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I Told Myself I Can’t Speak in Public

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

i-told-myself-i-cant-speak-in-public

The Curse of the Shy Kid

I have always been a very shy reserved kid. My self-confidence took many blows in my childhood that just served to reinforce my desire to blend into the background. My sister, 2 years my junior, was born with the gift of gab. She can talk in front of anyone, and what’s more, she is very funny. At one point, she tried her hand at stand-up comedy, going all the way to San Francisco to some open mic clubs and did very well.

I, on the other hand, would rather stay anonymous. Art really suits me. It is an activity you do in solitary. But there isn’t much money in selling art unless you have a famous name or become popular. Unfortunately, the top one percent in the art world counts on you never getting there and so here I am.

"Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and, suddenly you are doing the impossible."

— St. Francis of Assisi

i-told-myself-i-cant-speak-in-public

Can’t Do, Teach

As the saying goes, if you can’t paint, teach. But I’m shy Denise. I can’t get in front of a room and spout my name let alone a class on art technique. So, I thought that door was permanently closed to me. I was resolved to wait on tables or sit receptionist behind some official desk. I told myself I couldn’t speak in public so there were few other choices.

My sweet rolls made from my bread recipe

My sweet rolls made from my bread recipe

College Speech Class

In junior college, I was appalled to find it was required to pass a speech class to graduate with a 2-year degree. I thought maybe I could manage it if they didn’t expect too much and if there was plenty of smelling salts available. After all, a class is meant to teach you something you don’t know, right? So, I signed up for the speech class. At the first meeting, the instructor said the first assignment was to be prepared to give a 10-minute speech at the next class meeting in 2 days. I walked straight back to the administration office to drop that class. That is not what I call instruction.

The next semester, I decided I needed to try again, and chose a speech class with a different instructor. He did the same thing, so I dropped his class as well. I began to despair of ever graduating at this point. Time was running out. So I decided to take a Summer night class offered on speech. This time I found a sympathetic instructor who gave some very helpful instruction. He offered students the option of writing two essays for each speech he/she avoided. By the middle of the semester, I had written a dozen essays. He finally told me I had to give 2 actual speeches to pass the class but by this time I had absorbed some very helpful hints on how to manage so it wasn’t so very scary. One point was to give a speech on something I knew about personally and the second was to bring visual aids. I thought of doing my speech on art but then decided the first one should be on something everyone can relate to: bread. I gave a speech on how to bake homemade bread and brought samples for the whole class to eat. This speech went over very well because people were focused more on eating than on staring at me. It was still a harrowing experience but I managed to pass and so I graduated.

I didn’t see how I could ever teach. Giving one single speech was too difficult, let alone speaking every day to a room full of students.

Me in my costume

Me in my costume

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

— Pablo Ruiz Y Picasso

Dramatic Production

Through a series of events, I began designing and sewing costumes for a drama group associated with my church. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the creative aspect. One fateful day, with the production only a week away, one of the main characters in the production had to leave town to deal with a family emergency. I remember sitting behind my sewing machine at the back of the room listening to their crisis. The director was wracking his brain for who could replace this girl because she had a speaking part. Some of the others said they could take her line, but it wouldn’t work because they had to be elsewhere on the stage or changing costumes. Then the director looked at me. “What about HER?” I immediately broke out in a cold sweat. My face when hot then all the blood drained from my face as I shook my head and said NO, not possible. The other actors were by this time dragging me by the arms to the front of the stage.

“I can’t do it. I can’t speak in public,” I assured the director. “You don’t understand. I’m shy Denise. I don’t speak.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” the director told me. “But you aren’t going to be shy Denise. You are going to be someone else.”

“What?”

“Yes, actors aren’t being themselves. They are being someone else. Someone who can talk in public,” the director explained. “You get to be someone else.”

This is something that hadn’t occurred to me. How about all those shy actors you have ever read about who can get up in front of a whole auditorium of people and perform? They are being someone else. Could I be someone else? Could I be someone who could actually talk in front of people? It was worth finding out. So I agreed. I had one line. “Look at him!” The day came and I felt like throwing up but I managed to belt out my line because I was someone else. It was a momentous day.

