Public Speaking:  Desire vs. Fear

One element of the Global Citizen Diploma (which all our NIST Year 10 and Year 11 students are working towards) is “Public Communication” — defined as “the ability to communicate effectively, ethically, and publicly on issues of personal interest or passion.”

I don’t like speaking or performing in front of an audience.  I learned this when I was in 7th grade, back in Maine in the States.  I naively answered a call for auditions for some one-act plays — and landed a main role.  The panic didn’t appear until opening night.  I survived, but promised myself I would never have to endure that level of anxiety — voluntarily — again.

Skip to high school graduation.  I was expected to make a speech.  I could only think about how this would ruin my whole graduation day experience.  So I went to the head of school and made some excuse about letting other people have the opportunity to be in the limelight.  It worked.  I got to sit in the audience and listen to my friends up on stage — which I enjoyed.

What was my problem?  Was it self-consciousness?  Was it feeling I didn’t have anything I felt was important enough to say? Or just plain fear?

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate how much my stage fright is related to my commitment to the content of my message and how much time and attention I have given to preparing the form of my presentation.

For example, when I was 32, my father died after a long illness.  As it was an expected death, my siblings and I had plenty of time to ponder his influence and importance in our lives.  When it came to planning the funeral, I was the last person they thought who would want to speak publicly, especially at an emotional event.  But I did want to.  Because I knew exactly what I wanted to say about my father.  I worked hard on my speech, spent time memorising it (so I wouldn’t be afraid of losing my words in the moment), and when the time came, I actually enjoyed sharing my memories of him in front of a crowd.  Which was such a revelation to me.  I wasn’t “cured” of my phobia, just more meta-cognitively aware of all the elements at play when speaking in public.

You might think, how could a teacher be afraid of public speaking?  They do it every day!  But audience matters.  Peers are more intimidating, especially professional peers who arrive with their own knowledge of the content.

In the teaching and school librarianship world, there are endless opportunities to present to peers, at conferences of various sizes and styles  And I have volunteered many times over the years.  But it’s never an easy decision.  If either my content or my chosen format isn’t solid on the day, I’ll feel that old fear.  Preparation is key.

I keep a list of my public presentations on my website:  see  The first one listed was in 2006 at an EARCOS Teachers conference in Manila.  The most recent one was last November here at NIST.

KDay presenting at EARCOS Mar 2018 A.jpg_large.png

A year ago I had to prepare two major presentations for an annual EARCOS conference here in Bangkok, with hundreds of educators from all over Asia in attendance.  The workshop content was up to me and the audience would include anyone interested, so it could have been 5 people or 50 or more.  I began dreading it months in advance.  Doing the preparation work was the only solution.  I put in hours thinking about my approach, researching the best examples, and deciding on the order and format of my slides.  Maybe too many hours.  For sure, I need to work on not letting upcoming speaking events take over my life.  I need to recognise what is “good enough” — as I think my fear of failure makes me overcompensate by providing more content than is necessary.

How were my presentations received?  For one of the workshops — on Critical Concepts & Teaching Information Literacy — I asked people to give quick video feedback as they exited the room.  This link will let you watch a few of the responses from the 30+ people attending.  All were complimentary.  In retrospect, perhaps I need to find a way to get quick critical feedback from participants, e.g., “How could I improve this presentation?”

There’s another EARCOS librarian event coming up at the end of March — at the Taipei American School in Taiwan — with about 100 librarians in attendance.  I will be giving the opening remarks to the gathering — which will be a different kind of speech for me — as well as a presentation on information literacy skills.  Am I looking forward to it?  Let’s just say, I’m already preparing….