As I remember it, toward the end of that first week, when we were all feeling pretty good about ourselves, we were told that, during Week Two, we would be expected to give three speeches, all on the same day; one to another group of five plus an instructor, one to the entire class and all the instructors, and one at a dinner attended by all the national officers of the union, including the president. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in dreading Week Two long before it arrived.
The weeks of training ran from Sunday through Friday and the speeches were to be given on Thursday. I don’t remember much about that week, to be honest, because I was in a blind panic from Sunday on. I spent the whole focused like a laser on ‘speech day’. The building where we would speak at the dinner was open one night, so a friend and I walked in and looked around. I got up on the stage and looked out over the empty tables and chairs and wondered just how, exactly, I was going to survive this.
I wrote and gave three speeches of varying lengths; I have absolutely no recollection of the first one with the small audience. The second one, for the whole class, was about what the union meant to me. I compared it to a family -albeit a dysfunctional one at times (big laugh) - and related a story of an incident in which the manager and supervisor took me in to the office for a (not so) friendly chat. I was entitled to representation, but management didn’t an end run around this requirement by sneaking me off the workroom floor. My shop steward, however, saw what was happening and rushed to the office just as the supervisor was closing the door, demanding to be let in. In a scene worthy of a sitcom, the steward was trying to push the door open while the supervisor struggled to hold it closed. Luckily for me, the steward was stronger than the boss. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s what happened. I told the class how it felt like my big brother was coming to rescue me from a bully. When I finished, I was astounded by the applause and high fives I received while I walked back to my seat. I was told later that one of the instructors actually got a little teary eyed.
There had been a rumor circulating that, just before we gave our evening speeches, we’d be handed a new topic and we’d have to ‘wing it’. In fact, as I was sitting at my table before dinner was served, going over my notes, the president walked by and asked me what I was doing. I told him and he replied, “Don’t bother; you’re not going to be doing that speech anyway.” Luckily, we had been told earlier in the day that we were, in fact, giving the speeches we had worked on so I didn’t pass out. I was still very nervous, but after my afternoon success, I was feeling a little better about things.
Once the speeches started, the person who had volunteered to go first gave her speech, and then was told to pick the next speaker. I think I wound up being twenty-first and the wait was agonizing but, when my turn came, I walked up to the dais and turned to face a crowd of, perhaps, forty people. I started off with a very serious-sounding comment which I turned into a joke and I was off to the races. I went for humor and it worked like a charm. Suddenly I found myself reveling in the laughter and applause; for the first time in my life I welcomed the limelight. It was a feeling of power and I loved it. And, bottom line, I nailed it. I don’t want to brag because there were a ton of great speeches that night, but I heard from several classmates and officers that mine was their favorite.
Is there something you’re uncomfortable with, or even afraid of? Between Weeks One and Two I seriously considered dropping out of the class because I was so afraid of public speaking. But, I stuck it out and the results couldn’t have been better. If I can overcome a fear like that, anybody can. Don’t let fear keep you from accomplishing what you’d like to accomplish.
In my case, I won’t be petting any spiders in the near future, but if I have to speak in public, I know I can do it.