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Teen Talk

May 19, 2012

On The Go: Public speaking and I don't get along

If, for some reason, you ever happen to be invited to attend an event where I am scheduled to be doing some sort of public speaking of any kind, do us both a favor and politely decline.

Suddenly remember that you had a thing to go to that day/week/entire decade.

Call your pregnant wife and tell her to induce labor.

Single? Take this time to go find a wife. Anything, anything, but watch me speak in front of a crowd.

Because you would not be watching me give the speech, you would be watching some manifested version of me with sweaty palms and shaky hands, stumbling through my speech as if forming words was a new concept for me.

Performing in various dance shows since I was very little, being in front of a crowd doesn't faze me at all. However, speaking in front of a crowd is an entirely different story.

Public speaking itself would be 10 times easier if I were allowed to do jazz hands throughout the duration of my speech.

It's not just me that feels this way about public speaking.

In fact, according to most studies, public speaking ranks first in the fears of most Americans.

Remember the classic Jerry Seinfeld joke? How at a funeral, most of us would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy?

Right you are, Jerry.

I took a public speaking class last semester at school, and part of the class curriculum dealt with tips and tools to giving a good speech. However, these seemingly easy techniques turned out to be much more difficult than I had originally anticipated.

For instance, a tip most often stressed is the planning process.

Experts on public speaking say that the most important aspect of a good speech is being properly planned out.

Planning? What is planning?

I am well aware of the fact that when I take the time to strategize something, more likely than not, it will go the complete opposite way than what I had planned.

Especially when it comes to speeches.

I am an expert at writing speech outlines, but I know as soon as I get up to speak, no matter what I have written on the paper in perfect MLA format, something else entirely will come out of my mouth. This is the source of much confusion and surprise for the audience, but trust me, I'm usually more surprised than anyone.

Experts also say to use hand gestures during a speech to get the attention of the audience. However, I find that more than anything, your hand gestures tend to distract the audience from what you're actually saying. As you can imagine, I use this to my advantage as much as humanly possible. Some may even call it "manipulative." When watching me give a speech, I cannot be held accountable for any dizziness you may experience after watching my hands fly around and around my head in a manner that, in any other situation, would cause some to phone 911, expecting an emergency. And there you go -- in the midst of trying desperately to figure out if I'm choking or on fire, you completely missed when I accidentally mentioned how much I love HGTV during my speech about the European economic crisis.

Another technique we were taught to use was to maintain eye contact with each member of the audience at least once during our speech. This is just to make sure that we are allowing our gaze to travel across the room, and that we engage each of the audience members. Well, this stresses me out. I can't focus if I also have to worry that each person watching me feels included and welcomed into this train wreck, so I end up with eyes darting all around the room counting in my head the amount of time I've looked at one audience member and then worrying that the person next to them feels left out.

I wish I could say that "I can only imagine how this must look to the audience," but alas, thanks to my school's policy about videotaping our speeches so we can critique them for ourselves, I know. And it isn't pretty. If I'm ever acting too egotistical, all you need to do is pull up the site where my speeches from the semester are displayed forever online, and you can bet that I'll be humbler than ever in no time. While I'm happy I took the class and felt that I learned quite a bit, all I can really conclude from the overall experience is that some of us were destined to become great public speakers, such as MLK Jr., or President Obama. However, destiny had other plans for the rest of us, leading us to communicating our thoughts and feelings from behind the ink on the pages of the weekend newspaper.

Adrian Adamo, a 2011 graduate of Oneonta High School, is a freshman at Emerson College in Boston. 'Teen Talk' columns can be found at

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