Most Embarrassing High School Memory: Timeline of Public Speaking


I always have and probably always will hate public speaking, so when I found out that my Junior English teacher wanted us to lead the class for two entire periods I might as well have imploded on the spot.  Our goal was to do a presentation on The Scarlet Letter, a remarkably outdated book penned in an impenetrable version of the English language.  In our group of seven students we assigned three to the story and four (including myself) to the themes and other elements.  I like to read, but after weeks of falling asleep during the first chapter I had to give up on actually going through this book.  Instead, my partner Adrian and I read about the themes on several online sources, then wrote the presentation based on what we had learned.

We never heard from the other two people in our part of the group, and I was desperate to come up with a way to deliver the presentation without actually going in front of the class.  I was a World of Warcraft player at that point, and had become pretty adept at using wowmodelviewer and photoshop to create forum signatures.  I set up a system where we could record our voices and play them over a video of characters performing talking animation loops.  It seemed to work pretty well, but we were pretty short on time so every transition had the same song and there was very little variation in the animations used.  Adrian went home after hours of recording, and I stayed up late to finish the lengthy video.  Please note that tired people make stupid, stupid decisions.

Dramatization.

I woke up early in the morning to export the video, but it wouldn’t export.  Disaster.  I would compare this to not being able to print an essay, but you can’t simply email a half hour video to someone, especially not four and a half years ago.  Panicking, I resolved to simply pack my entire computer and haul it to the class.  So there we were, 30 students all crowded around a cheap computer with a small monitor and quiet speakers.  Half of the class was straining to understand the video, and the other half had simply given up.  I was hiding in the back corner, trying to make myself as small and invisible as possible.

Like I said before, tired people make stupid decisions.  The video hadn’t been long enough, so I put in an entire episode of Red vs Blue as the intermission.  It wasn’t censored either, so I’m sure that Mr. Benoit appreciated that.  But now I was completely awake in the back of the room, sweating.  Not only did it have nothing to do with the presentation, but no one was getting the jokes.  I had taken an already bad presentation that was being shown in a terrible way and flushed it down the toilet by adding this.  I wanted to pull the fire alarm.

Completely accurate representation of myself in high school.

I was shocked to find that I had been given an 82% on the assignment the next day.  I should have just taken this grade and run, but when I found out that the two people who had done nothing were also getting passing grades I couldn’t keep to myself.  At that point I thought it was all their fault that everything had gone wrong, when in reality it was because I was trying so hard to circumvent a public speaking requirement.  I sent a complaint letter to what I thought was the teacher’s email address, but it turned out to be some sort of group email for the class.  This meant that what I had written was out there for the entire class, including the people I was talking about, to read.

This isn’t even stupid behavior at this point.  This is some sort of sort of multifaceted construction.  I had become a moron diamond.

This entire situation could have been avoided if I had simply forced myself into the speech.  I knew that the class wasn’t about to cannibalize me, but for some reason I was always terrified of speaking in front of crowds.  Something always went wrong and that scared me.  To my credit, I’ve gone through with every speech since this incident and something has gone wrong.  Every. Single. Time.  There’s always some embarrassing twist, or I forget something that should be brutally obvious, or a deity falls from the sky and elbows me into the ground.  Something like that.

I should probably mention that I'm against uniforms.

At a later point in that class I was seated in the middle of the room, side by side with Adrian again.  Across from us were two other students, and the rest of the class was around us in a wide circle.  We were holding a debate regarding school uniforms and had been chosen to support the side in favor of them.  When a blond from the audience interrupted with a question that sided against us, I referred to her clothes when making my counterpoint.  The rest of the class interpreted this as me calling her a slut, and the room erupted into oooh’s and laughter.  In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised by those rumors about my sexuality during senior year.

Our final assignment of the year required us to give a two minute monologue about anything in front of the class.  Maybe it was supposed to give us the feeling of freedom, but “anything” can be crushing in its vastness when you’re trying to write a speech.  I ended up giving a first person presentation on the thoughts someone has when they’re nervous about a speech, spanning from when they wake up on the morning of the big day to the point where they are called upon to give it.  My voice wavered, my words caught in my throat, and my hands shook at times, but it all worked.  All of my personal issues actually served to better my performance because they all fit the scene I was trying to create.  Everything seemed to have come full circle in an odd sort of way, as if I was owning up to my own flaws and mistakes.

If I’ve taken anything from this it’s that you can learn a lot about yourself in high school, but the actual events cease to matter the moment you graduate.  I used to be bothered by what happened, but now I’m completely comfortable with discussing them.  Oddly enough, I now have a retail job that requires me to discuss things at length with people I’ve never met.  I still feel a lot of those nagging feelings and doubts, but I’m able to function in that context in ways that I would have never expected from myself four years ago.

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