A couple months ago, my boss asked if I would be willing to give a talk at one of the university's monthly research forums. "Sure," I said cheerfully, knowing that that was the correct answer. Then, as I do with all public speaking engagements, I pushed it to the back of my mind, where it could fester and spawn anxiety babies and devise ways of giving me panic attacks.
My concerns were twofold. One, the material I was due to present is relatively new to me. It's not my PhD research, so I don't know it like the back of my hand. (Actually, let's be honest - I got to know my thesis a whole lot better than I've ever known the back of my hand.) Two, I was going to be speaking about cognitive science to an audience of musicians. I knew from prior experience that my explanations would have to be carefully worded and delivered with the utmost clarity in order to avoid mass confusion. This can be a challenging task when one is speaking in English to a room full of Brits or Aussies. I was going to be speaking to an audience composed entirely of non-native English speakers.
Saturday afternoon (also Sunday) found me sitting in my otherwise deserted office, plowing through some last minute analyses and whether it would be worth trying to explain action simulation or just better to avoid that part.
"Seriously, dude," said Rational Laura. "What's the worst that can happen?"
"Panic vomit," replied Anxious Laura, without hesitation. "Closely followed by drawing a mental blank and having to scramble around in front everybody with absolutely no idea of what I'm supposed to say."
Following further discussion, Rational Laura conceded that both were possibilities. Anxious Laura conceded that the probability of either occurring was remote. What was more likely, she suggested, was that the audience would do that thing that research participants so often do: stare in rapt silence throughout the duration of her talk, nodding in agreement at every pause, and then at the end come out with, "Okay, sounds good. [pause] Actually, could you say that again?"
Rational Laura had to admit that this was a distinct possibility.
When the big day arrived, Rational Laura allowed a maximum of three final practices. Anxious Laura pleaded, but Rational Laura reminded her that practicing a talk is like mixing cake batter - too much stirring and it's sure to be a disaster. There was a moment of Sheer Panic at 7.00pm, when the first speaker sat down and I made my way to the front of the room, but then it went down just like every other talk. People got it. There were lots of questions - interested questions, not 'can you go back to the first slide and explain one more time what the topic is' questions.
"See?" said Rational Laura. "That wasn't so bad. I knew you could do it."
"Shut it," said Anxious Laura. "This isn't your victory."