Toastmaster General (Retired)

This is part of my Fiction Friday series.

She was one of the rare few who didn’t mind public speaking. In fact, she was one of an ever rarer few who actually enjoyed it.

Her type is so rare that her possible existence was ignored, and the entire department was enrolled in a mandatory public speaking workshop whether they needed it or not. Which she didn’t.

Toastmaster GeneralThe instructor gave them tips about structuring a speech,  poise, and diction. She nearly sprained her eyes from rolling them.

Then everyone was assigned a topic and had to give a 3 minute speech. Fine. Whatever. She did it. No big deal.

But the instructor, accustomed to shy and awkward presenters praised her like she was a butterfly who just emerged from her chrysalis and miraculously took to graceful flight.

It felt good to be praised. To be fussed over.

A few months later when she was feeling a bit down she noticed an ad for a public speaking workshop at her neighborhood community center. She decided to go.

Again, she easily gave the best speech of the group. Again, she was praised. Again, it felt good. Really good.

She started seeking out other workshops. She drove as much as 2 hours once. But there are only so many workshops and eventually she had seen all the instructors.

She enrolled in a speech class at the community college to get her fix.

“Have you taken a speech class before?”

“No.” She told herself that workshops were different from a class.

This time her teacher did not stop at praise. He suggested she enter a competition. (A suggestion usually reserved for students in the advanced class.)

On the day of the competition she mentioned to whoever was listening that “This is my first time competing.”

After her first round everyone told her how well she did. A most impressive first timer.

She accumulated more fans each round as she made her way all the way to the finals.

“Did you know this is her first competition?” they said.

The finals were against a guy who in pretty much everyone’s opinion had only gotten that far because his previous opponent was struck with an unfortunately timed coughing fit.

Before the finals everything changed.

No one was surprised by her talent anymore. They doted on her.

“You’ve got this.”

“This will be a piece of cake for you.”

“It’s in the bag.”

“You deserve this.”

Suddenly, faced with high expectations instead of low ones she found it difficult to breath. Her hands were sweaty. Her knees were shaking.

Her speech that round wasn’t horrible really, but it certainly wasn’t amazing either.

She threw her second place certificate in the trash on her way home.

She avoided public speaking after that. When talking in front of a group she did so eyes down, shoulders hunched, notes flapping.

Her new boss has suggested she take a public speaking class.

*     *     *     *     *

Do you like short fiction? Read the other Fiction Friday posts here.

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