Puppy Chow and the Art of Public Speaking

Remember when you gave your first speech in school? So humiliating. Nerves out of control. Trying to remember breathing. Talking too quietly. Swaying. Suddenly forgetting that you had control over your body movements and gestures; awkwardly forcing them instead. Thinking note cards would save you from your listeners. Finishing twice as quickly as when you practiced at home.

If any of you have ever watched me give a speech, you know that 4th grade train wreck hasn’t gone away for me yet. I cannot imagine how painful it is to watch or how uninformed you feel when I am done. Heck, I don’t even like my speeches. I…Abhor. Despise. Loathe. Passionately hate speeches with all of my heart.

After years of embarrassing treachery in junior high and high school, I purposely took my undergraduate speech requirement at the esteemed Lincoln Land Community College. I wanted to avoid seeing anyone I knew, and I didn’t have to worry about my grade as long as I passed (transfer credits don’t go toward GPA).

Our first speech was the simple demonstration speech. I was randomly selected to go the first day. Like everything school-related, and because it was summer, I put in as little effort as humanly possible. I just wanted to get this class over with for so many reasons. I chose to demonstrate how to make Puppy Chow because it is simple and one of my favorite things in the world.

Speech day rolls around.

So here I am, practicing my stupid speech with the expectation of pure hell, and the teacher asks us to come to the chalkboard to sign up for time slots 1-6. What in the world do I want in this situation? Do I want to fail early but get it out of the way? Or do I want to crash and burn toward the end when people care less, yet have to sit there dreading my turn? I can’t bear going first. A demonstration speech on how to prepare Puppy Chow, one of the easiest things in the world to make, by someone who clearly wants to be anywhere but in front of this room of people making Puppy Chow, is idiotic. So I sign up for second. This will give me enough time to see that it is possible for another human being to give a speech to a group of fellow humans and not spontaneously combust. Plus, there will not be enough time to have a heart attack from apprehension.

I sit back, try to relax, and watch Jennifer L. walk up to the front of the room. “I wonder what creative idea she has for this demonstration speech,” I think to myself to pretend like I care. She starts getting supplies from two brown bags and puts them on a table. Seems like this involves cooking.

“Hi class, I’m Jennifer, and I am going to show you how to make a yummy treat today.”

I see what looks to be a box of cereal, and maybe some chocolate chips.

“My family calls it “Muddy Buddies,” but you have probably all had the popular dessert known as ‘Puppy Chow’.”

WHAT.

Are you serious?

This is unbelievable. I can’t even comprehend how ridiculous this is.

She is making Puppy Chow also? The one person ahead of me chooses this of all things. You’re telling me I have to go right after her? How original can I possibly be? How unlucky am I? Why me? Freaking Puppy Chow.

To make matters worse, she is much more detailed in her demonstration, and she seems confident and eager to be speaking.

I instantly switch to panic mode, which on speech day is not really a switch. I clearly can’t go next, or even today, or even with stupid Puppy Chow as a topic at all. I will take a lower grade just to be able to go the next day. No, I will feign illness (I could easily make myself faint in front of the room). Maybe I will just drop the class. Better yet, I will simply transfer to another university that doesn’t have a speech requirement. Or I could even just drop out of school completely. No, I should probably finish school. This all sounds extreme, but this is how I actually respond in these situations. What is painful for others is a literal guillotine for me. In no way, shape, or form can I do this sp… “Thank you, Jennifer. Next is Curtis. Get any items you need ready and we’ll start in two minutes.”

The shock still hasn’t set in. I have no choice but to take my ingredients up to the table. For me, it is a walk of shame.

Nice, off to a fantastic start. Great confidence.

I cannot want to be at the front of the class any less than at this point.

Aww, look at them, enjoying the samples of food Jennifer is handing out…Puppy Chow. I am depressed. I am torn. I am lost. I am dead.

“Hi. I am making Puppy Chow also,” I mumble in only the most vapid, humorless, unconfident Curtis way that I know. Of course, no one laughs. I stare at them like an old person first realizing how to use a webcam, but I find nothing to work with. Seems like we have developed a nice rapport.

I feel like they absolutely know how to make this already, so every single word and action from me is wasting their time. Their precious time becomes my only interest. The words I wrote on the note cards look absurd now that I am in front of people. People who just witnessed someone else making the exact same thing, and who already had no interest in watching an insecure person give a speech. I don’t even want to hear what I say. Any will I had is gone. I wonder how harshly they are judging me. Who is this moron speaking?

Five dreadful minutes later, and three minutes before the minimum time requirement, I find myself walking back to my seat in a trance. If I am alive at this point, I am not aware of it. I have no clue what I said. I definitely skipped some steps, and there are only a few of them. I don’t think I even made Puppy Chow. I awkwardly hide a huge bag of mix I had already prepared instead of handing it out. Why would they want more? How nice of me to bring enough for everyone.

The moral of this story is, I suck at speeches. I’m awful. I still hate Jennifer L. for stealing any semblance of thunder I might have. And never again am I showing anyone how to make Puppy Chow. You melt chocolate, peanut butter, and butter and put it over Crispix or Chex, then shake it in a bag with powdered sugar. Jokingly easy.

On a more serious note, it is ridiculous how nervous I get in front of people. I envy those who can stay somewhat loose and maintain composure enough to know it might not be fun but it isn’t the end of the world. One day, I will actually be Curtis in front of people. I can be funny, quirky, intelligent, and interesting. My personality needs to present itself in front of an audience much, much better. I’m gonna work on that. Just not by making Puppy Chow.

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4 comments on “Puppy Chow and the Art of Public Speaking

  1. I love this article! Such a timely word too…I’m supposed to be public speaking at the weekend but have as yet found many numerous excuses why I can bail out…

  2. talk about bad luck! it’s almost enough to make you believe that there’s a god, and he’s EVIL! seriously, i share your apprehension about public speaking; it’s one of the hardest things in the world to do well. i’m mediocre at it, which is why in the past several months i’ve been teaching korean adults how to give speeches. (you know the saying: “those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.”) you ought to try doing some stand-up comedy too. fight fire with fire, right? eventually, you’ll probably have ’em rolling in the aisles. great post.

  3. I can so relate to this Curtis.

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