There’s no way I’m ever going to be ready for this. I mean, how could I be? This isn’t something I do every day. I don’t have any idea how to begin.
I know the subject matter. At least, I think I do. I can write about it, and with enough searching, I can easily get enough pictures together. But neither of those help me find the words.
But writing requires words! How can I write without finding the words? I don’t know. But writing words and speech words are two different things. I can put “furthermore” and “thus” in a paper, but who ever says those things out loud?
Okay, I know I don’t have to read the thing word for word. It may even be better that way. But the alternative requires rambling in front of people without it sounding like rambling. Some people have this talent, but I’m not one of them. It doesn’t matter how much I know what I’m talking about. The words just don’t flow that way.
Mom doesn’t get it, which is why I didn’t even bother telling her this time. She can talk and talk for days (sometimes I’m pretty sure she does). She rarely ever talks in front of people, but she swears it’s the easiest thing in the world.
“Why are you making such a big deal out of this?” she asks me.
“I’m not making it a big deal,” I respond. “It is a big deal.”
She’s never convinced. “Just talk to them the way you talk to me.”
“So I should start off with ‘Mooom, can I have…?”
“If it helps you get started.”
Getting started. She says this like it’s the hardest part. When writing a paper, sure. The first few words are the most difficult. After them, the rest just seem to flow.
But speaking doesn’t work that way. The first few words come out awkwardly. Then I try to salvage myself with a few awkward more. Then there’s a pause, followed by a silence, and then someone shifts in their seat. I blurt the next couple out, then rush through several too fast for anyone to pick up on. A person asks me to repeat myself. I can’t. I’ve already forgotten what I said myself.
The entire process is torture.
Besides, we don’t even need these skills anymore. There’s nothing I have to say that I can’t fit on a PowerPoint slide. Even better, I can use Prezi. People like animations. They’re so much more interesting to watch than my face as I drone on about the source of my misery.
Besides, why bother putting words on a slide if I’m just going to read them? That defeats the purpose. My audience is capable of reading on their own. And if there’s no one who can’t, I can have the computer dictate the words for them. There’s no reason for me to do that. Let me focus my attention on creating awesome slides, not what filler I will utter to accompany them.
I once had a teacher recommend only using pictures: “If you pick interesting ones, the audience will get curious and ask questions on their own. You can then spend your presentation answering questions rather than reading from a script.”
I tried it. Only a few people asked questions, and I didn’t know the answers. I ended up reading twhat I had scribbled down on note cards. They were the same bullet points I would have put on the slides. I don’t know if she felt my presentation was better for it, but I didn’t like having everyone’s eyes focused on me. Putting words on-screen give them something else to focus on as I blaze through the slides.
I can’t wait to go down a career field where giving presentations will be a thing of the past. My dad gets by just fine without dealing with the task. He develops software. There’s someone on the team who has to show off what the code can do, but my dad is not that guy. He gets to stare at his computer and make programs do what he wants them to. Then he goes home to his family or hangs with friends and doesn’t have to deal with talking to all that many strangers. I want that life.
But right now, I don’t just have to give presentations to strangers, I have to give them to friends and classmates. That, frankly, is so much worse.
“Derrick,” the teacher calls my name. “It’s your turn.”
I gulp, pick up my laptop, gather the papers of my speech, and make my way to the front of the class. Let’s get this over with.
“Public Speaking” by Bertel King, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.