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Essay: Public Speaking

Years ago, when I was writing a weekly column for the Traverse City Record-Eagle, I began receiving invitations to give speeches. It scared me, of course. Research shows that public speaking is people’s Number One Fear—even ahead of dying.

The reason for this was clear when I walked up to the podium and peered at rows of strangers. Whatever made me think I had something worthwhile to share? And as soon as I started talking, the only people I noticed were the ones who weren’t noticing me—the ones who were checking their watches, staring out the window, dozing off. So I wasted all my time trying to win them back and lost everyone else.

That was my first mistake. There were many others. I should give this up, I thought. Instead, I asked for help. And lucky for me, I had a good friend who was a very good speaker. She offered a lot of helpful advice, but this was the best: “Talk to the people who are smiling and nodding,” she said, “the ones who are with you. Ignore the ones who look bored.”

She was right. Not only about public speaking but about life. Give your energy to the people who give back, who are smiling and nodding. Who are with you.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.