For a guy so full of phobias that there’s no elbow room at Hotel Fear in my head, people are sometimes curious as to why I don’t suffer one of the most common sources of terror: speaking in front of crowds. Glossophobia is extremely normal. I suspect it’s one of evolutions tricks for keeping metaphorical cooks out of the allegorical kitchen. If we’re all talking at once, who can be heard? The internet will prove to be some kind of experiment in that regard, I expect. Thing is, I’m not what most public speakers appear to be: confident. I’m not. Beneath the surface all kinds of phobias are vying for the next private room to become available. Over the weekend I had a public speaking engagement, and that made me consider this again—why doesn’t it bother me?
Although the answer to “why” questions will always remain provisional, I have an idea. It’s kind of creepy, but true. In my fundamentalist upbringing, I was taught that my life was being taped. You see, it goes like this: since the book of Hebrews says “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” some Fundies like Jack Chick illustrated this as an outdoor cinema in Heaven. Or rather, in the clouds just outside Heaven. Here you’d be summoned, buck naked, as soon as you died. Other nude souls would gather round the big screen and your entire life would be projected for all to see. Since everyone’s dead there are apparently no time constraints. As a kid I realized that I was being watched. All the time. Now, I’m not conscious of this constantly, but I did translate it to public appearances. We’re all, it seems, actors.
With a lifetime of performing experience, by the time I was a teen I wasn’t afraid of public speaking. Introspection was a big part of my psyche, and when I had a speaking engagement, I knew that I had to be conscious of what I did and said, because people would be watching me. I learned to play the part. I did take a college course in public speaking, and even a preaching course offered by the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, but both of these were long after I’d begun taking public speaking roles. I make mistakes, of course, and early on I learned to laugh at them before the audience did. We were all being taped, after all, and there’s no outtake reel before the pearly gates. Strange, but true. If you’re afraid to speak in public just remember—you’re being watched, all the time.