My Worst Public Speaking Experience


In my friend Lara’s book, she writes about her first – and worst – public speaking experience. She was invited to keynote but… they invited the wrong person, and she realized that as they gave an unrecognizable introduction – just before she walked on stage.

I don’t have a story quite that bad, but I do have one that enough time has passed that I can laugh about it.

Last year I was set to give a talk at a great event, that I was really excited to attend… and I was really sick. I’ll be forever grateful to the sympathetic organizer and the person who switch slots with me and gave me an extra day.

I timed taking flu meds, so that I could do my best impression of a functioning human on stage. It was going OK, but in the middle of the talk, I played this video. The proper thing to do when playing a video is to turn and watch it, too. When I was speaking, the adreneline was keeping me upright. But a break… I just couldn’t stand up anymore.

I was behind a podium, and it occurred to me that I could hide… inside it. I gracefully (please let me believe that) lowered myself down to my knees and collapsed into the shelf on the podium. Things seemed vastly better closer to horizontal. I rested my head on the cool surface and sighed with relief. Then I realized I would have to stand up again.

Oh, shit.

When the video ended, there was this silence, as people wondered where I was. I stood up behind the podium, like that was a totally normal thing to do, and finished my talk.

4 replies on “My Worst Public Speaking Experience”

Oh my, that is dedication to the talk!!

My worst experience was when I was just saying a few words to advertise next year’s series of talks and then the organizer decided to castigate me publically right there in front of a couple of hundred people. I was shocked; I didn’t react. And then he did it again, even worse, a couple of hours later in front of everyone. Having had that happen, it tends to make it so obvious that I don’t need to be nervous on any future public speaking occasion, as the worst already happened.

Yes, it was. That gave me a real quick clue as to why there were vanishingly few women who attended this series. Also pretty eye-opening were the reactions from some of the men who were there, as I found out later on. Some were sympathetic, some were horrified, some thought that it wasn’t a big deal, and some thought I probably deserved it.

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