, and then the way their entire face relaxes when they come to an answer that satisfies them. My teacher just today spent much of the class just staring off into a random direction, trying to put his thoughts into words, and stammering often, but I had no problem with this.
Maybe it just reminded me of myself, but I also enjoyed being able to see that he was genuinely thinking, not just reciting some memorized bullshit about a topic based on something he has read. In a way, I trusted him more because I was able to see this, rather than feeling frustrated that he wasn’t – oh, I don’t know – citing his sources, most of which I wasn’t familiar with anyways. In my experience as a teacher, seeing this thought process visible in students’ faces is one of my favorite things, as well.
Sure, a majority of the things I say don’t need to be said, but that’s just in the eyes of others. I know that I need to vocalize my thoughts, or write them down, in order for them to progress. I know that I say dozens of mindless things, but in saying them, I work through them and come to an idea that is worth hearing. I have to get all of the junk out of my head in order to see what’s really there that has value, like I’m digging though the dirt looking for a diamond.
I don’t know if I should have to be apologetic about this, but of course I am, and of course I try (and often fail) to limit the things I say, because maybe they aren’t important to anyone other than myself, and maybe I’m wasting their time. Time is precious. I understand that. Listening to me is often exhausting for people, and I understand that too. But I wish it wasn’t so. I’m blessed to have a few people that either don’t mind, because they understand that I’m just digging for that diamond, and they value the diamonds I find. In fact, they look forward to me sharing the diamond with them, and so they’re patient with my extremely vocal thought process. I’m equally blessed to have people that rather bluntly let me know when I’m becoming too much for them at a certain time. I truly do appreciate both kinds of people – both kinds of friends.
The main issue I have with talking so much is that it hinders my listening skills. I love listening to a good story as much as I love telling one, if not more, but my listening skills kind of suck, whereas my interrupting skills are top notch. If there’s anything I hate about the pace at which my mind functions, and the pace at which my voice gives substance to my thoughts, it’s the fact that I’m an unintentional interrupter. That is definitely one of my least favorite things about myself. I don’t mind being that person that rambles seemingly mindlessly, as long as I listen just as much, and listen well; the very best stories often go unheard solely because we walk past them, and don’t take a moment to pay attention. A lot of us have a tendency to want to be heard, without wanting to hear.
When we do take a moment to listen, we learn things that can’t be read in any book. We learn what the wind sounds like. We learn how erupting laughter sounds from across the room, and how secretive whispers sound from just a few inches away. We learn stories of decisions and strength that can only be found in the minds of real people, whether they are acquaintances, or just passerby. Listening to passerby can actually be the most rewarding thing. They teach us about worlds that we have never belonged to; they grant us entry – sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent – into their worlds. They look at our own lives in ways that we ourselves might not have been able to, because the place they come from gives them a unique insight.
Many people believe that an individual must know you down to your core before they are allowed to make a judgment about your character (if they are allowed to make a judgment at all), but I believe that there is something valuable in learning how we appear to people that we don’t know. There is something important in what kind of first impression we make, and I’m saying this despite my tendency to give second chances and sometimes even a million chances (although not a million and one). It’s easy to say that who you are on the inside is more important than your outward appearance or behavior, but the way we appear and behave outwardly reflects our internal character, and often times a stranger is more capable of seeing who we truly are than a close friend.
I used to think that my public speaking skills were unimportant, and that my teachers and peers should pay more attention to my words than the way I spoke, but even in this line of thought, I was mistaken. When I stopped stuttering, my public speaking skills suddenly exuded a kind of confidence that reflected the growing confidence inside of me. Because I felt more sure of what I was saying, and my speaking skills improved so drastically, people listened much more carefully. Even if my words didn’t change, adding confidence into the mix both inwardly and outwardly made a huge difference.
The inward and the outward don’t necessarily oppose one another, nor are they mutually exclusive. Rather, they can complement one another, and accomplish more together than either one can accomplish on its own. I don’t know if the inside and the outside have to match, but they should understand one another, that’s all. They should be comfortable with one another. This becomes possible when you listen to your heart, listen to the voice inside of you, trust it, and let it manifest itself in who you are. If you’re not able to do this, there is a trust issue present in between you and your heart.
This is all just food for thought for those of you who are are like me. If you are like me, you feel like a human asymptote, aware that you will never reach perfection but always striving to get a little bit closer to the best version of yourself that can possibly exist, knowing that there is no limit to this. And it will help to seek both inward and outward improvement and balance.
Both kinds of improvement, no matter how seemingly different or unrelated, are connected by a key commonality, a key individual whose sense of self can benefit from or be hurt by the state of each, and how the inward and outward state interact – whether they reconcile with or contradict one another. That key person is you. Love yourself enough to be honest in every sense of the word. On the inside. On the outside. With others. With yourself. Love yourself enough to be honest in each and every way. Be consistent. Be inconsistent, sometimes. Just be your genuine self. Strive for perfection, strive for the best version of yourself that you can possibly be, but love yourself each step of the way, because each step of the way is not only necessary, but a victory.