I have had a strange relationship with public speaking over the years. I have absolutely no problem with speaking in public, but it depends on the audience. I took an Intro to Public Speaking class some years ago and I didn’t really learn very much from it. Although, I must be honest, I was not too good a student at that time to begin with. But, my speeches (the important part) typically went well primarily because the audience consisted of classmates, the majority of which were my friends, and a Professor who I was comfortable with.
As I got older, speaking in front of a large crowd or even a moderately smaller crowd has become much more nerve wrecking. This is made worse by the intellectual level of the crowd. I found that even in a classroom setting, my nerves heighten and confidence drops whenever I have to respond to a Professor I look up to or find really brilliant (they’re a bit intimidating). It feels like my words are constantly under scrutiny (though it may only be in my head). I have even had experiences where I responded to questions from some Professors in a near whisper seemingly to match my level of confidence in that moment.
Now, one would think that my level of comfort and confidence would increase with proper preparation and practice. However, this has proven irrelevant when facing the actual audience. I have had instances where I spoke or gave a presentation and in the moment ended up saying something weird and chuckling awkwardly. It doesn’t help that everyone says to picture the audience naked. This is something I hope to avoid in this upcoming conference-awkward laughter and picturing the audience in anything less than they are wearing. Lucky for me, the majority of my presentation should already be made if all goes accordingly. I just have to work on not choking (since I’ll be in a room full of scholars) on the few things I will have to say in the beginning or in response to any questions after.