Crash Talk

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By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, June 4, 2006

My presentation is finished, and I'm in that post-presentation state of mind: foggy, adrenaline-depleted, happy in a way approaching rapture that the darn thing is over.

People gather around, as they politely do at times like this, but they are not saying, "Good job," or, "I sure enjoyed it," or any of the stuff people usually say. Instead, it's, "Oh, you handled that so well." And, "You sure didn't look upset." And, "That could have been a total disaster! "

I'm confused. Why are they saying these things to me? Words like "upset" and "disaster" are just not the ones you want to hear upon finishing a presentation, no matter the context.

It was that bad?

"If that had been me," one says. "I would have crawled under the table and sobbed."

Holy lectern. It was that bad.

This is ridiculous. I should have stayed on the path I was on before the presentation started. I was thinking: "Let us gather round, people, and join hands as we eradicate presentations and public appearances from our lives." Who likes doing these things? Who among us does not break into a most unattractive sweat, and feel an astounding and worrisome rise in her blood pressure upon approaching a lectern toting index cards or a PowerPoint plan?

It can't be good for the ol' ventricles. It's not worth it. Let us rise up, people, and release one another from this particular burden of the working person's life.

But, no. I had to get up there. And, really, the main problem was I was thirsty. Why do humans get so thirsty at times like this?

There was water provided for me, but it was behind me, on the table. Which was my fault. I chose, when I sauntered out there, to stand in front of the table. It was a move of faux confidence. It was a casual stance that said, "Howdy, gang," which I thankfully stopped myself from actually uttering. Instead, I winked at a woman in the front row. Winked!

I never wink. I don't think I've winked in 27 years. But there I was, all "Howdy, gang," standing in front of the table, while secretly trying to calculate how I might get just one itty bitty sip of water. Would it be rude to turn my back on the people? Would they care? Howdy, gang. Wink.

I did not get the water. There was so much going on. There was no microphone stand. I was expected to hold the mike and speak. I also had to read from my notes, which I had to hold as well. So that's two hands right there. Every time I had to turn the pages of my notes, I had to brace the mike with my elbow against my chest and sort of contort my torso leftward, like a person experiencing spinal pain. That was distracting. But really none of that was as bad as the problem I was having producing saliva.

It got so I didn't care what I was talking about, so focused was my body on its primal scream of thirst. Soon I was having trouble making consonant sounds and wondered if I might just finish the talk in vowels.

Just then: Crash! A horrible sound coming from behind me. And in the audience all the eyes got big, and all the jaws dropped. Crash! Crash! Crash! I turned to see the table, holding the lectern and all the merchandise, the product I was hawking, falling to the floor. An avalanche.

I turned back to my little audience, many of whom were now pointing. "What does it all mean?" I shouted. They took it as a joke. They thought I was coming up with some random quip. But I was serious. Because all I really saw in the mayhem at my feet was: my water. All over the floor. My water. My water. My ice. My water. "Well, I suppose we'll just continue, then," I said into the microphone, and stepped to my right, marching over and away from the soggy mound of debris. "Please turn your attention over here," I said. And so I finished my presentation, kind of like a circus performer too duty-bound to notice how stupid she looks with her spandex ripped open after she fell off the trapeze and snagged her sleeve on the tusk of a passing elephant. The show must go on.

"You handled that so well," they're saying now. And, "You sure didn't look upset." And, "Everyone could see it was totally not your fault." Exactly. I was not, for the record, touching that table. I was not leaning on, or in any way influencing, the stability of that table. If it had been my fault -- now, that would have been a disaster. But it was not. So, it was not that bad. And, anyway, it's over now. Done. Rapture! Another human narrowly escapes the treacherous terrain of public speaking.

I'll drink to that.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.


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