“You’ve got to be kidding…you want me to do what?”

When I think back on my time as director of student activities at the University of Redlands, there is one memory that will always rise above the rest. It’s the kind of memory that still brings chills up and down my spine whenever I go back to that moment in time. And it involved a number of firsts. No, not that kind of firsts!

It was the first time I ever spoke at the historical Memorial Chapel on the University of Redlands campus.

UofR

It was the first time I ever spoke in front of more than 200 people…1,200 to be exact.

It was the first time I ever spoke to the University community, alumni, and dignitaries all together in one place.

It was the first time I ever wrote and presented an introduction for such an important person.

It was the first time I was ever videotaped speaking.

It was the first time I ever met a President of the United States.

It was the first time I ever had an intimate one-on-one dinner with a President of the United States.

It was the first time I ever rode in the President’s limo.

But it wasn’t the first time that I got so nervous that I thought I was going to pass out.

 

The request

I thought it was pretty cool that President Carter accepted our request to speak at the University. I’ve booked a lot of famous speakers, artist, musicians, and authors before but never a President of the United States. This was the cherry on top of the ice cream, as far as I was concerned. But little did I know…

John (Student Body President): “Hey, do you have a minute?”

Me: “Of course. What’s up?”

John: “I wanted to ask you something. Actually, it’s not just me, the executive team wanted me to ask you on behalf of the whole group.”

Me: “Okay, shoot,” I said, wondering what could be so important.

John: “We thought it would be appropriate for you to introduce President Carter at the convocation next month.”

Me: “What? Who? Me? Why me?”

John: “Now that’s the confidence I like to see,” he said jokingly. “Yes you. You did all the work to bring him here and you deserve the credit.”

Me: “But it’s a student event…don’t you think it should be a student who introduces him?”

John: “I’ve already talked to President Appleton, and he thought it was a good idea too. You’re introducing President Carter!” John smiled and gave me the thumbs up gesture as he walked out of my office.

Jimmy

 I could only shake my head and wonder…What just happened here!

 

The good…the bad…and the ugly

You know when someone says to you “Don’t think about pink elephants” and you think about pink elephants? You’re thinking about pink elephants now, aren’t you? See, it works. Well, that’s kind of what happened to me once I agreed to introduce President Carter, only the pink elephants were replaced by stage fright, anxiety, and all out fear. I mean, it is one thing to stand up in front of my Toastmasters group of thirteen to give a speech but an entirely different animal, if you will, to introduce a President of the United States in front a packed Memorial Chapel of well over 1,200 people. Don’t you agree?

I began obsessing about it. I’d frequently wake up it in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after dreaming about it. And of course everywhere I went people asked me about it. “Aren’t you nervous?” they’d say, or, “Do you realize how many people are going to be there?”

Days turned into weeks and the greatest opportunity of my life was approaching faster than heartburn after eating too much ice cream. But I wasn’t ready or prepared. My mind kept racing.

Should I use humor or just tell the facts? Do I talk about his presidency or all the things he’s done afterwards? Can I read my introduction or use bullet points, like I tell my students? And who’s going to be in the audience? Does it matter? And what does 1,200 people look like from the podium on the stage? Will speaking in front of so many people make me nervous? What if it does? What if I mess up? And who are all these Secret Service people around campus?

mic

 As each day got closer my anxiety doubled in size. I was having a difficult time pretending that I was ready when I knew deep down inside that I wasn’t even close. Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, I was scheduled as one of the speakers for my Toastmaster Club a couple of days before the big convocation. This would be my opportunity to practice my introduction for the President and get some last-minute feedback from people I really trusted.

 

The practice speech

Bob Graham, the Toastmaster of the meeting cleared his throat. “And now I’d like to introduce to you, Greg Giesen. Greg will be presenting his introduction for President Carter and welcomes your feedback at the end of his speech. Please help me welcome, Greg Giesen!”

The eight members who decided to show up that day applauded.

My body trembled uncontrollably as I took my spot in the front of the room. There were only eight people there…and I was falling apart in front of them. What’s going on! I thought to myself as I began panicking. Why am I so freaking nervous?

To be continued next week…

-Geese

 

To read more of Geese’s blogs, click here.

To listen to Geese’s weekly radio show, Mondays At 3, click here.

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