Saturday, June 23, 2007

Performance anxiety

The elusive quality known as stage presence was something I somehow inherited, though I know not from whom.

Maybe it was from my grandfather, who was a town councillor in dangerous Ukraine.

Or was it from my great-uncle, the priest?

I noticed that even my father, humble carpenter-turned-realtor had it.

When the elders of my family spoke, everybody listened. They had a quality known a gravitas. Also a flair for public speaking. Life was hard in those days. You made decisions. You worked hard. And when it came wedding or festival time, you would MC like a pro and later play fiddle like Pagannini.

My father had the same gifts.

Maybe it was the plentitude of the vodka, an animal rising- to- the- occasion, a show-off tendency. My dad had it and his dad, too, though not great-great-grandfather, who was a simple farmer.

Maybe we should have all have stayed simple farmers, though the Commies loved to off independent farmers--kulaks-- of Ukraine. They offed two of my grand- uncles from my father's large family. Bad Commies!

So here I was one day, up in the klieg lights before television cameras--you could only see the lights, no faces--gesticulating, improvising, translating, presenting my big lecture on Dante Allighieri, that wanderer through hell--and I somehow got away with it.

Not for nothing the patient instructors at Ryerson U, instilling in me the discipline known as speech, elocution, which I found rather hard as my accent was plain Hamilton Ontario, which would be like Younstown, Ohio. Plain factory hand talk.
Definitely a non-Etonian! as Monty Python might quip.

"You were nervous," my girlfriend at the time said.

What the hell, I'd tell her. "I pulled it off."

I would hate to give that lecture again. I recall that I was so nervous before the presentation that I could barely talk, let alone try to influence anybody. How many circles were there in hell, exactly? How many rounds?...For the life of me I never did straighten this out in my head, though I knew Dante was something of a mathematician. He would have three lines per stanza. And his cantos always somehow made up 333.

Hm. Double that.

Egad! 666!

For some people, public speaking and public performing is pure hell.

I used to find it hard going. But if your prepare properly, preferably in front of a VTR,-- if you trust your memory, loosely constructed as it might be, you will surprise yourself by actually pulling the thing off.

Brings to mind the recalcitrant Pirate Play kid-actor.

"I didn't want to be in this play anyway."

He had been instructed, upon hearing a booming sound, to say, "Hark! Cannon!"

He did her the noise, but all he said, was, "What in F was that?"



Donnetta Lee said...

Oh, I can relate to this one, Ivan. I have a great fear of public speaking. Naturally, in my professional career this has come up many times. Somehow, I got really good at dodging the bullet. I wish I were put together differently, but no! Just won't do it. I admire that you made through the speech at all!

islandgrovepress said...

Hi Donnetta,

Having a good instuctor of speech, one who uses monitoring equipment, is a great asset.
He/she points out your strengths and weaknesses, and, if any good, will kind of set you on fire, make you enthusiastic, up to the task.

This is a teaching talent, and I was lucky enough to have had good instructors, prodders.
Sort of like a personal director.
It's a lot like acting school.
You'll still be nervous when up on stage, but with your training, you override the nervousness and soon overcome the mike and camera shyness.


Josie said...

I can relate as well. I have even taken lessons in public speaking, and I get nervous even before the lessons. I remember once I had to give a speech at a retirement party for the senior partner of a large law firm. It was at a very swanky club in downtown Vancouver. I don't remember a thing about it, I just "zoned out", but afterwards everyone said "Hey, you were really good up there. You should do that for a living!" Uh, no.

Donnetta Lee said...

Ivan and Josie: I actually TAUGHT public speaking at a university when I was a grad student. NOPE. I promised myself to never do that again. Pure misery. I'm pretty good at teaching it, too. Used to work with kids after school by parent request to help them with their presentations for extracurricular activities. Now, hubby is happy as a lark when he's on stage. It's nothing to him.
Donnetta said...


I noticed in the little sound clip you offered a few months ago, that you had perfect elocution, that is to say pronouncing your words perfectly and without flaw.
This is probably from family background--as your father and mother spoke, so did you.

I recall that when I married into a very good family that they were the same: perfect diction.
And always "ing" endings. Talking and not "talkin'".

My new family did irk me a few times.
Both father-in-law and mom-in-law being successful people, their confidence was almost overwhelming.
When I tried doing somethig complicated, there was the sense of both of them sort of standing over me, with the real admonition, "You're doing that all wrong."
The confidence came from real success. The Paterfamilias twic ran for--and won--the position of city manager; he had a chain of pharmacies and was the author of two very good books.
Happily, I married late and by the time I met my new family, I had some achievements of my own.

There were, however, times when the Paterfamilias would get into his cups and tease me a little bit.
"Ivan, I notice you are fine-boned, have a tendency to blurt rather than speak clearly, and you are a bit flighty.
"Have you thought that you might be gay?"
I clambered over the table, grabbed the father in law by the ears, and laid a big smacker on him, full on the lips.
There was a surprise reaction of "aagh" and spittng and the Paterfamilias turning red in the face.

The whole family laughted out loud.

It was the last time S. would tease me.

Said wifey, "You've got to stop kissing men at the dinner table."


EA Monroe said...

