28 January, 2022

My Speech for the Nineteenth Annual Speak Easy Gavel Club Banquet

Glossophobia: the fear of public speaking. It's one of the most commonly reported fears. How common? Well, there are a little over forty people in this room right now. Since roughly three out of four people report feeling nervous speaking in front of a group, at least thirty of us would probably be anxious about coming up here, standing at this lectern, and delivering a speech. They might get a little case of jitters, sweaty palms, faster heart rate. Or it could be mild panic, with lightheadedness and rumbling guts. Anxiety runs a whole gamut of symptoms.

Even those of us who aren't nervous about the actual speaking part of public speaking face challenges. What subject do we choose? What tone do we take? How do we craft a good, attention-grabbing introduction and finish with a meaningful message? Do we invite questions at the end?

So you see, no matter who you are, public speaking takes a pretty significant investment of thought and effort. Why on earth do we put ourselves through that? This is the Speak Easy Gavel Club's nineteenth banquet. How has this club continued to exist for nearly twenty years? Wouldn't it be easier to just... not?

A man named Ralph C. Smedley founded Toastmasters in 1924. It started out as one club, which met at a California YMCA. Within fifteen years, though, it grew into an international organization. Today there are Toastmasters clubs in 143 countries around the world – more than 360,000 members, all striving to become better public speakers. And just like us in this room, most of them struggle with either glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, or with the other issues I just mentioned. Why put ourselves though the stress and the hassle? Are we, and every other member of this organization, crazy?

I want you to consider this: if someone with a terrible fear of spiders – arachnophobia – decided to go down to the zoo and stare at tarantulas once a week, would that make them crazy? If someone afraid of heights – that's acrophobia, another common fear – took up climbing lessons, wouldn't you applaud their bravery?

In his inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." I believe that every Gaveleer in this room has realized the essential truth of Roosevelt’s statement. Week after week we come to club meetings and test ourselves. Some roles, responsibilities, and situations are more challenging than others, but we push the limits of our comfort zones. We leap right out of the cozy nests that would keep us warm and safe, and we try to fly.

We don't do these things because they're easy. Easy would be rolling out of bed, watching some TV, going out to rec, eating a soup, playing a few games of pinochle, staying up for The Late Show and going to sleep. That's easy. There's no challenge. Easy is tedious. Easy is boring. Easy isn't going to do anything for you. There's no reward in easy. To get lasting pleasure from life, we need challenges.

Now, when I say "challenges," I'm not talking about mountain climbing or deep-sea diving. You don't have to run a marathon in Siberia to reap rewards from entering a challenging situation. For some people those are all that works to help them feel alive. For the rest of us, non-life-threatening challenges work great.

Studies have shown this to be a universal human truth. But do we really need science to tell us this? If we didn't crave challenges there'd be no checkers or chess, no soccer or baseball, no Jeopardy! or Wheel Of Fortune, no pie-eating contests or marathons, and of course no Gavel Club.

Now I'm going to share with you a little secret. I joined the Speak Easy Gavel Club in 2019, but before then I never had any interest in public speaking. I'm a writer. The closest I'd come to this was doing readings at coffeehouses, which were fine but didn't really challenge or inspire me. My goal in signing up for this club wasn't to be the next Tony Robbins or Jimmy Swaggart, so what was the point?

Our growth as human beings depends on curiosity, a willingness to experience new things and meet new people, an open mind to what's possible, not only for ourselves but for the world around us. Having expectations closes us off to countless possibilities. I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I joined Gavel Club. I thought it'd be an interesting way to spend a couple of hours each week, and maybe I'd get to work out a different writing muscle group by writing speeches. What I got surprised me.

Firstly, I learned that writing is as different from public speaking as building a boat is from tap dancing. I know I'm a terrible dancer, but I'm having fun trying. Thanks for not walking out on my performance here. Secondly, I made connections that helped with an amazing job opportunity. I wouldn't have known working with computers within the DOC was possible, let alone been offered a position doing that, had it not been for Mr. Brown, who gave me the heads up when a position opened at XSTREAM. Finally, and most importantly, I found friends, people who I genuinely trust and care about, who make my life richer for being in it.

What doors might Gavel Club open for you? Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. Glossophilia is the love of it. Face your fears. You might find that you end up loving them.


  1. I'm glad you're enjoying the Gravel Club. I get so nervous when I'm asked to make speeches. My hands shake and my face gets all hot. The worst case was when my eyes started crying when I was asked to read in front of 15-20 people all of whom were people I knew. Ahh. It's hard but you're right. Challenging oneself is important.

  2. Beautifully done. And you memorized it for the speech???
    You never shy away from a good challenge.


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