There is statistic out there that says public speaking is most people’s number one fear–sometimes over even death. When I first heard it, I didn’t feel particularly bonded with the human community — quite the opposite. It left me feeling alone. This meant that everyone was clearly better at hiding their fear than me. When I have the unfortunate task of opening my mouth in front of a group of people, the look on my face is the same one you’d see on an arachnophobic when they’re forced to share a room with a tarantula. But when I see my friends, the ones who supposedly share my fear, do a public speaking gig, they come out fine, excellent even. And don’t tell me that I’m probably better at it than I think. No. I’ve been told that I suck and I’ve had a good number of panic attacks in front of groups as large as two hundred and as small as six.
In case you were wondering what this level of anxiety might feel like, the following are vignettes in a day when someone who has this affliction is forced to yap in front of his peers.
1. (Morning): You wake up with a feeling of foreboding and you attempt to brush it off by actively choosing not to stress out about your presentation. It’s not like you really care deep down what people think of you.
2. (Three hours before the event): You declare to yourself that you have three hours left before the presentation. Your nerves feel ridiculously flared right now. It’s almost like you’re readying to face an actual execution squad. A substantial part of you suspects that this probably feels worse.
3. (In the bathroom. Twenty minutes before the event): You face the mirror and close your eyes. You practice the breathing techniques you learned in some YouTube meditation video. Your nerves feel so intense right now that you consider pinching yourself for distraction. You reassure yourself that there is no saber-toothed tiger loose in the building, so maybe you should consider letting down your guard.
4. (During event, 20 minutes before your presentation): You stare at Sandra, who’s two rows in front of you, as she chimes in about something that didn’t really need anyone’s input, and especially nothing this long. You suspect that she just likes hearing the sound of her own voice and then you wonder how people like her came to be. How can someone raise their hand and just…talk?
5. (During meeting, 5 minutes before the presentation): Rationality stops registering at this point. You scan the room to look for things to psych you out. You notice two incredibly attractive men in the front row and worry that they’re going to see you get beet red. You start to breathe in and out ever so slowly, then get exasperated at how little meditation seems to work when you really need it!
6. (The moment when it’s your turn, but they still haven’t announced you because the mediator is rambling): You internally react like Marge Simpson did when she wanted to get let off the airplane in that one episode. At this point you’re sure you can’t bail on the presentation without forfeiting on some dignity. You feel trapped and the adrenaline makes it seem like your heart’s going to rip out of your chest.
7. (The moment you’re walking up to the front): HOLY SHIT. It feels like gravity could stop having its effect on you any second now—sending you walking towards the ceiling. The room might as well be full of saber-toothed tigers ready to pounce with the way you’re feeling.
8. (The 1st minute of your presentation): This is the WORST part of this ordeal. You’re talking but you have the most tenuous control on the words coming out of your mouth. You feel your face getting progressively hotter and you look out into the audience. The eyes of the audience convey that they know how nervous you are. They actually look mortified for you. Luckily, you manage to somehow avoid making eye contact with the two hot guys in front of you.
9. (Three minutes into the presentation): Your face starts to cool down and your chest doesn’t feel so tight anymore. On a particularly bad day, you would have never reached the three minute mark. You did today. Now you’re just trying to finish as fast as possible so you can go back to your seat and everyone can look at someone else. You’re calmer now, but your voice still shakes at the end of each sentence.
10. (One minute after sitting back down): You don’t feel proud of yourself–not really. You can’t stop seeing the audience’s eyes of pity in your head. It feels like everyone saw you as you really are. Will this ever get less terror inducing? You make a mental note to look into Toast Masters…next week.