I walked out of the room at the beginning of my own speech.

When I returned a minute later, my hair was dripping wet and I was carrying a hairdryer, a brush, and Paul Mitchell “super-clean sculpting gel.”

The audience waited for more. I made eye contact for a few seconds with two or three people.

The setting was a required public speaking I class I took as a 19-year-old college freshman. I’d been terrified of speaking in public and rarely raised my hand to answer a teacher’s question throughout my K-12 years.

But this class forced me to write and deliver a series of speeches, including a speech “demonstrating a product.” I decided to take a big risk, to have fun with it, to do something unexpected and memorable.

When I started blow-drying my hair and describing how the gel was adding such body and movement to it, the reaction of my classmates ranged from laughter to shock.

I got an ‘A’ on the speech and an ‘A’ in the class.

Choosing public speaking over “death”

I don’t remember how old I was when I began to experience my lifelong fear of words getting stuck on the way out of my mouth and sounding mumbled, nervous, or too soft, if the words could even escape my brain and slide out through my tongue.

It was especially frustrating when people would tell me to speak louder or slow down, or when my own friends would make fun of me or imitate me. Kids!

I didn’t do much public speaking of any kind during my 20s. I remained terrified of it, hair gel or not.

However, beginning in my early 30s, after graduating from a theological seminary with a Master of Divinity and working as a United Methodist pastor, I began talking in front of groups as an ongoing part of my professional work. And getting paid for it. Crazy!

I still recognize a nervous edge when I speak in public, and this reminds me to never take effective communication for granted!

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I’m an ICF-certified and experienced professional, coaching authentic human leaders in the age of AI, with a focus on organizations whose Director+ population is facing complex, nuanced problems. Use this link to schedule a call with me to discuss potential coaching services. You can also email me or message me on LinkedIn.