I recently joined Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills. The ‘icebreaker’ as they call it, needs to tell the audience a bit about you, where you’re from, and where you’re going. So, I decided to share with the club my memories of public performance from a young child to an adult. And now, I am sharing it with you.
The author dressed up as a chicken at age 9.
I come from a family of performers. My mother is an interdisciplinary artist, my father a theatre director, my grandmother a singer and voice coach. But me, I have never been one for the stage.
Like many children, my first memory of being on stage was acting in the school play.
In our school’s production of Charlotte’s Web, I was cast as a chicken, but I was more of a prop than a part of the performance. During intermission my dad drew me aside and coached me on the gestures of a chicken.
“Bob your head, flap your arms, and cluck like a chicken!”, he advised.
So when I returned to the black platform we had set up in the classroom that served as an auditorium in our 6 room country schoolhouse, I did just that. I mimicked a chicken- and possibly stole the show in my parent’s eyes.
My school didn’t have a music program and my family couldn’t send me to music lessons (although I had a childhood dream of becoming a drummer in a rock-and-roll band). So, for three summers in a row my grandmother sent me to music camp to learn classical instruments in hopes I would suddenly become the musical prodigy we were lacking in our family.
However, it didn’t pan out that way.
Every year, come the end of camp concert, I would sit in the back and mimicked the gestures my peers made on their instruments, but without making a sound.
I carried this tactic forth into the school choir. For those students not cast in the annual school play, we were forced onto the bleachers and told to sing. But I refused to sing- I just mouthed the words to the songs. Even though I knew all the words, I never uttered a sound.
My first job when I moved to Montreal after getting my B.Des in fashion was working in telemarketing. There, I had a script I couldn’t deviate from in-front of me at all times. When I finally got paid work in my field of study as a sales rep for an Italian textile mill, I found that sales without a script could be terrifying. I didn’t have an answer to every question or rebuttal a click away like I did in telemarketing. Even though I knew the answer to questions, answering without something concrete in front of me made me constantly question and have doubt in my own judgement. I found that in the real world, there was no solace in miming.
I left the fashion industry and returned to university to do a Masters of Design. I was encouraged to take part in conferences and give presentations outside of class, which I have been doing. However, a real wake up call for me was presenting the draft of my major research project to my colleagues in class. I was positive and confident right up to the point that it was time for me to present on my area of specialization… I then proceeded to give my presentation to my desk instead of to the friends around me.
I need to stop hiding. I want to say things aloud. I want to stand out from the crowd, and not blend into it.
I want to stop asking “Am I acting like a good enough chicken?” and instead know that I am the best chicken that I can be.
Maple Grove Public School’s 1996 production of Charlotte’s Web.