Social Anxiety And Public Speaking Do Not Mix Well

I do not feel like I’m a particularly strong public speaker. It feels weird to admit that, given how readily I take the Game Master’s chair in gaming groups and how willing I am to expound at length on just about any topic I know well, but it’s true. I dislike being the center of attention and am just better at getting over it in smaller group settings. Plus, if you’re making up a fun pretend world for your friends, you are, by definition, the foremost expert in it, so it’s not like you have to worry about being wrong. I recognize that this sort of improvisational skill is an entirely separate thing from public speaking, as is being a good conversationalist, but I frequently feel like I should be good at all three since I’m better than average at two of them. Also, to be entirely fair to myself, I’ve only done a few bits of public speaking after college (and most of my college experiences barely count since it was just to classes of usually fewer than thirty people) and only one of those was a mild disaster.

Also, to be entirely fair to myself, the mild disaster one was just because I openly spoke about a practice that was common in my workplace that someone up the food chain took issue with, not because it didn’t happen but because I shouldn’t have said anything about it. I was also incredibly shaken at the time since I had seen someone in the audience who I’d been avoiding for personal reasons and lost my focus temporarily, so the next question I answered came out awkwardly, which then sent me spiraling until the Q&A session thankfully ended before I could implode on stage. It was a bad time for a lot of reasons, one of which was definitely the upset manager-type person taking my words in the least charitable way possible. Most telling, of course, is that I don’t remember the topic, what I said, or what I meant when I misspoke. All I remember is the shame and embarrassment I felt in the moment and while talking about it with my manager afterwards.

Since then, I’ve had more success in public speaking, though I’ve not done a lot of it. I’ve handled a few group event things at work (which involved a staggered volume of people rather than a lot at once), job interviews, and a speech at a wedding. Most of which happened before the pandemic, back when my social skills were more honed. Sure, my speaking abilities are better now than they were back then, thanks to the prodigious amount of GMing I did over the past three years, but I am even less used to facing people as I talk to them than I was before.

All of which is only relevant right now (gonna just emphasize that I wrote this more than two weeks ago because I write these a week ahead of time and I was off for a week AND because I inserted a few posts into my posting order before this one) because I’ve been trying to practice and prepare for giving a speech at a wedding, again. Sure, I’ll actually know more people at this wedding than I knew at the last one, so it should be at least a bit easier to sort of work through the stage fright portion of things, but I also care about this a lot because it is two of my dearest friends getting married and that’s a LOT of self-inflicted pressure right there. I think I’ve got a pretty solid speech (especially considering how much I made myself cry while writing the final version of it), even if it is a bit on the longer side. It still clocks in under five minutes, even if it sometimes feels like it is barely under five minutes (its really about four minutes and fifteen seconds long, maybe four and a half minutes if I really slow myself down more). I think I have done a good job [a lot of people at the wedding informed me that I did, in fact, do a good job]. I just need to deliver it still.

Thankfully, by the time this goes up, I’ll have given it, finished celebrating the wedding, rested up, driven home, rested up again, and gone to work for a short, three-day week. Which means I’ll have time to rewrite this entire post if it turned out to be a disaster, so no one will ever know that I was incorrectly confident in my speech!

I don’t think I’m really that bad at public speaking. I’m not great at it, but I’m not horrible, either, even if my anxiety likes to prey on me using that one times things went really bad and negatively impacted my career with that employer (which, you know, is part of the reason I left since one minor mistake shouldn’t screw up your chances that much). I’ll never win any awards for my public speaking skills, but I think I’ve got enough to make a good show of things at a wedding. That’s all that really matters, anyway. I have no desire to be a public orator or leader of that kind. I just want my friends to know how much I love and appreciate them, and for all the people they care about to know as well. I can definitely do that.

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