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Back in January, I gave a "lecture" on the Victorian novel at the Bethesda library. I wrote everything out, I had about an hour's worth of material, I had clean pants, and I forgot how terrible I am at public speaking.

Because I am terrible at public speaking.

For one thing, I don't know how to prepare. I thought I was in the clear, just writing the whole thing out. I wrote in pauses. I wrote in witty asides. I couldn't see how this couldn't be a speech-writer's speech. I read it aloud two or three times (don't believe Zach when he tries to add "hundred" to the "two or three" -- he hates being read to, and so magnifies each episode), sure, and even double-spaced my copy for easier reading. Nothing, I thought, could go terribly wrong.

"I can't believe you memorized your whole speech," one of the ladies said to me right before I was to take the podium. "I...what?" I asked. Because I hadn't. Memorized. It never occurred to me to memorize. "Was I supposed to memorize this?" I whispered to Zach.

"You oversold these desserts. Doesn't anyone bake anything anymore?"

"You've been a big help."

So, with my speech unmemorized, I took to the podium and proceeded to lose about 25 pounds in water weight as I sweated through the most uncomfortable 40 minutes I've ever spent conscious. I stammered. I raced through my planned pauses. I stumbled over my witty asides. At one point, I seriously considered faking a seizure.

I mention all of this because it's likely I'll be doing this again. A lecture. In January. Because I don't learn at all from past experience, and because I still stupidly believe in getting back on some metaphorical horse when I actually don't even like horses, truth be told, because they're big and move unexpectedly and I don't think they've ever actually given informed consent to be ridden and with my luck I'll end up on the Norma Rae of horses and all of a sudden we're no longer really talking about my speech, are we. Not even metaphorically. We've delved into my fear of large mammals.


This lecture, which I'll need to write out (only not completely out -- because that was a Lesson Learned from last time. I wrote the whole thing out, and then read directly from the sheet, and it was awful. However, at several points, I spoke ex cathedra if you will, and those spontaneous diversions from the script sounded MUCH better than the pre-written stuff. I work best with notes, it turns out, and extemporaneously*), will be on women in the nineteenth century, since the 2010 series of books to discuss is titled "Women and Other Difficult Topics." I'll also cover the list of books, and give a reason for each choice. I don't have a date set; however, it will be some time in early January.

[* So, it's my freshman year at Southern Oregon State College and I'm in a Small Group Communications class. Our final project is to find some sort of worthwhile endeavor and "present" it to the class as if we're presenting it to a city council. My group picks Preventing Teen Pregnancy. There are five or six of us in the small group. Each of us takes on a task. This one guy says, "I'll be the speaker. I did great at extemporaneous speaking. This is totally my thing. We're guaranteed an A."

Here's how he opened his extemporaneous speech: "Oh yes we've got trouble. Right here in Ashland City. And that starts with a T and it rhymes with P and that stands for Pregnancy."

Dudes, seriously. And we didn't get an A.]


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
I may have a little source material if you're interested. I think I can finally move past the post-thesis desire to forget that the Woman Question existed (never mind attempting to postulate an answer!).

The virgin/whore dichotomy is a nice hook (Coventry Patmore's Angel in the House versus the archetypal "fallen woman"). How much salaciousness can these library patrons handle? If "a fair amount," Steven Marcus' The Other Victorians is brimming with studies on social diseases of the time. Cheers!
Aug. 25th, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC)
The worst public speaker I ever saw in my life was a Nobel prize winning economist. His manifestation of nerves was that he delivered his entire speech to the two economists sitting behind him on either side. However, when he got to the Q&A, he was quite eloquent and said things that I still remember more than 20 years later. So, as a strategy, I suggest you think of your speech as an appetizer, a taste of things you might talk about if anybody should ask, then get to the Q&A as soon as possible.

Several years ago, I had my 7th graders do readings of scenes from a Scholastic magazine's play about the life of Nelson Mandela. When I let them read from their script in small groups, I videotaped them.

They then chose a biography, and I instructed them to write bare-minimum notes with keywords on a single index card. Then, by way of explaining why they needed to look up once in a while, I showed them the videotapes of themselves. The kids were mortified, but I explained that, other than the individual student, nobody in the classroom had not seen them mumble.

Their biography presentations were much better. They made plenty of eye contact and actually felt like they were talking to the audience. On the other hand, when I ran into one of my former students at the airport years later, the only thing the high school sophomore could remember about the whole year was the humiliation of watching herself read a script.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )