This past Sunday night, our church had a Fireside where three people were chosen to speak about why they believe in God and how they came to the church. Originally, I was supposed to be a backup for one of those three people. I was going to be like the 12th Man: suit up, show up, stand on the sidelines in case they need me. But I guess they needed me in the game instead because last Wednesday they asked me to be one of the ACTUAL speakers. With no backup.
I was a telecommunications major and had to do a lot of presentations in college and I also ran for state representative but I don’t like public speaking. It’s nerve-wracking and I’m not sure why. I know that all if I’m having to talk in front of a lot of people, it’s not a punishment. Those people are there to hear what I have to say. But that didn’t stop me from being extremely nervous even thinking about talking in front of everyone on Sunday.
Practice Makes Perfect (Almost)
It didn’t make it any better that the elders said that my talk had to be around ten minutes long! How was I supposed to ramble on for that long? I figured I needed to practice what I was going to say so for a few hours a night I shaped my talk. I timed myself and I started off with a speech that lasted fifteen minutes. I was pretty surprised because it didn’t feel like that took that long. My new problem was trying not to bore everyone to death by rambling on too long about my story. I figured I was solid after that as long as I could cut out some of the fluff.
I trimmed the speech down to about eight minutes after I took out some unnecessary parts to the story. They still got the idea but weren’t bogged down by the details. I also thought that it was going to be mostly young people at the Fireside but there were a lot of older people and kids so I modified the semi-polygamy joke I had planned and cut out some other stuff they might not have liked that much. I still made a polygamy joke though because I had to. It wasn’t that bad. I just said that growing up, the only two words that came to my mind when anyone brought up Mormons was “sister wives”. Originally I was going to say “weird” and “polygamy”.
The Main Event
After days of hoping that by some miracle, they’d find somebody else to give the talk in my place, Sunday came and I was still a go. I was already nervous but I found out when I got there that two of my old missionaries (the ones I visited about two weeks ago) were going to be there! I was happy to see them, though. I wish they would get sent back here but I don’t think they will. To make me even more nervous, just about every missionary in Texas was sitting behind us on the stage (or whatever the front of the church is called). I hate when people sit behind me. That’s why I was always in the back of the class.
I had to speak after one of the elders played a song on the violin. I hoped it would be a long song. Once he hit that last note, it was go time. I got up to the mic and was immediately overcome with nerves, but I powered through it and introduced myself. Right before I got on a roll, a guy came up and tapped me on the shoulder. I thought Oh wow I’m already getting kicked off the stage. He was just asking me to stand closer to the mic.
After the introduction, I didn’t really feel nervous anymore. Maybe it was that brief distraction or the fact that the church laughed at the first thing I said and put me at ease. Either way I rolled through that speech and didn’t think too much of it. If I felt myself starting to get nervous or my voice started to get shaky, I’d just look at one of my good friends sitting in the front row and pretend like I was talking straight to her like I usually do. It felt natural. I also don’t like when people doing church talks set up a joke and pause afterwards and then people think Oh I’m supposed to laugh now and then there are bunch of pity laughs. I avoided that by not pausing at all UNLESS the people were laughing and wouldn’t be able to hear the rest of what I was saying.
I really only sprinkled in two actual jokes I wanted to say but I had them laughing the whole time so I guess it was alright. I just talked how I usually do and I’m normally pretty good at making people laugh even unintentionally. I know I was scared at first but it sort of felt good to be up there speaking to everyone. The only thing that made it a little awkward was that some people had pretty intense listening faces so I tried to avoid looking at them too much.
After the Fireside, a lot of people came up to me to tell me how much they loved my talk! I got a lot of hugs and handshakes. Some people told me how their story related to my story or how I offered a perspective of finding religion that they’d never heard or thought of before. Some people told me they thought the talk was hilarious and how they were glad I got moved up from backup to starter. It was all very encouraging and made me feel pretty good. I probably wouldn’t want to talk in front of everybody like that too often but next time, I’ll probably be a lot less nervous about it. It was a great experience.
I wish you were there to see it.