Above flying on an airliner and even before death, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Given my disproportionate fear of the first two, public speaking has always been comparatively easy for me. Besides, fear of flying and dying can usually be allayed with a couple slugs of Lorazepam and a vodka tonic.
This home remedy (which you should NOT try at home) doesn’t work so well when it comes to public speaking (lurking on an iPhone somewhere is a video of a certain best man’s speech to prove it). Until that surfaces on the Internet, I can pretend my public speaking record is relatively flawless, at least at the ridiculously low standards to which I hold myself. My rules are simple: Don’t throw up. Don’t pass out. Only speak English. This is essentially the same mantra I repeated to myself on prom night when my date was the hot German exchange student and any experiments with liquor and language could prove lethal, not least of which to my reputation.
Why Imagining Everyone is Naked is dangerous
There are many rules of thumb people use when facing a public speaking engagement. The most popular, it seems, is “Imagine everyone is naked.” I recommend only using this one if you’re speaking to a group you would actually want to see naked. I spoke to the Rotary Club of Sonoma Valley on Wednesday and admittedly only desired to see a few of them naked – though it was surprisingly more than I expected. The hazard comes when you begin to wonder if they’re imagining YOU naked as well. This will inevitably lead to thoughts of some order of orgiastic bacchanal that will likely have little to do with whatever you were asked to speak about. Unless you’re running some sort of adult “encounter group,” in which case, I want to know how you got that gig and “Can I be your intern?”
Be Prepared: Pack Extra Pills
Another piece of advice oft told regarding public speaking is, “Be prepared.” Like the above advice, this can go three ways (at least). 1. It could mean, “Remember to pack your Lorazepam and vodka.” 2. “Pack enough Lorazepam and vodka for everybody.” 3. Know your material well enough that neither your nor your audience will need Lorazepam and vodka to get through it. However, if it turns out to be “just one of those crazy ‘adult encounter’ things,” having brought the Lorazepam and vodka will make you quite popular (and might have even caused it in the first place).
Expertise through Esoterica
To truly know your material, I suggest limiting its scope to the smallest, most esoteric niche you can muster. This way it’ll be tiny enough to master (like the mating habits of the great crested newt for example) or obscure enough that no one will know when you’re faking it. This is why I talk almost exclusively about myself during public speaking gigs, for I am both obscure and faking it.
Now, the more philosophical among you might ask that, if you are your own material, “Can you truly know yourself?” Simply trying to answer that question can kill about a half an hour at the podium so I suggest saving it for the big day.
The answer, by the way, is “Sign up for my ‘Getting to Know Yourself Workshop: A Meditation on Plato’s Philebus Dialogue and What it Means for Your Facebook Profile.’” That should keep them busy for a bit – at least long enough for you to mentally re-dress them and get out the hell out of there before they know what hit them.
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Daedalus Howell speaks publicly about “I Heart Sonoma: How to Live & Drink in Wine Country,” 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 14, at Copperfield’s Books, 140 Kentucky St., Petaluma.