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Breakthrough


Moving to Ozark, Missouri at 11 years old turned me somewhat shy. I didn't know anyone there and it took me a while to make some lasting friends. In that six month friendless window, I learned to keep to myself, mostly.

Later, I became a 15-year-old sophomore at Ozark High School for the 1994-1995 school year. Not much had changed over those four years. I still had the same friends and I was still riding their more outgoing social coattails. I still lacked self-confidence.

Along with the rest of the English 2 class, I was assigned to read a book and then do a spoken book report at the podium in front of my classmates. I dreaded it. We were to aim for a five minute report. I'm not sure since I wasn't counting, but I'm willing to bet that I agonized for weeks over what I would be forced to do during those five minutes.

I had no experience speaking in front of a group and I didn't want any. I was just fine sitting slumped in my chair going pretty much unnoticed by virtually everyone around me. Many people have this same fear, so I felt that it was alright to feel this way. Possibly even a desirable quality. After all, I had no interest in speaking in front of a crowd. I didn't plan on becoming a speaker when I grew up. "Why would I ever need to learn this in real life," I wondered to myself.

The teacher, Ms. Lambert, didn't just give the assignment like some teachers would have. She spent a considerable amount of time instructing us how to give a good report. She gave us tips on how to practice it at home. She got us thinking about how a spoken report should be structured. She didn't harp on us about the way it had to be, only made suggestions designed to encourage us to make our reports better.

I took all of her advice, even practicing my speech to my wall at home with a timer. It wasn't like me to prepare so much, but I was desperate to have what I needed to survive the ordeal. So desperate, in fact, that I even took notes on Ms. Lambert's suggestions. The day came and I nervously waited my turn. During the several reports before mine, I noticed that almost no one in the class was paying attention to the one giving their report, anyway. That really took some of the pressure off. At that point, for the first time, I felt like I could do it without vomiting.

My turn came and I gave my report just as I had rehearsed it. About halfway through, I looked around and away from my notes long enough to take notice that I had everyone's attention. My nervousness doubled at that moment. And, just when I thought that I was going to make it. A couple seconds later came "the joke" part of the report. Ms. Lambert had suggested to include a funny part to the story to keep your listeners engaged. I knew it would bomb, but I followed my notes just as I had practiced it in my room. Punchline. Laughter. Wait, laughter?! I did a quick left to right and realized that not only did I have their attention, but they were listening to every word that I was saying. The joke wouldn't have made sense had they not been listening all along.

I finished the last leg of my report without the nervousness that previously had plagued me for weeks. If I remember correctly, Ms. Lambert gave me 110% as my grade for the report. I was proud.

Ironically, I went on to fail Literature of the Bible. Twice! And, I couldn't even finish the first semester of English 3. However, I graduated high school and enjoy writing even today. I still occasionally get nervous at times in front of crowds, but I never let it stop me. Since that report, I have spoken in front of hundreds of people at a time, played guitar and sang for large groups, friends and strangers alike, and I have even presented new work concepts in front of a room full of business executives.

I wouldn't be who I am today if not for Ms. Lambert's care to make sure her students knew the strategies and skills of public speaking. I'm not even sure if all that is on the curriculum, but I know I left her class with it. Thanks, Ms. Lambert.

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