Sort of Public Speaking Fears (Or Me and My Big Mouth)

Sort of Public Speaking Fears (Or Me and My Big Mouth)

Work got the best of me last week and my blog plans for the New Year hit a bit of a snag.  Even so I feel pretty good about my productivity and hope to get back on the hobby horse.  Just to recap: 2 for Chicago Now, 2 for Kaufmak in an ideal, crazy inspired week; anywhere from one to three would just be awesome.  If I were to go over that somehow, well I must have hit the lottery, sent the kids to boarding school and am living the life of a proper gentleman.

Why I’m really writing this is to lament me and my big mouth.  For some reason I’ve signed up, though it may not happen, to do 2-3 minutes of stand-up comedy at the next Chicago Now blathering.  In my younger days, I thought I could actually do stand up.  With age comes knowledge and a little wisdom, both of which tell me this will not be as easy as my twenty-one year old self thought it might be.  One of the most fascinating things, for me anyway, is to listen to comedians talk about comedy, especially their writing process.  What seems so easy, so natural and conversational, is in fact quite the laborious process.  I’m quite at home in front of large groups of people and I like to inject humor when I give a presentation or am presiding over a function, but to get up to a mic and basically get going cold, become the dancing monkey for your pleasure, well, um, yeah.  Stay tuned.

The other thing that my big mouth has got me into is a possible podcast.  The quick back story: My friend Jason has been listening to a podcast for weeks now about the history of the Roman Empire.  It is done by a man who isn’t a historian, but is up on the topic and is basically sharing his thoughts.  One day I overheard Jason listening and after a quick explanation I said something along the lines of, “I could do that, I bet it would be fun to!”  Famous last words.  Jason has been reminding me of my comments, even saying he is eager to hear what I do.  Oh. Dear. God.  I’m not nervous about Jason or the random anonymous stranger listening in, but it is the idea of my fellow historians listening that fills me with dread.  Not to brag (ok, maybe a little) but since my first day of teaching, I have received overwhelmingly positive evaluations.* The positive feedback is great, sure.  The idea of people, who actually know history listening to me, well, um, yeah, stay tuned.

*Which has led me to one very important conclusion.  Teacher evaluations mean nothing unless they are negative.  For fifteen years my student evaluations have been glowing, but nary a word from anyone who has employed me about a job well done.  Getting a new course each semester is a constant hassle and I always get the impression from the powers-that-be that hiring me is an afterthought or an emergency situation. Never, not once, has anyone said "oh, you seem to do well in the classroom, let’s keep you there."  I have, however, seen colleagues get cudgeled for bad evaluations.  Bad evaluations don’t do as much damage to the tenured types, but to the freelancer, they can be a huge obstacle.  The thinking seems to be that if you get bad reviews, you suck.  If you get good reviews, you obviously are too easy, not rigorous enough, or catering to students, therefore all the good press is suspect and you probably suck.


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