“Choking”: How Embarrassment Prepares You for Public Speaking

Sometimes we choke on peanuts, and sometimes we choke on senior thesis presentations.  In both cases, you can’t breathe, you can’t talk, you can’t think, and the best thing you can do is flail your arms around for someone to come and help you before you faint.

Getting up in front of people to give a presentation or a speech can be just like that.  So can sitting at a seminar table with your peers, or talking to a professor about a paper.  Have you ever been talking to someone you want to impress (your boss, a professor, a celebrity, your idol) and mid-conversation you realize you have no idea what you’re talking about?  Even though you’ve been an attentive participant in the conversation until this point, suddenly it’s like you’ve forgotten what English sounds like and you have to keep asking, “What?” as though you didn’t hear the first time.  You become extremely self-conscious of each word that comes out of your mouth, and can’t remember why you’re saying them.  You ramble for a while, but there’s no saving it and you start to peter out, hoping it’s over soon so you can hide in your bedroom with a box of cookies and watch Liz Lemon do slightly more embarrassing things on 30 Rock.

You can’t Heimlich the fear out of yourself when giving a presentation or talking in class, but here is some helpful insight that may come to your rescue, even in your most embarrassing moments.

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One thought on ““Choking”: How Embarrassment Prepares You for Public Speaking

  1. I had a public speaking event this past weekend, and felt very much like I was “choking” throughout. Still I stumbled through it, and as it turned out, people in the audience followed along the whole time. I guess I WAS speaking English, after all! Thanks Cecelia for your insights, and for speaking to the Liz Lemon in all of us.

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