Public Speaking vs Death


Last weekend I officiated at the wedding of my nephew and his boyfriend. When they asked me, over a year ago, to perform the ceremony, I felt a vast array of emotions. I was happy, proud, excited, touched – all good feelings. I immediately dove into the practical side of the project and got everything I needed to make myself a proper member of the clergy. 

I spent several months in Key West before coming back to start preparing my speech. That’s when the fear kicked in. I found out in June that there would be about 300 people watching me. So, I had 3 months to visualize that crowd of critics. Every time a family member would merrily point out the number of weeks and days left before the event, my blood ran cold. My last nerve was exposed when my niece casually said, “You’d better look damn good – you’re going to be in every picture”.

What is it about public speaking that makes 75% of people say it’s their #1 fear?  (That means three quarters of the population fear it more than death.) For me, the fear was of going blank. Standing up there with full attention on every word I spoke and the scrutiny of 600 eyeballs all made me fear I would forget every word planned. Not only would I make a fool of myself, I’d ruin the wedding. 

The good news is I was a great success! Over a hundred guests stopped me to say things like “I laughed, I cried”, “Do you do this for a living?” or “Would you do my wedding?”  I would never do it again. It was a labor of love that I wouldn’t put myself through for just anyone. But I did learn a few things about public speaking that I’d like to share. 

Be well prepared. Do your homework. I interviewed my nephew and his partner and got some fun interesting tales to tell. I did the same with his boyfriend’s mother. I read the entire book on “Officiating a Wedding” and made notes and followed up on their suggestions. 

Go over the outline of your speech so you can speak without reading or memorizing. For the last month, I’d spend my morning dog-walking time going over the order of stories. 

Pick out that happy, smiling face in the crowd and speak to them. Return to that face when you feel jittery. 

Most of all, have fun with it. Keep in mind – when you’re dead, you’re dead. With public speaking, there’s always another occasion in life to make a fool of yourself. 

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