Stepping Up to the Mic on JFP Radio

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, with my spot beginning around 15 minutes into the program.


Your Two Cents: Leave a Comment:

What gives you performance anxiety, and how do you cope?

Comments (9)

  1. Mom

    You sounded great! If you were nervous, it didn’t show.

  2. jhisaw

    Melia, your interview was fantastic, and you did not seem nervous at all. You communicated your passion for the “reschool yourself” project very articulately and enthusiastically.
    Your question about “performance anxiety” triggered memories of my elementary school oral reports. I absolutely dreaded them! Standing in front of the class, I could think of nothing but the 25 critical pairs of eyes that were intensely scrutinizing my slouching posture, my sensible shoes, my hand-me-down dress, and my wavering voice. I recited the report at breakneck speed, then retreated to the welcome obscurity of my seat. This went on all through elementary school and into the beginning of middle school. . . and then something happened that changed my attitude toward public speaking forever. It was another report, this time on authors, but there was a critical twist: this time, not only would I be graded on my presentation, but also the students themselves would be tested on the content of my remarks! When I rose to address the class, I looked up to see 25 faces earnestly and attentively focused on every word I was about to say about Louisa May Alcott, their pens poised in active note-taking mode. Rather than criticizing my appearance, their eyes seem to plead, “Speak slowly and clearly so we can record the facts and come out of this with a decent grade!” It was a defining moment in my life. Oral reports were no longer about me…. they were about communicating a message clearly and effectively to listeners whose welfare depended on my delivery. I have never forgotten that lesson and, starting from that transformative experience, grew in my confidence to the point where I now enjoy and even seek out opportunities for public speaking. For example, I have been a lector in my church for years. Proclaiming the Word of God is an incredible privilege and responsibility, for this message truly does affect the welfare of the listeners. And each time I get up to face the congregation, I am reminded of the lesson I learned back in middle school: it’s not about me.

  3. Melia

    Wow, what a story. I’ve heard public speaking gurus give the same advice — instead of focusing on your self-consciousness and performance, ask yourself, “What does the audience need from me?” Information, inspiration, entertainment? As with most situations, I know I’ll get a better result by projecting energy out instead of drawing it in. My challenge is that the messages of RSY (pushing through limitations, following your passion, and transforming schools) are so important to me that I want to communicate them perfectly. When I speak, I’ll keep repeating the mantra, “What do people need from me?”

    On another subject, have you been to the Louisa May Alcott house in Concord, MA? I just visited and saw the room where she wrote Little Women, as well as the amazing artwork of May (Amy in the book). Her dad, Bronson, was an educator who used progressive, inquiry-based learning in his one-room schoolhouse.

  4. Margaret

    Sorry for my leave of absence- I’m gone for 2 weeks or so and so much happens!! I saw Gill’s facebook message about listening to you on the radio and immediately tuned in, but it was no longer the right time. I will try for the 11/28 date, from good ol’ S L of O…
    And as far as performance anxiety, I had a recent- I guess I would say ‘average’- experience: a job interview. I went in with the attitude of 1) this would be a great job 2) these people are very welcoming 3) I would be a great employee there 4) don’t think about things too hard. I had realized that I have the tendency to overthink and build up first impressions too much. Basically overanalysis before the thing even happens. So I took a few hours on a few days, reviewed their website, asked 2 people if they knew anything about the firm (they didn’t), and thought about what I wanted to communicate, to bring out about myself.
    The interview went okay, with a few unclear answers, a few lackluster suggestions, but still okay. I carefully soothed my mind into a reflection on the overall experience, not just the mistakes, and let it go. I put it out of my mind until Monday (today), when they said they would call, and planned to see a Broadway show on Friday night. Before I did, however, they called to offer me the job. I feel like this job hunting season has been a great growing experience for me, with more self-understanding and more self-acceptance being two great milestones. Notice, not complete self-understanding or self-acceptance, just more! 😉

  5. sage

    I’m glad you only had 45 min to prepare too. It meant you just had to come in and talk… and you did such a great job! My mom was listening (west coast mom’s representing) and she was so inspired by what you are doing. It was a great, fun interview and I look forward to having you on again. But I won’t tell you when… I’ll just come steal you away. You’ll be too nervous about your possible hostage situation to think about what you’ll say on the radio.

  6. Melia

    Margaret, congrats! That’s so exciting – can’t wait to hear details. Good for you for focusing on the positives about the interview and putting it out of your mind, trusting that what’s meant to be will be. Seeing an interview as a conversation, rather than a trial, has helped me. I try to trust that if it’s the right fit, it’ll work out. Clearly, it did for you!

  7. Melia

    Thanks, Sage! (and Sage’s mom) I had fun, too, and I’ll definitely do the show again. When I get blindfolded and thrown into the back of a van, I’ll assume I’m in your good hands.

  8. Melia

    I just listened to the rebroadcast of the show, and I’m pleased to say that it went very smoothly. While I was doing the show, I didn’t have a sense of whether I was explaining the project clearly. As a listener today, I found the conversation with Sage and Kimberly entertaining and think that my ideas came across as I intended. It’s a good reality check to take a step back and look at ourselves from an outside perspective.

  9. Brian

    Yes, awesome show. I was surprised to read that you were nervous because I would have had no idea listening to it.
    The first presentation I had to give on my ship I apparently said “Umm” so many times that at our Christmas gift exchange someone gave me a bottle of “Tums” with the T erased.
    Ums… very clever.


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