one million pencils


Speaking of speaking--

One Million Pencils has forced me to talk to a lot of different people. By now I have a pretty good sense of what to say and not to say; what’s always been more difficult for me is how to say it.

I’ve never thought myself to be a very good speaker. It’s not for lack of comfort, or for lack of anything to say--quite the opposite. I’ve been speaking in front of large audiences ever since I was 12, and I spent my senior year studying the constitution, forming and articulating arguments in front of panels consisting of university professors and congress people.

I’ve always been excited to share what’s on my mind, whether it’s pitching my business ideas, or telling my brothers how Monster’s University drew inspiration from my college campus, or explaining how Kellogg's was once called The Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company. I once had a judge tell me that I had him on the edge of his seat explaining the relationship between westward expansion and the development of the executive branch. So I’m fairly confident in my ability to package even inane knowledge.

For all this experience, no matter how zen I may think I am, I almost always find myself exhibiting the same physiological responses. It seems that no amount of confidence in my words can keep away the dry mouth, red face, and quivering voice. And it’s clear that my audience notices it too--my sister in particular is always quick to let me know exactly how anxious I can come across. Sometimes I wonder if that judge was only on the edge of his seat because I’d transmitted so much nervous energy.

I’ve never gotten any conclusive feedback on the way that I speak. When I worked with professional judges, half wanted me to slow down, and the other half described my delivery as “uniquely electrifying”. And since I was forced to present such boring things, it helped that I seemed so nervously excited. Not many people have the ability to get so worked up about state ratification conventions that they trip over their words, they told me.

Speaking like this, I determined for a while, was my special ability. Admittedly I’ve played off of the nervous vibes that I put out. It works for now--I’m a college student, and I care about things, and I let people know with no shortage of emotion.

Maybe I’m suffering from some latent anxiety relating to speaking. Maybe I just speak so fast because I’m afraid that if I don’t keep up with my thoughts, my ideas will all evaporate. Maybe I’m simply excited to share all the things that I’ve stumbled across.

Honestly, this is a problem that I haven’t solved. I don’t have any big takeaway to share, nor do I see myself making any major strides in my speaking ability in the near-future. But, I’ve also learned that I have the ability to make people care about what I have to say. And rough as those ideas and words may be, I believe that there’s a place for them.

Meg Shriber