Speaking in public is often considered to be our number one fear. So who in his or her right mind would willingly hop on stage and compete to earn the title as the best at it?
Westside documentary filmmakers Brian Weidling and Paul Galichia decided to find out and, following in the tradition as films like Wordplay, Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom created Speak.
Opening August 17 in Los Angeles, the documentary covers famous flubbers like former Miss South Carolina Teen USA Caitlin Upton, who got tongue-tied during a televised beauty pageant, and “boom goes the dynamite” sportscaster Brian Collins, before delving into those who don't seem afraid to fail at all — the finalists in the World Championships of Public Speaking.
But why public speaking? What's more to say than that people obviously have a fear of getting on stage? Yes, there are performance jitters, explain the directors, but with public speaking there's also the idea that — unlike, say acting, when you're on stage with others and reacting to them — it's all on you.
“I think Caitlin Upton said it really well [in the film],” says Galichia. “It is that sensation that everyone's looking at you, they're listening to every word that you say, you're the only one talking. There's something very exposing about that that makes you very vulnerable. There's nowhere to hide; you've got to talk. And you need to look comfortable. And that's intimidating for just about everybody.”
The creme de la crepe of the film's competitors in the World Championships included an out-of-work father of six from Iowa who is an amputee and who dreams of speaking professionally, a Dallas woman with systemic lupus who seems to be harvesting nothing but positive energy, an actor from Los Angeles with an incurable heart disease, and a retired Penn State faculty member who'd recently reconnected with his high school girlfriend — 50 years after they dated.
All of the finalists had inspirational life experiences, but the directors didn't think that was the only thing that made them powerful speakers — it also had a lot to do with practicing what you're preaching.
“It does give them a story, but really everybody has something that's happened in their life that's difficult to overcome,” says Weidling. “Everybody at some level really has tried to find that thing inside themselves that they can give to someone else as a life lesson. They're all working on that to begin with, but in the end the ones who actually do well and rise to the top in the contest are the ones who have really authenticated their message. The ones who did win, it was very clear to us that they were living their lives with that message instead of trying to sell a message.”
This dedication is something the winners will need. With no cash prize and no guarantee of speaking gigs after the competition, the winners are faced with another challenge — turn their bragging rights into making a name for themselves on the paid public speaking circuit. It's enough to give you jitters just thinking about it.