Fear of Public Speaking

Public Speaking. Hate it!

Even though I took Voice and Articulation, Debate, Oral Interpretation and Public Speaking 101 in college; even though I won, not one but, four awards in my Dale Carnegie class; even though I’ve presented at sales meetings and new business pitches and industry conferences; I still start to shake when I stand at a podium. It makes me crazy.

And yet I continue to put myself in situations where speaking into a microphone is necessary. Last night I spoke before Town Meeting, a tough crowd made up of career, albeit local, politicians; bright young things who’ve recently moved into town; and our own special and crusty “Party of No” — the townies.

I chair a committee which is sponsoring two pieces of legislation so it did make sense for me to explain the bills. But still, I could have avoided the public presentations. There are several well-spoken, well-respected men in town who, quite frankly, could have made the case better than me. And then there are several members of the boy’s club who have more political chips with the lovable Townies than I ever would. (You see I didn’t move here until I was two. I am not an insider.)

I used to think I put myself in these situations for the purpose of personal growth. But then I realized, growth is the last thing I need. Quite frankly, I could use a little personal shrinkage – around the waist, the hips, and the thighs.

No, I stood up last night for two reasons. The first: my daughter. I firmly believe that if we are going to tell our daughters they can grow up and become anything they want, then we must show them examples. And yes, even a trembling mom fighting for change at a suburban town meeting is a better example than a mom sitting quietly in the back of the auditorium listening to all the men speak.

The second reason: critical mass. The idea of  critical mass is that once women reach at least 30 percent representation in a group, they can start to affect real change. At thirty percent they stop being  viewed and judged as the representative women in the group, and start being evaluated for their contributions. Where I live, we are far from critical mass. Just one selectman out of five is a woman. There are only two women on the nine-person Finance Committee. We have no women on the Planning Board.  There are three women, out of seven members, on our School Committee. (But education is women’s work, isn’t it?) Three out of the nine people on my committee are women.

I don’t particularly enjoy politics. I dislike the quid pro quo, the compromises, the lack of transparency and the attitude, “that’s how we’ve always done it.” Plus, I’d rather be home spending time with my husband and kids, or watching Glee, than sitting through marathon meetings. But if I don’t participate, then what will my daughter see? Until we reach a critical mass of women in Washington (and at 17 percent we’re way off), we all need to step up to the microphone and literally, shake things up.

4 comments for “Fear of Public Speaking

  1. Alison
    May 12, 2010 at 8:15 am

    I am in total agreement. In years of reporting on local government (multiple towns) I remain chagrined at the dearth of women represented. In one major town where many accomplished women live, I was compelled to write about a nearly 30 year gap in representation by women (selectmen, planning, zoning, school, conservation and other boards/committees were nearly all-male). The woman who’d “broken the ceiling” in the mid-70s told me, “women don’t run because they don’t have wives.” Sad, but true.

  2. May 12, 2010 at 9:00 am

    The woman you spoke to makes a good point.

    I was at a luncheon several years ago where Charlie Baker was the keynote speaker. He was introduced as an incredible turnaround CEO, a selectman in his town, a board member for several companies and an amazing father. How many women who spend that much time away from the family are considered amazing mothers? More often they’re described as selfish.

    But if Dad can get out of the house after dinner, why can’t mom?

  3. November 25, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Right on! It’s not just for our daughters: our younger female colleagues always benefit from a good role model.

    • November 25, 2012 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks for stopping by CelloMom. And good point. Sometimes it’s easier to step outside our comfort zones when we’re doing it for someone else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *