You’re On, Kid

by Robert Adcox

Of the wondrously huge number of phobias, the one which affects me most intensely is public speaking. My fear of being heard by large crowds originated in grade school during oral presentations. I’m not sure why that is, considering that I excelled at being a real ham during show and tell.

Now, addressing a crowd is a pretty common fear. Most of us suffer this anxiety to some extent, though many of us overcome much of it in college, work, or various social situations. Some of us, however, can’t quite seem to shed that particular terror no matter what measures we take. Like the idea I had for beating my fear by calling a nationally syndicated radio talk show in order to beef about the issues of the day. One might think that such an outlet is healthy; after all, one calls a talk show to vent and to express. Relieving emotional pressure should thus lead to better mental health.

Or so one might think. In my case, calling the show meant being placed on hold for twenty plus minutes. From the time I dialed the number I was nervous. Every other minute, the call screener came on line (in an intimidating hushed tone) to inform me that I was now number seven in the queue. Each time he did this, I felt my throat constrict just a little more. Commercials came and went, and the music signaling that the show was back on the air once again blasted AM speakers across the nation. My palms began to sweat. This time, Mr. Screener informed me that I was next following the crazy guy calling from Forth Worth whose complaint centered around some government conspiracy to fluoridate orange groves in Florida. Would anyone recognize my voice, which sounds like a moose with a head cold?

Just as I began hearing my blood pump from within my head, with palms sweating, and with that icy cold feeling that only fear can bring, Mr. Screener came back on the line to tell me not to make any noises because I was next.

I think I heard myself gulp, which scared me since he just instructed me not to make any noises.

The host, ever the glib, slick-tongued orator, suddenly sounded much louder and much, much angrier. “We take a call now from Rooooob in Roanoke, Virginia. How are you today, Rooooob?”, intoned the most professional-sounding and famous person on the other end of the call. “Uumm…” I began, voice cracking and hands shaking. “I was wondering what you thought about Senator Whoozit’s plans to push for a-” “I know where you’re going, and you’re right! Those in our political camp need to stick together during these tough times, Rooooob”, replied the gifted orator. “Thanks for a great call,” imparted Mr. Host. “Rooooob makes a good point.” (I wonder what it was?)

By this time, of course, I was so wracked with adrenaline that I could have bench pressed a Buick. The famous talk show celebrity prepared to move on to the next caller as I crawled away from the phone feeling like someone had Hoovered the blood sugar out of my endocrine system. Consuming an entire box of Oreos would not have pushed me closer to homeostatic balance.

Psychologists term such an attempt to overcome a phobia as “flooding” – as in fully immersing the person in the very situation which elicits fear. The idea is that the person will quickly learn that his or her fears are unfounded, thereby extinguishing the phobia. I missed that day in class.

I had to take a call.