In less than a week, I’ll be doing my first public appearance as a writer. My task, along with seven other writers, is to tell a story for five minutes. We’re not allowed any papers or notes to read off of. No props to distract the audience. No podium to hide behind. All we have are our voices and our words.
In theory, this should be easy for a writer. But today I tried telling my story to a coworker, out loud, conversationally, and timed. It was terrible. I could feel my heart reverberating through my entire body, and this was just with one person. The event is supposed to be in front of at least 50. Even the thought of it makes my hands shake.
There’s a world of difference between writing your words down, and saying them aloud, and I’m only just now realizing this fact. When you write a book, or a story, even one that’s not about your life, it’s like you’re sharing a secret, and only with one person at a time. The author’s voice sneaks into the reader’s mind in such an intimate way that you feel as if they’re speaking directly to you, only you. And even then, their voice is at a whisper. But speaking to a crowd, you have to make that same connection, you have to make them feel what you are saying, with 49 other individuals in the room.
I hate public speaking. I always have. Most of the times I black out and am not even really conscious of what I’m saying in the moment. I’m so terrified of showing too much emotion (a sign of weakness when I was growing up) that I drain my voice of all personality and truck through it as quickly as possible.
I’ve done other public events. For example, I love dancing, especially swing. But when you’re dancing, it’s just your body. You can become anyone you want, and no one would be the wiser. But when it’s your words thrown out there instead of just your physical being, you’re offering up a piece of yourself that’s infinitely more vulnerable. You’re giving strangers a glimpse inside your mind.
I suppose that’s what writing is in general. So I must have some sense of showmanship about me if I’m willing to do it on paper. I guess telling my story aloud is just the quickest way to figuring out if the words that run through my head really do connect with people, or if I’m full of shit. Either way, it’s time to sink or swim.