Vulnerability and Public Speaking

I’m not sure who would constitute my most intimidating audience, but speaking to a roomful of over 100 Brooklyn hipsters ranks pretty highly.

Public Speaking - PPN

Image courtesy: Andy Gillette and PPN

It is hard to be as fascinating as the guy who speaks for 15 minutes about Peruvian Ayahuasca and ends his sincere talk with an impromptu song inspired by the plant he spent a month talking to. Or the scantily-clad Meta-Physical Jesus, or the man who recounts a story about a possessed Raggedy Anne doll.

It is hard to stand up without any persona, or any shield.

By the time I walked up to take the stage at Bushwick’s monthly speaking series, Presentation Party Night, beer cans were spilling out of the rubbish bins, the room was debating the meaning of virtuous womanhood and I was fully aware of the involuntary shaking that had taken over my left leg.

I was nervous in a way that I haven’t been for a while. Perhaps it was because I was speaking to people who had no idea about stuttering, perhaps it was because I’d left my glasses at home and I could barely see the audience, perhaps I was worried about being vulnerable in front of a bunch of strangers.

Either way I held up the mic to my lips and began to speak into the wide expanse of the room.

Public Speaking at PPNI talked about perfection, about my childhood, about the science of stuttering and the humanity of it. I talked about setting off on a adventure to find a cure and instead falling in love and embracing my ‘weakness’ as my greatest strength.

The hum of the heating-system ebbed and flowed, one guy’s phone rang loudly and the crowd laughed once or twice but largely the place was silent. My voice rumbled and broke into the mic. I slipped into repetitions and fell out of them, I smiled and paused and my leg continued to shake to the beat of its own manic rhythm.

By the end I was spent, I’d given all I could to the speech. It hadn’t been easy but it hadn’t been terrible. It had been honest.

And afterwards, after the cheers and the questions, I have never had so many people come up to me. Each person related my story back to themselves, back to their struggles and their triumphs. They told me about their lives and they asked me more about stuttering. My gratitude to them, to all their joy and compassion, is boundless.

If anyone reading this in NY has a subject that they feel able to speak about for 10 minutes, I can’t recommend PPN enough. Speaking up, making people laugh or cry, encouraging them see the world a little differently – what would you rather be doing on a Sunday night?

2 thoughts on “Vulnerability and Public Speaking

  1. Katherine,

    Good for you! After you got home, didn’t you feel REALLY GOOD? Public speaking can be addicting when you get good at it and know that you’re talking about something that you really are an expert at. (And you ARE!) You can also affect other people’s lives in a very good way. Whether or now you realize it or not, you ARE an inspiration to other people, not just people who stutter.

    Having fun doing this sort of thing is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. Yes, your “weakness” is really one of your major strengths! And if you have fun doing it, hey, it doesn’t get much better than this!

    Do I need to give you my sales pitch on Toastmasters again?

    Keep up the good work! I follow you on Facebook all the time!


  2. Russ – wonderful to hear from you and I love the pep talk! Funnily enough, I give lots of speeches, to all sorts of different audiences. I always come away feeling high but I am always nervous beforehand. This speech, for whatever reason, made me more nervous than most. Still, you’re right, it is one of the most rewarding parts of my life and I adore it. This year, public speaking is becoming an even bigger part of my world with keynotes and talks around the world. Exciting times ahead!

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