A Wilson Times Co. publication · Serving Southern Nash County Since 1947

Overcoming public speaking fears with dinosaurs

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When you ask most people what things they are afraid of, there is a list of usual suspects most of the time.

A lot of people are afraid of heights. I am, so I can understand that fear quite well. My wife is afraid of spiders. I am afraid of snakes. My wife doesn’t mind snakes so much and I don’t really have a concrete opinion of spiders, so it works out for both of us.

Our old next door neighbor was terrified of cats. She wouldn’t come inside of our house until she was certain Cooper was in another room and had no intention of coming out. Cooper is a pretty social guy, so he would come out of the bedroom to see what all the fuss was and send our neighbor into a convulsion. I like Cooper a heck of a lot more than I liked that neighbor, so it was sorta fun for me to watch.

One of the most common fears for people is public speaking. I imagine it starts in grade school when the teachers would have the whole class read a portion of a book out loud to the entire class. I never figured what this accomplished other than having a room of 20 nervous kids skimming ahead to see what section they would have to read.

I was a stutterer as a child and I assure you every time I had to read aloud, I found myself navigating a minefield of sounds I struggled with. This is probably the time I developed a preference for the written word. If I liked to read things out loud, I would have gone into radio.

Television is not my forte, as I don’t think I look like a television guy. My brother was in radio for a short time and he seemed to enjoy it. I’m not convinced public speaking is any different if you can’t see the audience. You would think seeing the audience would be the hard part. I think the hard part is knowing they are there.

I bring this up because I have agreed to a public speaking engagement. I was invited and it is a great honor for me to be invited. I do not have a background in public speaking. I am not sure I have anything interesting to say for 30 minutes, but I will give it a try.

If I begin to flounder, I have a backup plan of showing my vacation slides from Dinosaur Land, the crown jewel of Front Royal, Virginia. I may not wow the crowd, but a 30-foot fiberglass brontosaurus might get them to the edges of their seats.

I have a plan and I will stick to the plan. I’m certain I will be just fine, but it doesn’t make me any less nervous. My hosts seem like very nice folks and they would have not invited me if they didn’t think I would have anything interesting to say. They offered to pay me a small fee, and I suggested they just send a check or money order to my therapist to aid in the inevitable anxiety.

I will not be speaking in front of a huge crowd. I was told it would be about 30 people. I did some volunteering with my daughter’s elementary school class, which was about the same size, so I think it will be a little similar.

Hopefully I will not have to pull anyone off of the recycling bin, keep people from writing dirty words on their desktops or covering their hands in glue, then peeling it off.

I don’t know if this will lead to more speaking engagements. I’ll just have to see how this one goes and I will go from there. I’ll try my best not to embarrass the paper. My wife will be in attendance and she is pretty used to me embarrassing her, so I don’t have to worry too much about that.

If this goes well, I might do it again. It’s unusual for me to step free of my comfort zone, but I’ll give it a shot. The worst-case scenario is I don’t get asked back. For me, that certainly would not be a first.

A few years ago, I wrote a single, one-off newspaper column. Now, it’s a regular thing in a few newspapers. A few years ago, no one knew who I was and now I am getting asked to speak publicly. Pretty soon, I’m gonna need an agent. Anybody know a good one?

Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.