Someone Else Teaching

Not long after that, a dear friend of mine wanted me to come to her junior high class and teach the kids an art lesson. I tried to give her the “I don’t speak in public” excuse but she had seen me in the dramatic production and pointed out that I was in public for that. “But I was someone else for that.” She said, “can’t you be someone else to teach art in my class?” Again, that is something I never thought about. Could I be someone else for art classes? I always thought I would make a good art teacher if only I could speak in public. So I agreed.

I wrote out a script for myself and memorized it. The day came and I stood in front of these children and began my memorized monolog. Halfway through it, a boy raised his hand. Oh no. I hadn’t thought of that. What to do in the middle of a speech if I were interrupted? So I ignored him and went on with my speech. But the boy was persistent and wouldn’t put his hand down. I finally had to stop and ask him what he wanted. I can’t remember now what it was, but it wasn’t hard to answer his question and continue my monolog. I had done it. I spoke in public. I taught art as someone else, and it worked. Everyone loved it. That was the beginning of teaching art for me.

Me at one of my classes

Me at one of my classes

“How you do your work is a portrait of yourself.”

— Author Unknown

Final Thoughts

Do you have something you have told yourself you just can’t do? Is it possible you are lying to yourself or cutting yourself short? There always seems to be a way if you look for it. I’d love to read your thoughts and ideas below.

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 12, 2021:

Heidi,

Yes, he was wanting it to be a conversation. Too bad, I wasn't really prepared for that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 12, 2021:

Mary Norton,

Thank you so much. It is a terrifying situation, isn't it? I know they require it so we can overcome these anxieties but in my case it didn't help all that much. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 12, 2021:

I can relate to this, Denise. I thought about my speech class in university. I was so terrified about it, too. I admire you for teaching these art classes.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on October 12, 2021:

I don't think the reason that people have difficulty with speaking is due to shyness. It's a fear of performing or performing badly. Once you saw that you could be someone else who isn't afraid, you were able to do it.

Admittedly, I've never been uncomfortable in speaking or being in front of people. I tell those for whom it is difficult to think of it more as a conversation, just with many people, instead of performance. When the kid asked the question in the middle of your prepared talk, he was telling you it is a conversation.

Thank you for sharing your story of bravery!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2021:

Bill,

None of it is fatal. We can overcome! Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2021:

John,

I'm not sure what it is that we all fear about speaking to groups. Maybe it is the fear of doing or saying something wrong, judgment, ridicule. But then none of those things are fatal, are they? So why do we get so flustered? Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2021:

Brenda,

Isn't that interesting. I thought outgoing people had no problem whatsoever in speaking in crowds. We are more alike than we know. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2021:

Devika,

Classmates can be very cruel. I appreciate that you grew up like I did. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2021:

Ginger,

Well put. I felt sure this was a fairly universal problem, as I see by the comments, but one that can be overcome. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2021:

Shauna,

Yes, I still use that technique but most of my lessons have been memorized so well that I know them by heart, word for word, and can recite them at a moment's notice. It has become easier. I surely understand your reluctance to singing in public. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2021:

Rosina S Khan,

What a good schooling you must have had to be so prepared for public speaking. I envy you that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 11, 2021:

What an inspiring story, Denise! Of course, be someone else. Do you still use that technique in your teaching?

When I was a freshman in high school, I was in Chorus. I dropped the class once I saw the director picking someone randomly and asking them to sing a solo. The thought of singing solo in front of a bunch of kids I didn't know, terrified me. We had just moved and I didn't know a single soul in my school.

I love your success story.

