Speaking of Nightmares

Anxiety dreams are common. It’s the day of finals and you can’t find the classroom–in fact, you have neglected to attend class all semester. Or it’s the big game and the coach sends you in as the point guard–only you are short and a really bad basketball player who hasn’t practiced with the team all season. Or you are suddenly called on to give a speech with a few only a minutes’ notice.

Except that the last one wasn’t a dream for me. It really happened once.

I was invited to participate on a panel at a conference for a few dozen aspiring editors. I imparted my wisdom, answered a few questions, interacted with the other panelists. As the hour ended, the moderator started to wind things up and my mind started to drift off. Then I vaguely heard him say, as if he were speaking in a dream, “Well, we need to bring this session to a close. We’ll take a fifteen-minute break and then Andy Le Peau will speak to us for an hour on how to title books.”

I nearly laughed out loud. Did he really say that? Oh, he is quite a joker. Yes, that was a funny one. No, he looked very matter-of-fact. Did he mean it?

I immediately went to the moderator and asked if he was serious. He was. Had we talked about this before? We had. We couldn’t have. But we did.

Realizing it was fruitless to try to figure out what had or hadn’t happened, I said, “Keep everyone away from me for the next ten minutes.” I went to a corner and madly scribbled a couple pages of notes.

Without handouts or a PowerPoint I stood in front of the group. How to begin? I decided (rightly or wrongly) on honesty. I told them of the misunderstanding but that we would still be able to have a good session together. Not surprisingly, I made the hour very interactive. I asked questions, moving us from topic to topic, roughly in order. I wrote responses on the board and occasionally summarized along the way, both tactics giving me time to gather my own thoughts and emphasize key points.

The hour ended. Under the circumstances, it had gone reasonably well, I thought. The moderator was sympathetic and appreciative.

A couple of weeks later he sent me evaluations from the conference. Of course, I paid most attention to what they said about my session. One comment still sticks in my mind: “Didn’t seem well prepared.”

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

2 thoughts on “Speaking of Nightmares”

  1. Andy, kudos on handling this with such aplomb!

    Your experience points out a great difference between us editor-types and the communications-types, whose favorite place to be is in front of a microphone. My friend, Alena Amato Ruggerio, teaches communications at Southern Oregon University, and she has some good tips here http://www.eewc.com/CFT/w2009e1.htm for overcoming public speaking fears–that is, if you know in advance that you will have to speak in public!

    I enjoy reading your blog all the time!


  2. Great story, Andy! I used to have an anxiety dream about oversleeping for a final exam in college–until I did it. I arrived about 45 minutes late for my two-hour English Literature exam. Amazingly, I finished it. And I never had that dream again.

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