Bad advice doesn't make public speaking more fun

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2002

I am picturing you in your underwear.

You, yes, you, reading this column right now, are being imagined in your skivvies by someone you don't even know.

I'm not doing this because I'm a pervert -- I don't even like Pee-wee Herman or Marv Albert. Nor am I doing it because I have no life and an overactive imagination (I do, but that's not the reason).

I'm doing it because I hate public speaking and was once offered the ever so helpful advice of "picture the audience in their underwear."

Granted this column isn't public speaking, but it's a little-known fact that most people who choose writing as a career do so because they have issues with verbal communication. They're either shy, antisocial or they had some sort of speech impediment when they were younger that left them stigmatized about public speaking.

I am no exception. I have no problem conversing in a one-on-one or small group setting, but I would rather have my eyeballs peeled than have to give a public address. On those rare few occasions when I get suckered into doing it or attempt public speaking in an ill-conceived and much-regretted bout of "bettering myself," I am instantly nervous.

Not to be ungrateful to the great and knowledgeable purveyors of provincial wisdom (who have brought us such poetic gems as "you can wish in one hand and s--- in the other and see which one gets filled first," and "walk it off" -- the mantra of all high school gym teachers who have ever lived), but what kind of dim-witted, inbred, watches-way-too-much-Jerry-Springer, thinks-Rush-Limbaugh-has-something-useful-to-contribute-to-society moron came up with this advice?

In the history of human verbal communication, a lot of people (mostly politicians and Keanu Reeves) have said a lot of very stupid things.

But even Keanu, who is only capable of three facial expressions -- confused, bewildered and huh?-- has yet to utter something as mind-numbingly moronic as "picture the audience in their underwear."

As I understand it, picturing members of the audience in their underwear is supposed to relax the speaker and make the situation seem lees intimidating.

Now, maybe I'm abnormal (don't answer that), but for me, facing a half-naked audience would have the exact opposite effect of "relaxing."

In addition to the normal anxieties of forgetting what you're going to say, stuttering, having a shaky voice, getting the hiccups, losing your place, etc., you have to deal with the locker-room syndrome of trying to find somewhere to look that doesn't get you an eyeful of someone's naked flesh.

This is supposed to be relaxing? By that logic, a patient in for surgery would be comforted to have Jack Kevorkian as their anesthesiologist and an elderly couple would feel secure knowing their entire life savings and retirement funds were invested in Enron stock.

Yeah, right.

This advice is especially unhelpful to me because I tend to have an overactive imagination. So I'd get up to speak and be paralyzed picturing large men in lacy negligees with garter belts, elderly women in leather dominatrix outfits, political pillars of the community in Power Ranger briefs, and all manner of oddly shaped birthmarks, colorful tattoos and highly contagious-looking skin conditions.

Thanks for the advice, but no thanks. I prefer my method of dealing with public speaking situations: don't do it.

Or, if I can't get out of it, speak really really fast so no one can tell what I'm saying and it's over quickly.

You're probably right in thinking my method isn't the best way to conquer my anxiety, but who are you to lecture me? I'm not the one sitting around in my underwear, after all. Now go put some clothes on, you sickos, and you should really get that rash looked at.

Jenny Neyman is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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