Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Crippling Grips of Crying and Public Speaking

I am the queen of boo hoo. Simply put, I'm a crier. Big time. And not the pretty type whose face takes on an angelic melancholy while picture-worthy tears, one by one, trickle with precision down a sweet pink cheek. No, I'm the lip-contortioning, face-all-blotchy, sucking-in-air, eyes-red and face-all-wet kinda big hot mess. And it doesn't take much to get me into this state. Everything from our church choir singing in harmony to firemen collecting donations in boots at stop lights . . . it all gets me the "Mom, are you crying?" look from Harleigh  You'd think after 20 years, she'd know it was a gimme. 

I remember once when walking through the mall, I chanced upon one of my favorite local authors, Deborah Smith, sitting at a table doing a book signing in Waldenbooks. I had just read her book A Place to Call Home and loved loved loved it. I went in, bought the newest release that she was signing, attempted to convey to her how much A Place to Call Home had touched me, and with tears and sobs on the verge of spewing out like projectile emotional vomit, ran to the book stacks, hid myself from the crowd, and lost it. Dramatic? You betcha. 

The other thing that has crippled me is public speaking. Hated it with a burning passion. I don't remember speaking in front of groups in middle school, high school and college simply because I've erased it all from my memory. As an adult, it was equally dreaded. I seemed to have decent luck at leading our company staff/traffic meetings every Monday morning, as they focused mostly on work. I always managed to lead them with both fact and fun (my sense of humor has gotten me through many a situation). But ask me to talk about something remotely personal and you're heading for a train wreck. 

On with the story. Many many years ago our company held a "Cool Day." Each of us was charged with finding someone analogous to what we do as a company and sharing that in a presentation. I could feel my bowels begin to move. I  chose Rodgers and Hammerstein (faves of mine) and equated their partnership with the collaborative way we approach things here at Unboundary. When it came my turn to speak, I was shaking so badly that I couldn't get my reading glasses on; it was so exaggerated, I look palsied. I lost my place with the cheat sheet index cards I had made. My lip quivered. It was a catastrophe. I think I may have locked myself in a bathroom stall afterwards and dry heaved. Can't really remember. Like I said, erased from memory.

From that day on, I vowed to become a better public speaker. When a couple years ago my weekly staff/traffic meeting changed complexion due to the shift in our work focus, the meetings went from the intimacy of talking around a small table to being mic'd and standing in front of what amounted to an auditorium of my peers. Once again, a poop-my-pants kind of situation. But a blessing in disguise. I tackled it. And now I love it. But, unlike talking about something more personal (Iike the Rodgers and Hammerstein thing), these meetings are about work, so it was relatively easy to get up in front of everyone and deliver. 

When at church, on our call committee for a new Senior Pastor, I was asked by the group to be its chair, my first thought was, "This, Dawn, is a great opportunity. You'll have to talk in front of the entire congregation, a lot, and about a search that at times could be emotionally charged." Sign me up. And by the grace of God, I tackled it. At one service, Harleigh turned to me after I'd spoken (mike in hand, to the congregation) and said, "Mom, you were amazing." I beamed.

So, last week Harleigh comes home from camp and tells me that this week there is a big end-of-summer-camp assembly with counselors, core leaders, staff, parents and church congregants. The director of camp asked if Harleigh and I could speak about what camp has meant to us as a family (since Harleigh has been a part — from camper to leader — since she was little). At first I said "no way can I talk about something that close to my heart without crying like a goon." "Think about it," she said. Outcome: I'm doing it. She and I met with the director and a staff member last week and mapped out what we'll be talking about. I imagine the auditorium will be filled with 300 or so people. I plan on hitting it out of the ballpark. No crying. I truly want to do a good job. I want to be one of those poised people on stage that the audience finds engaging, warm and well-spoken. And I know I can do it. Lots of praying and practicing will ensue, but I'd wager to say that even Tony Robbins does a little of both before taking the stage.

Over the weekend I practiced "not crying." I watched a few videos about heroic athletes and held my un-teary-eyed ground. After a baptism at church on Sunday I went up to the mother holding the infant and oohed and aahed over the beauty of the moment (and not a tear, although I did cut the conversation short because I could feel a wave of emotion begin to swell ). This morning when I went to go vote, a first-time voter was in line behind me. I knew that at my small voting precinct (and they probably do it at all), all the volunteers give a rousing round of applause as the first timer gets his voting card to plug into the machine. Felt a slight lip quiver when the clapping and cheering began,but kept it together.

I will always be grateful that I have a big heart, that sappy songs and Hallmark cards can put my tear ducts on overdrive, that certain events and people can make me want to curl in the fetal position as emotion renders me useless. But I so want to control it more, so that when I want it to flow, it does, and when I want it not to, it doesn't. I CAN do this. I must. For the ultimate reason. My daughter will be getting married one day. Enough said.


Celestial Charms said...

Hi Dawn,
I can definitely relate to emotional crying overload, but I think when it comes to public speaking it can sometimes be charming. If it happens, best to just say how "emotional" you get, when thinking about things that mean so much to you. Half the battle is just getting up in front of a crowd! I bet you will be just fine.

ali said...

I absolutely love this post. Love, love, love. (Dawn, you are a crazy good writer, if I haven't said so before.)

And I can easily imagine all of your experiences you so perfectly described - but most importantly, I can completely visualize you knocking this out of the park.

If it makes you feel any better, I just wiped away a few tears doing so.


Gretchen said...

Dawn, now I know why we are kindred spirits. I used to consider myself the queen of not crying. For years and years it didn't matter what happened, I was tough, I took it and I never cried. Then, my mother passed away. Now I sob for anything. I cried just reading about you crying. I'm such a baby and I don't know how to cure it but I'm going to practice what you've taught me and try to get better. I cried at Chris' wedding before they even began speaking. I've got grandchildren to marry off someday and this has to stop now!

Christine said...

Hard stuff to talk about even harder to do but you have a handle on it.

Knock it out of the Park!
Cheering, clap-clap-clap!

E.S.C.A.P.E. to the South Coast! said...

Hi Dawn,

Long-time reader...once in a blue moon commenter!

I completely understand where you are coming from. I too struggled with public speaking and found the best cure ever - Toastmasters! I joined a club about 2 years ago and it was the best thing I ever did! Try to find a meeting near you and just go to check it out. It is awesome!

Good Luck!

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