I sat there, throat dry, bladder empty but still with the urgent desire to pee — nervous.
I’ve never been that afraid of public speaking, but only because before a speaking engagement I make myself aware of everything I need to know – the topic, the audience, the program – way ahead of time.
But this one wasn’t the short and simple “talk” I was expecting.
The scheduled meeting was with some students interested with communication and journalism. I dressed casually (I didn’t bring any decent clothes with me – it was a tropical holiday) with the huge tattoo on my back exposed for all the students to see, only to realise the casual “talk” was actually a bit more formal than I expected.
They handed me the printed program – with opening and closing remarks and a “handing of certificate of appreciation” bit. The vice president of academic affairs was there too.
I looked at my speech and realised the opening parts were longer than my “talk”. Before I left for the Philippines, I quickly jotted down points that might be of interest to the students. As I didn’t expect any formality to it, I thought I would just answer their questions after expressing my points.
So there I was, in front of around 50 students, talking about integrity in communication. I had to wing it, as usual, and stretch out my talk instead of just shoot my bullet points through.
In the end it worked out well. I answered a lot of their questions during the open forum and expressed my honest opinions and observations about the Philippine media, and compared it to my experience with the Australian media. I even cracked jokes – effective ones since they all laughed (I’m a natural comedian, ahem).
I spoke in English because apparently students are required to speak in English when they’re in the school. The nerves melted away after the first paragraph. They were eager to know what I thought, and wanted to get my opinion on a lot of things, including how to speak better especially when on the job (practice, practice, practice).
I sounded confident, they said. But I did have moments when I questioned why I was giving the talk. I’m not famous, nor am I rich. What could I possibly offer to them?
Then a friend pointed out that I do have something to share. I may not be famous or rich but I did go through an enormous about of experience in my field, both in my own country and in other countries. I do have some authority to talk about my own experience because, well, it is my own experience. And if even just one of them learned something they could take with them after they graduate, then that’s good enough for me.
Side note: Before the program started I asked a couple of my father’s students what he was like as a teacher. They all said he rarely smiles and is very serious – something which has never changed since the first day he started teaching over 15 years ago. But they said they did notice a difference in the last couple of months. He has become more approachable and he smiles more. I told the students it’s because he knew he was seeing his grandchild again.