Lessons in Public Speaking

The noonday sun was burning a hole in my scalp. I was standing in the middle of a highway — known as the “The Killer” in the metro due to the numerous fatal vehicular accidents that it hosts on an almost weekly basis. I even witnessed a huge, bloody bus crash there one time, when I was pregnant. But that’s another story.

This time, though, I wasn’t worried about a zigzagging bus or a random motorcycle running over me even if I was standing right in the middle of The Killer Highway. After all, the entire stretch of the asphalt was occupied by a sea of people. A mass demonstration was going on, in protest of a very corrupt president. People were seated on the street, but I was standing because the program schedule says it’s now time for me to talk.

In the morning of the event, I was in the office of the university student publication, writing or at least trying to make an outline of my speech. The two pages of that material are now in my hand, and I started reading into the megaphone. It was a fiery speech, delivered in staccato rhythm, designed to arouse the revolutionary fervor of the listener and to energize the spirit of people who were presumably by now starving and so exhausted from the heat, the chanting and the long march from their destination.

Then the problem started. In the middle of the second paragraph, the words got caught in my throat, my eyes suddenly felt hot… and then I started crying. Which soon turned into one big ugly sobbing. My excuse: who wouldn’t bawl their eyes out while talking about really heavy stuff, like oppression? Who wouldn’t be a teary mess or wouldn’t suffer from an emotional breakdown in that kind of intense discussion? I guess not everyone. Maybe only a few. Or perhaps it’s just me? You know those cheesy quotes that say, “I hate that I cry when I’m frustrated because people think I’m hurt when I’m really just trying not to kill you”? Yup, me. Good thing the protest movement had no shortage of great public speakers — people who can match the skills of professional event MCs — so my little one-person soap opera was soon forgotten (I hope).

That protest march was among the last ones I attended, but it’s not the last time I spoke in front of a crowd. But I just stuck to “safer” stuff, like giving the introductions for the main speaker or reading passages from the Bible during a private mass. When one of my closest friends got married, I skirted around the issue by simply reading a poem I wrote. Lesson in public speaking learned.

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