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Seven years down, public speaking is the last hurdle

Milam's Musings, milambc@miamioh.edu

It seems most apropos and macabre that, after seven years at Miami, the one thing standing between me and graduation is that which I fear the most.

In terms of concrete, real-world, day-to-day fears, for me, nothing surpasses public speaking. And it doesn't even have to be the in-front-of-a-class model. Being confined to my seat and forced to speak is enough to send my heart racing and my hands sweating.

I would wager that part of the reason my stay at Miami has extended longer than the average 4.7 years is because of this fear and my myriad attempts at working around it. Or rather, running away from it.

If there's one thing you, dear reader, ever take away from my four years of Musings, make it this - don't deal with your fears, whatever they may be, in the way I have mine.

I never gave my professors the chance to work with me or help me through it.

Instead, I had an adversarial view of my professors for forcing me to take on this fear through course requirements. This classroom atmosphere, conjured in my head and directed by the fear, was me vs. them.

Don't call on me. Don't make me stand up there. Why are you making this part of the overall course grade? Why can't I just write a paper?

Those were the kinds of sentiments that went through my head, buttressing the divide and unfair resentment on my part.

Counting my time at Miami, I've been in school for two decades. In that time, I haven't always been able to run away from the demands of a presentation.

And I've heard all the advice about how to get through it. I've heard that most people hate public speaking, but they handle it. I've heard why it's a necessary skill to have.

To those without this fear, it must be a bewildering one to read about.

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No amount of doing it and realizing it didn't kill me makes the next forced presentation any easier or any less traumatic to my irrational mind.

Adulting is hard, especially when irrational fear sets in. Admittedly, I didn't adult so well when it came to this issue.

There's been far too many awkward and embarrassing email exchanges with professors trying to explain why I'm not showing up to class or why I'm skipping a presentation. Or why I'm dropping the class altogether.

I don't begrudge these professors. They don't really know me, so to them, I may come across as a lazy student expecting special favors. I gave them no reason to think otherwise.

In February of last year, I wrote about this fear in my Musings. I mentioned that there was a course I needed for my degree requirement, which involved a presentation. Normally, I would have dropped the course, seeking one without a presentation. However, back then, I said this:

"But, I haven't canceled and I won't. Even as I write this, my stomach rolls with nerves. I will take the class and do the presentations."

Sorry, dear reader, I lied. While I didn't drop the course, I did skip the presentation.

Consider my calculation: despite the wasted monies from skipping classes, the lost grade percentages and the fact that my degree requirement relied upon it, I capitulated to the fear.

As it happens, I'm back in the same predicament and this time, the calculation doesn't work. I can't skip the class. I can't skip the presentation. And I can't risk missing out on May 14, 2016.

I've waited seven years to finally leave Miami with a degree. With less than three months to go, I still find myself jumping through the familiar hoops my fear demands.

A 20-minute presentation with a 10-minute question and answer session stands before me and graduation. It will be in front of six of my fellow Miami students and the professor.

As I said in my September 2014 Musings, also about this issue, the scope doesn't matter.

"My awareness of its brevity and immediacy doesn't change how traumatizing it was. Three minutes or 30 minutes makes no difference."

Likewise, six or 60 students doesn't change how terrifying the prospect of standing up there and talking seems.

I know how wild this all must sound, but such is a look inside my mind.

You may be thinking, "Aren't you a journalist? Don't you have to talk in front of people?"

It is true that in my time as a would-be journalist I've spoken to people and in front of people, but I've figured out a work-around: I care more about the truth and satiating my curiosity by asking a question than I do the fear.

Granted, it's not a panacea to the fear, as I still get nervous, but it helps. I haven't figured out what the work-around is yet for in-class talking and presentations.

Inevitability, as graduation looms, I can't help but get introspective about my time at Miami. And I'd rather not play the, "What if?" game or dwell on regrets.

After all, my extended stay at Miami meant happening upon this newspaper, meeting the many talented people that have worked here over the years and getting this platform.

It also meant meeting the girl who has made my last year at Miami my best.

But sentimentality and groan-inducing journalist back-slapping aside, there is that lingering, "What if?" when it comes to how I have (poorly) handled this fear.

Whatever happens and whatever has happened, in three months, it will all be over.

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