It should go without saying that Foreign Service Officers have to do a lot of speaking. We have been told that we now have public lives, personal lives, but no private lives. At any moment, we may be called upon to represent U.S. policies. This week we had two exercises to help us prepare.
The first exercise was the prepared speech. With the help of a professional coach, who is excellent, we prepared and delivered a five-minute speech. The speech was delivered in front of a group of our peers, and was video recorded. Afterward, we had peer feedback, feedback from the coach, and we were given a DVD of our speech.
I don’t know why, but I get nervous when I have to speak in a formal setting in front of my peers. I have no nervousness at all when I teach, when I give conference presentations, or when I give Q&A sessions. But when I have to deliver a prepared speech, I get nervous. Why?
I have been reflecting a lot about this lately. I have been doing some serious introspection. I like to use humor to defuse tension and try to make everyone feel more at ease. But a lot of professional context actually have unsuccessful human relationships. Humor can actually prevent people from interacting and making connections with each other. I wonder if I use humor as a defense mechanism, or a way to hide part of myself, or even a way to keep people at a distance.
When I have to give a speech, I have no way to hide.
Some self-help psychologists or life coaches say that people often sabotage themselves, often right when they are about to complete something or reach a goal. Psychologists say that it’s because people are actually afraid of failing. If they trying their hardest and fail, it can be devastating. So, what people sometimes do is quit at the last minute, so even though they never achieve their goal, they never succeed, they can still console themselves by telling themselves that they didn’t fail.
Lately I have been wondering if I hide behind humor. Do I keep people at arm’s length through humor? If I habitually use humor as a shield, then when I am in a position where I can’t, such as when I have to give a speech, I’m really exposing myself in a way that I usually don’t have to. Is that why I get so nervous when I have to give a speech? Do I feel more vulnerable in that circumstance than I usually do in my daily interactions?
Lots to think about.