Of Keynotes & Conquering Fears

Giant sigh of relief. I did it. I delivered a 20 minute (well, more like 10-minute) keynote address in front of roughly 100 high school journalism students and former professors. And I survived. 

What’s the big deal, you ask? Given that my profession consists mainly of the written word, the spoken word has always presented a bit of a problem for me. It’s not so much a weak point as a giant source of anxiety. Give me something to read, and I’m probably going to race through it at a relatively low volume, barely glancing up. All words will be pronounced correctly, with proper inflection and expression, but it will be over before you know it – and there had better be a powerful microphone handy. Ask me to ad lib and simply speak off the top of my head in front of a group of people – be it 3 or 3,000 – and, well, let’s just say most people know not to even ask.

Granted, I have gotten much better at this. Back in high school, I used to dread the words “Oral Presentation” on any syllabus, and would work myself up into a frenzy of sorts in the days and hours leading up to said presentation. Usually, it came off fairly well; but there were definitely a handful of occasions when my ill-advised attempts to toss the notecards and “wing it” went awry. Suddenly, I would lose all track of what I was saying, where I was going with my “point” (more like tangent) and how on earth to get back on track. Of course, seeing dozens of your fellow classmates staring blankly back at you never helped the situation either.

Being a journalism major in college, I’m sure you can all imagine how thrilled I was to learn that public speaking would be a large part of the curriculum. There was even an entire Oral Communication course I was required to take…what luck! All joking aside, I did learn to slow it down a bit, enunciate, project, make eye contact (well, occasionally anyway) and – dare I say it – even learn to ad lib a bit from time to time. Not too much. Just enough.

When I was first asked to deliver the keynote for the LIU Post Media Arts Best of High School Journalism Awards, all those nerves came flooding back. Memories of my valedictory address in high school, complete with my guidance counselor asking, “Um, Jamie? Do you need gum or a mint or something? You look like you’re going to be sick…” just prior to my getting ready to go on stage seemed fresh. 

But that was almost thirteen years ago. A lot has changed. People grow. They overcome their fears. Those once-impossible tasks seem suddenly attainable. In fact, that was the overall reaction of the high school students to my keynote address – Wow, we can do this too. She was just like us, and look what she’s achieved… The dream can become a reality.

That, I think, was the greatest compliment anyone could hope to receive. If, by getting over my fear of public speaking and being able to convey my message, I was able to influence even one high school student to pursue his/her dream of being a journalist… well, that’s the biggest reward of all.


{Published: March 6th, 2013}

Jamie Lynn RyanComment