This morning, as usual, Darren and I rolled out to a coffee shop and had our official morning meeting (“Darren?” “Present.” “Melia?” “Present.”). We got to work on our laptops, and around 11:15 a.m., Darren pulled out his phone to read a text message.
Darren: Hey, want to talk about Reschool Yourself on the radio?
Melia: Umm…sure! When?
Darren: Today at noon.
Melia: That’s in 45 minutes. (Pales. Long pause.) OK, I’m in.
The radio show in question was JFP Radio, the Friday afternoon broadcast of the Jackson Free Press, the city’s alternative news weekly (similar to the San Francisco Bay Guardian). Darren recently left his job as Art Director of the JFP and stays closely connected with the staff, an artsy and talented crew. Staff members Sage Carter-Hooey and Kimberly Griffin host the one-hour talk show that features local music and guests from the community. Sage and Kimberly thought Reschool Yourself would fit well with this week’s “The Good Issue,” which encourages readers to get involved with social causes and organizations.
I’d hoped that my occasional public speaking for Spark and Reschool Yourself had cured me of my severe performance anxiety, but agreeing to my first radio appearance suddenly brought it out of hibernation. My chest tightened up, and my mind froze and began to churn. “What are your talking points? How will you answer the FAQs? What if you unexpectedly develop narcolepsy and pass out in the middle of the interview?”
I can’t say that this anxiety started in school, because according to my mom, I had a similar reaction at age 5 before my routine interview for kindergarten. The school staff simply wanted to ensure that the other kids and I were emotionally mature enough to begin school, but I expected them to put me through the ringer. “Will they ask me to whistle?” I asked my mom. “Will I have to wiggle my ears?” I couldn’t do either one and feared being laughed out of the interview. The kindergarten interview.
Though my performance anxiety began before my school days, these tendencies certainly worsened in school. The idea that I had just one chance to prove myself just about paralyzed me. If I botched an oral presentation in Spanish class, too bad for my grade. If I blew a recital in piano or voice (which Santa Clara University’s music faculty cruelly called “juries”), sorry, better luck next time! I found it frustrating when evaluation methods in school didn’t reflect my mastery of a subject.
It’s a reality that in the world outside of school, people often do have to step up and perform, so I wished I’d gotten used to it in a low-risk environment. There are a lot of ways for kids to do this: auditioning for a play or dance recital, running for school office, participating in oral language fairs or speech and debate. Teachers can also incorporate public speaking into everyday classroom activity without evaluating. For example, the students of Tim Curley, a fantastic teacher at El Verano, regularly speak into a standing microphone to share their writing. The fourth and fifth grade leadership class makes announcements to the other classes about upcoming events. Learning to present to an audience when you’re young makes it much less intimidating when you grow up.
I myself am still learning. While I can talk easily in small groups, I still clam up when speaking in interviews, public presentations, and even board meetings. I know I’m not alone; I’ve heard that public speaking is the number one fear among Americans, outweighing even death.
The JFP interview, though it made me a bit nervous, went as well as it could have. The most important aspects of Reschool Yourself came up organically, and the conversation inspired Sage and Kimberly to share some thought-provoking personal stories and opinions on schooling. Darren said that he’d never heard their stories before, which reminded me that Reschool Yourself has encouraged a lot of adults to reflect on their education for the first time. As long as that’s happening, whether I’m a perfect vehicle for the message is beside the point.
Even though I’d like to hone my ability to talk in sound bites, I’m proud that I jumped at the radio opportunity when it presented itself. I’m glad that I had only 45 minutes to prepare, and not a few days, because I would probably be crafting a 20-page document of talking points right now and practicing the interview in the mirror. Today’s lesson? Sometimes you just have to trust that the right words will come, and step up to the mic.
Thanks to Kimberly Griffin and Sage Carter-Hooey from the JFP for the radio opportunity. The broadcast will repeat Friday, 11/28, at 12 pm Central on wlezfm.com, with my spot beginning around 15 minutes into the program.
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What gives you performance anxiety, and how do you cope?