Ivan, I did a lot a theatre in high school and being in a rock band and was never nervous about that -- never even gave it any thought.

But, raising my hand in class or having to get up and give a speech? Forgetaboutit!!

Somehow, performing -- taking on a character persona -- is easy work for shy folks.

EA Monroe said...

PS, Ivan -- just never give a speech to demonstrate Native American beading. I was so nervous my hands shook and I couldn't do the damn beading! Everyone thought that was hilarious.

islandgrovepress said...

I have long thought teachers were accomplished actors.
My very first lecture seemed to involved a lot of hand-trembling, to the point here I put down my cue cards and winged the whole thing. Happily, it worked.
From then on, it became easier and easier. Lecture notes and cue cards on the table, mouth wanting to go a hundred miles a minute, but
watching my diction all the same.

Curiously, ladies would come to me after class. "It's not what you say so much as your body language," they'd say.
Not for nothing had I taken acting lessons :). said...

Yeah, shy folk tending to rise to the occasion and give good presentations.
Seems that sometimes one's performance anxiety acts as a prod to sort of make you go over the top--which is about perfect for giving a speech. Your [resentation becomes animbated, it takes on life, and that's what the audience expects.
Surprise youself sometimes.


islandgrovepress said...


I was once pressganged into teaching biology, a subject that was a bit murky to me.

I undertook to explain that women had the XX chomosome and men the XY.
I had scribbled all that chromosome- and- gene thing on the blackboard. it all seemed very complicated to me, and I seriously started to flub when I began to explain the inheritance of eye colour through a tracing down of specific genes and chromosomes...I had drawn up some really weird charts.

Darn, doesn't a presentation start to go to hell when you have to do something specific-- Like explaining native beading or a tracing of gene structure!

Nobody quite yelled "boo" when I gave my lecture but I think they were on the verge of it.

So I stood up, somewhat dramatically, slapped myself on my own blue jean bottom and said, "Hell with it.
It's all in your genes!"

Girl came up later and said it was the best biology lecture she'd had.
~Slapping herself on her own blue-jean bottom~"It's all in your jeans, prof. You gotta know it!"



Anonymous said...



On October 10th, 2007, the day of our Provincial Election, a Referendum question will be on the ballot: Whether to adopt a new system for electing our government representatives in the Ontario Legislature. The new proposed system is the Mixed Member Proportional. Electors will be asked to consider the following:

Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature?/Quel système électoral l’Ontario devrait-il utiliser pour élire les députés provinciaux à l’Assemblée législative?

The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post)/L’actuel système électoral (système de la majorité relative)
The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional)/L’autre système électoral proposé par l’Assemblée des citoyens (système de représentation proportionnelle mixte)
Its details are explained in the Citizen Assembly May 15 report: "One ballot, Two Votes". You can also check out their "animated" presentation by clicking on "The Billy Ballot animation".

You can also read the following articles:

- Understanding the Electoral System
(Theoretical background on Electoral systems)

- Towards Electoral Reform
(A general introduction to the proposed MMP)

- How MMP will affect leadership

- False promises at election time

- How MMP will encourage long-term vision

- How MMP will encourage respect

- A clearer indication of support

- A new system of election renews pro-life hope
(July 2007 Interim - To be published)

What's wrong with our system?

- Read excepts from the: Dubious democracy report

- A primitive system

You can also check the following common objections:

- Objections 1: The new MMP system creates “career politicians” and “cushy jobs”

- Objection 2: With the new MMP system, there will be too many political parties

- Objection 3: With the new MMP system, governments will be unstable

- Objection 4: The current system works and it is fair. Why change?


What you can do:
- Inform yourself.
- Inform your friends and relatives.
- Tell us of opportunities to do presentations in your area.
- Write letters to the Editor of your local paper.
- Inform us of articles or media interviews on the subject.
- Vote "Yes" on October 10th.
- Tell other people it is important to vote.

--Giuseppe Gori



Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I guess all of us go through that shaky stage but some of us never really ever leave it. In your case, I am sure it was short lived cause you seem to be a confident and outgoing person. Was that the case?

islandgrovepress said...

Welcome back, LGS.

I guess it's like tampering with a commandment--you do it once and the next few times it gets easier!
Becomes sort of second-nature.

Ah, we sinners!


leslie said...

You are SO right about teachers being great actors! Teaching a lesson is like being on stage - every day a new performance. I used to get so nervous the first time I had to give a new lesson. But now, it's old hat and I can get up there and just wing it (as you did) if things take a down turn. However, speaking to colleagues makes me tongue tied! Why IS that?

islandgrovepress said...

Yes, it becomes second-nature.


You'd been dealing with sixth-graders all day, and by osmosis, I suppose, you become a little child-like yourself...I have noticed this in my own teaching.
For a year, I taught academic upgrading--the bottom of the heap in college teaching. There was a stigma attached to teaching people who were in college on the welfare ticket--rewarded for their failure by being offered a college education. I was sort of like JR teaching prisoners, some of my charges indeed having once or twice been in prison. The other instructors would begin to patronize me.
"Academic upgrading? Heh. We're not sure we even want to sit with you."
I was glad to be teaching creative writing the following semester.


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