Ginger Burke from Illinois on October 11, 2021:

Thank you for sharing this! You are definitely not alone in your discomfort of public speaking. It's probably my biggest fear. I have had various seasons of life where I've needed to speak to groups, and when I do it regularly the fear subsides. But if I had to speak to a group at this season of my life, I'm confident the fear would come back full force! Anyway, I love that we don't have to remain stuck in our fears. And that progress is possible.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 10, 2021:

Pamela Oglesby,

Yes, that speech instructor knew how to teach. Some people should not be teachers even if they know a lot. They just don't know how to present it to the public. It is the same with many artists. I know some pretty talented artists who make terrible teachers. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 10, 2021:

Diana Carol Abrahamson,

I'm still amazed that anyone would be interested in what I'M sharing. I feel so humbled and grateful. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 10, 2021:

PAINTDRIPS I overcame my shyness speaking in public over the years and growing up has a lot to do with it. I never liked it when I had to deliver speeches in front of class mates. Interesting of our experiences in this phase of our lives. Glad you overcame yours

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 09, 2021:

Denise

What a great article.

I think if one acts like someone else, he just might pull this off.

And you proved that you can.

I've never been one to talk in public, yet I'm outgoing.

I can talk to just about anyone but I don't like talkimg in front of a crowd.

People tell me I could with no problems, but quite honestly I can't even record myself at home without doing it over & over.

I don't know what makes it different...but there is a nervous fear that sits inside.

Maybe the more I pretend I'm really someone else....that confident one...I'll master it.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 09, 2021:

I am glad you managed to overcome this fear, Denise. Pretending to be someone else was a great strategy. I really hate having to speak in public and try to avoid it if possible. My time as secretary of a local fire brigade cured that somewhat, however, as I was required to read out the minutes at all the meetings and the like. Thank you for sharing.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 09, 2021:

You overcame it, I overcame it, proof positive just about anyone can overcome it. :)

Blessings always, my friend

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 09, 2021:

Umesh Chandra Bhatt,

Thank you. It was a miracle to be able to overcome this obstacle. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 09, 2021:

Dora Weithers,

How kind of you to say so. I'm not really a beauty but I guess I'm not too plain. To me, it was a miracle to have overcome such an obstical. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 09, 2021:

Peggy Woods,

Do you find it gets easier with age? I still dread each class but it is easier. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 09, 2021:

MariaMontgomery,

That's funny. I love that teaching allows me to bring my paintings out of the closet and share them with the children. I get lots of ohhs and awws. That's very satisfying. Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 09, 2021:

Liz Westwood,

Very good. I prayed as well but somehow didn't have the faith. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Rosina S Khan on October 09, 2021:

Performing in public and delivering speeches came naturally to me because the school I went to as a child prepared me all for it. Therefore, as an adult, when I started my teaching career, I was a success from Day 1.

I am glad, Denise, you overcame your fear of talking in public and became a successful art teacher. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 09, 2021:

This is such a good lesson to learn for so many people, Denise. I think a lot of people are very uncomfortable giving a speech, especially in from of a fairly large group. The class you took was so helpful. I would say that man knew how to teach. I enjoyed reading your article.

Diana Carol Abrahamson from Somerset West on October 08, 2021:

Thanks for sharing your story on onvercoming shyness as you were growing up.I slso used to get stage fright and freeze.

Later, as I got older I got over the syndrome. Realised that people might be interested in what I was sharing.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 08, 2021:

What a beautiful depiction of your journey, that overcoming the shyness and coming out as a winner. Nice presentation.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 08, 2021:

There are many things I can't do, and I don't have any memory of struggling to do them. I'm still not very daring. Thanks for sharing your experience. And you are beautiful in all your photos.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 08, 2021:

I was also very shy as a child. My parents and grandparents encouraged me to take an elective speech class in high school. I made it though but I dreaded each and every speech I had to give. In later years, I ended up giving a few speeches about a program that I headed at an assistance ministry where I was a volunteer.

MariaMontgomery from Coastal Alabama, USA on October 08, 2021:

I used to feel that way, too. I think it changed when I had to dissect and present journal articles to my grad school class. I was told that I new more about the topic than anyone else, because no one else knew what I had found when researching my topic. I just went from there. Now, you can't shut me up -- grin.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 08, 2021:

Thanks for sharing your experience to help others. I was painfully shy and used to dread speaking in public. My way around it was by prayer. Public speaking does not come naturally to me, but I find prayer helps to steady the nerves.

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