Do You “Speak Easy”?

a scene of the show Seinfeld showing Kramer in the foreground

I love the sitcom Seinfeld very much, at least the first few seasons. A lot of wisdom in my life comes straight from the TV show. 

The Contest aside (the most famous episode of Seinfeld), there are lots of things worth remembering from that show, but one that hit home was the one from Seinfeld’s comic bit:

“I saw a study that said speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. Number two was death. This means to the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Just allow me to talk, and I promise you will regret it. God save you if you happen to be a close friend AND ask to have a chat! 

I have been asked very politely to stop talking and (hyena) laughing. On one occasion at work, a colleague came from the other side of the floor, a couple of medium-size meeting rooms away, enquiring about the culprit making that sound. 

The irony of it was that I was the first person she asked. 

That lady didn’t know it was me (at least that’s what I told myself!). Having had my laughter compared to a hyena’s, it hurt because of how villainous they were to Simba and his dad in The Lion King. Growing up, they topped my “enemy animals” list.

Anyway, long story short, I have now accepted that I laugh that way and have learned not to take offense when someone accidentally points that out to me. 

As for talking, in all likelihood, I have probably convinced you about my potential of the pace with which I can pour out the mind-numbing stuff. 

Having accomplished that, I will get to the point.

The point is that there is some truth to the notion that people detest public speaking. 

I am no personal trainer, so I can only speak from my own experience, either receiving presentations or delivering them. Curiously, I find myself reasonably comfortable in either of the situations below:

  1. You are my friend, and I know nothing about the topic at hand 
  2. You are not my friend, and I know everything about the topic at hand 

In the former case, despite no knowledge or agenda of where the conversation is headed, I can talk endlessly mostly because my friends are darlings, and I know they will not judge me if I make mistakes. 

I made sure not to befriend the grammar police. I don’t like them much, mostly because I can never get my sentences right (enough for them).

I would be primarily comfortable in the latter case because I know the content pretty well, even if I don’t know the people I am doing the presentation for. 

Please don’t try going by Shawn Mendes’ advice in his song “Nothing holding me back”; picturing your audience rather unclad isn’t going to help.

And wouldn’t public speaking be a cakewalk if it was always either of the two scenarios above? 

But who am I kidding? 

These are extremes on a spectrum. Most of the presentations I have to do are to strangers and about the topics that I am not an expert on. I have no friendly faces to find solace in, and neither is my knowledge of the topic 100%. So double whammy! 

So to conquer my fear of making a complete fool of myself in a conference room full of people that have authority to have me fired, I find myself turning to age-old Buddhist advice of finding the middle path, a way between the comfortable extremes – the one where I imagine a few friendly faces in the sea of strangers and convince myself that despite my less than 100% command of the content, no one is posing a question that I am going to be (fully) stumped by. 

At the very minimum, the synapses are going to respond to my brain’s request of at least being able to manage ‘I don’t have the answer for you right now, but I will be sure to get back to you on this”. 

It’s counterintuitive, but what also seems to help is me saying “Devil may care” right before I start my rant, a.k.a presentation. That appears to talk me off the ledge.

I am still somewhere within the extremes, much closer to the hopeless novice than the silver-tongued charmer, but I know that I would rather be alive and talking than be dead and be talked about. 

No offense to Seinfeld. 

Hee. Hee. Hee.


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