Life Lessons Learned Along the Way: The Art of Public Speaking
We continue our series of personal, impactful stories that have shaped how we practice law.
The Art of Public Speaking - photo of microphone in front of blurred audience seating
Have you ever had that dream? The one where you go to give a speech in front of a large audience only to realize that you’ve forgotten the entire speech? Well, that happened to me in real life.
In high school, I joined my church choir as a way to become more involved in my church and community. I was a relatively outgoing teenager, but I had a strong fear of performing in front of a large audience. When I sang with the group, I could feel the protection of their voices surrounding me. Yet, my fear of making a mistake kept me from volunteering to sing or speak by myself in front of the church as a whole.
Inevitably, my fear of speaking in front of a large crowd came to a head when my choir director asked me to present a scripture reading in front of over 2,000 people at our large Christmas Eve service. I was torn when he asked me. I really, really, really did not want to give this reading in front of 2,000 people. But, I also did not want to let my choir director down by saying no.
I reluctantly agreed to present the reading and was given my part to learn. Luckily, my choir director informed me that I would not have to take the extra step of actually memorizing my part because the reading would be laid out in front of me when I reached the podium.
Nevertheless, over the next several days, I studied my part like there was no tomorrow. I was afraid of flubbing a “line,” so I rehearsed each word of my part. But, I still felt the dread of that night approaching. The anxiety of “what could go wrong” hung over me as I walked into the church for our performance.
At long last, it was the Christmas Eve service. The minutes ticked by slowly as my part became closer and closer. Finally, it was my turn. I walked up slowly to the podium. I gazed over my “audience” of more than 2,000 people. I took a final step and adjusted the microphone. I looked down. My reading wasn’t there.
I stood there frozen as the dread of the moment washed over me. What should I do? Leave the podium and look for the reading? Start crying? Wing it?
I chose to wing it. I started speaking the reading aloud as I remembered from my rehearsal. My memory wasn’t perfect, but it was enough to deliver the message. Slowly, the fear and dread began to subside. As I was presenting the reading, it hit me. This wasn’t about me. The reason I was up there was not to present myself to the audience. Instead, my job was to convey the message from the reading.
My “performance” that night may not have been perfect, but it got the message across. That night still resonates with me in my legal career. My fear of public speaking has subsided over time, but there are still moments where the unexpected occurs. Things can go wrong. Sometimes, we have to be flexible and improvise. In those times, I remember that it’s not “about me.” Instead, my role is to advocate, counsel, and assist my clients to achieve the best results possible.
Our 2nd article, The Supreme Court Brings Clarity to Non-Judicial Foreclosure Practice was written by Kathleen Klaus.