My name is Lauren, and I’m a speaker.
Well, how else are you supposed to say it?
Truthfully, calling myself a “speaker” sounded strange at first, and I suppose it still does. But every day, it grows on me. I will clarify, though: I’m not a “speaker” because I’m a Speaking Fellow, or because I think I’m a great orator, or because I do it for money or something. I’m a speaker because I care very much about how I speak, my own voice, and how I present myself to the world.
Speaking in public used to kill me. Kindergarten, first grade, second, third, fourth, etc… In my Language Arts classes, we took turns reading paragraphs aloud, speaking one-by-one around the room. My turn approaching, I’d sweat and stare down the bathroom pass, debating whether or not to snatch it and dash out. Why do they always make us say stuff in front of people all the time? In fourth grade, I faked a fever to skip giving a group presentation. Why can’t they just let us read and write like normal people? School forced me to speak, and I hated it.
It became a problem. Desperate to ease my dreadful fear, I took my mom’s advice and pushed myself into all kinds of public speaking. I tried theater, debate team, and student government. But as soon as I had to speak, my stomach always panged and I choked on nerves. I eventually gave it all up.
Sometime in middle school, I realized I was funny. People liked my jokes, and I won “funniest” in class. I started performing comedy – with friends, in shows. Oddly, I enjoyed it. I didn’t mind speaking to ten, twenty, hundreds of people all at once… just as long as I could be funny. So naturally, I got on by being funny for a long time.
Right up until college. Here, I started thinking very seriously – in class discussions, in my conversations. I feel funny bringing humor around always. Some things are serious, right? And especially when I care too much, I just don’t want to be funny.
But I don’t want to be too serious either (though sometimes I fear I’m starting). To balance myself, I’m called to find an authentic voice – a way of expressing myself truly, without cutting any parts of myself off.
Finding this voice is ongoing for me, for everyone. Our voices change when we adopt new beliefs and opinions and when we assume new roles. Although our voices are fluid, fulfilling authenticity across all spoken moments is very possible. In fact, it is necessary. When I speak, I believe my presentation is literally a presentation of my Self. The presentation therefore should and must be true.
Listening to my present voice, I hear if it’s authentic. I also recall the sound of my former voices – some of which I’m not so proud of: my phony moments and all those times I was utterly silent.
Fellow Voices, I’m now here to share my speaking story – from childhood to present. Through my blog series, I hope my stories reveal my personal growth to celebrate a truth: developing a voice is a process. “Good speaking” is not a trait, talent or secret; If it were– if some people really were born “good speakers,” and others not – some of us (myself included) would be deeply disadvantaged, presumably unable to grow to present ourselves well at all.
I’ve got good news. Truly anyone can become – and probably is on the way to becoming- a “good speaker.” We all have voices, true ones; whether it takes crying mid-speech in front of a class, faking a fever to avoid a presentation, hiding behind a mask of humor, or peeing your pants during a public debate (stay tuned, stories to come ), we find them.