When I was 13 I took part in a speech competition at school. Even then I had a tendency toward the "meta" and so chose as my topic "Speeches and the people who make them". The advantage of this topic was also that all I needed to do by way of research was watch my competitors give their speeches. Then it was simply a matter of using my observations to build a scathing critique based on the inadequacies of my friends and rivals. I was a vile child.
I gave my speech in front of my class and despite the fact that I was actually taking the piss out of them, it was received quite well. So well, in fact, that the teacher put me down as a finalist, meaning I would have to deliver the speech again at the end of the week in front of the entire school.
I was not best pleased at this turn of events. Getting up in front of your classmates was one thing, being up on a stage in front of hundreds of kids was quite another.
I was so terrified that when the day came and every class in the school filed its way toward the school hall, I did not go to my assigned place among the competitors, opting for the safety of "the herd". When my teacher asked me why I was still with my class I feigned ignorance and to my great relief she let me away with it. I never went on stage. I never delivered my speech. I took the cowardly route.
So when I was asked recently if I'd like to take part in a charity debate, my initial response was one of repulsion, but while it's kind of okay for 13-year-olds to be cowardly, this is not so acceptable for thirtysomethings and I have made a deal with myself that when opportunities present themselves I do not have the option of saying no. Even if something is terrifying, and even if I seriously doubt my own abilities, I must at least try. So even though I've never taken part in a debate before, and even though the idea filled me with great trepidation, I said "yes".
So that hard part being got out of the way, the only thing left to do was...everything.
And things got significantly worse when I found out who my fellow debaters would be. I was assigned to Joe Bennett's team. Joe "New Zealand Columnist of the Year-take on Christchurch City Council and win-I'm not afraid to be photographed in my underpants" Bennett. That Joe Bennett. The other person on my team was Kathryn "partner in a law firm - yes Liane is my sister" Dalziel. Gulp.
If I was hoping things would get less intimidating with regards to the opposing team, these hopes were well and truly dashed by the names Gary McCormick, Mike Underhill (just some dude who went to Harvard) and just in case things weren't intimidating enough, David Caygill.
Well, it doesn't take a guy who went to Harvard to tell you who the weakest link in this lineup is. C'est moi. To say I was a bit under-qualified for this gig would be a massive understatement.
Hence I spent most of Wednesday feeling nauseated, and tired from lack of sleep. As the day wore on the anxiety peaked and troughed. At some points I felt strangely calm, like a death row prisoner who has accepted their fate. At other times I paced and sweated and reflected that there are people who do this all the time. How do they stay sane? Or is that optional?
Because this, what I'm doing now? It's easy. If I do the written version of stuttering or stumbling over my words by tapping out a badly constructed sentence or a typo I can go back and fix it. What's more, I'm sitting on my couch with a laptop and nobody can see that my hair has gone all strange and flicky. For all you know I could be picking my nose right now. I'm not (it's hard to type and forage for nose goblins). But being cogent and funny in front of people when they can see you is a whole other kettle of slightly vomity fish.
In the end I managed to reach an equilibrium by lowering my expectations. This was my first debate. I decided that if I didn't throw up and I wasn't booed off the stage, this would count as a good result. If I didn't throw up, wasn't booed off the stage AND managed to get a few laughs, this would count as a double-plus-good result.
I'm happy to say I achieved double-plus-good. I couldn't hope to compete with the old hands, though, all of whom seemed to radiate absolute confidence in themselves. Self-doubt was not much in evidence there. Bombast? Yes. A lack of confidence? Most certainly not.
Highlights of the evening included Gary McCormick maligning my cardigan, and Jim Hopkins implying that I had the sexual habits of a salmon. If this makes little sense to you, I can honestly say it wouldn't have helped much to be there.
So, even though I was spectacularly stressed out beforehand, I am very pleased that I womanned-up and did it. Is there any achievement as great as doing something that terrifies you? It really did help to imagine the worst possible scenario, "an unhappy audience throwing entrees at me" and work up from there.
When was the last time you did something that you were really afraid of and what helped you get through it?
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