Public Speaking and Laughter's Effects

I just now had an insight, about my own behavior. It is about laughter's effects.

Some background. Am at the moment doing some proofing on a Laughter Yoga site as a volunteer task; and as part of that I needed to evaluate an associated video. Suddenly it triggered a series of insights into my past, which I will attempt to briefly describe here.

I grew up terrified of public speaking. I knew it was probably a result of when in school at an early age, I was instructed to be one of a series of small boys going out onto a stage, having been given a stick pointer, and point at a projected image on the stage's screen, and say a few sentences which I had been instructed to say. It seemed to go well with the other students as they went up and spoke while pointing at the screen. But when I did it, the audience roared with laughter, and I left mortified, humiliated. I was already the smallest boy in the class, meek as could be, and having to reduce physical activity due to severe asthma; Asperger's also made it hard for me to be accepted into school kid's group games; so this seemed even worse. I still don't know why the laughter, maybe I pointed at the wrong thing on screen. But since I was the only small boy of the group that got the laughter ridiculing for my efforts, and it made no sense to me, from then on I was terrified of getting before a group of people and saying anything.

In fact, eventually it was the last straw triggering my dropping out of college; I had to next take a class in public speaking and I bailed out. It was that severe. 1959.

In 1985, I was a freshly unemployed non-degreed Electronics Design Engineer in Sunnyvale, having been RIF'ed along with many others at Shugart Associates, a disk drive manufacturer; and so I did a process called "Energetics" which was quite a holistic and advanced process for high level folks from many fields, who needed to find employment. It put lots of pressure on me, particularly due to the timing I had not done the prerequisite process called "Actualizations" which was another public-character-forming activity.

One of the later activities in the Energetics growth process was to go out on foot in San Francisco, locate several pre-assigned places of employment, submit a resume and do one's self-recommendation process there, all as practice. I lost sense of time and when I got back to Energetics, they were all as an audience and a stage; I sat down in the back trying to figure out what was going on, when the facilitator called on me to go on stage. He told me to describe my experience that I had just had. So I was on the spot and really slow in figuring out exactly what I needed to do. So I began to tell my story of what had transpired, and what I found coming out was a poker-faced stand-up comedy, to which the audience, my fellow students and the facilitators, were repeatedly roaring with laughter, and I was finding it to be what I wanted to do, an achievement to get them to laugh. When I finished describing my somewhat traumatized travels and doings of the past couple of hours in the City, I got a huge applause as I took my seat again.

I still look back on that experience, and wonder what that was all about.

But now I see it was life-changing for me.

A few months later, I had given up finding a job in the Bay area, was just about ready to leave to go to Los Angeles where I had an offer for a free room to live in while looking for work there. But a message on the answering machine said a talk I had written and sent in to the National Commission on Space had been accepted, and I was to testify before the NCS in a couple of days. So I delayed my exit from the Bay area long enough to return to San Francisco's Academy of Science's Auditorium, to testify.

Not knowing when I would be called to go up to the stage, I arrived early in the morning, sat in the far back, constantly facing my deep mindless almost terrified fears about going on stage and talking. Yet the subject was one that I had very strong feelings about, and I had something important to say.

Finally late in the afternoon, I heard my name called. One of the problems of sitting in the far back is that it is a long walk to the stage up front. I got on stage, wearing my expensive pin striped job interview suit and tie, and pulled out my papers on which my talk was written; I had added more to it in the meantime after submission, and I read it, best I could do. I had written in an amusing incident related to a gyroscope and strength of materials, which the audience obligingly produced lots of cheery laughter about, giving me a feeling of satisfaction. And when I was done the audience gave me a very fine applause. And as I was leaving the stage, one of the Commissioners, Dr Paul Coleman of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, suddenly asked if I would give him the papers I had read from; this was something none of the others had been asked; surprised, I did so; and he told me it would be kept as part of the Congressional Records.

As I walked back to my seat in the far back, two people came out and handed me their business cards, asking me to send a copy of my speech to them. And as I sat down in my seat, one of the space enthusiast group (nickname of "Tee" since his name was too long and hard to pronounce) turned to me and said that I was a master of the understatement. All in all, it was another life-changing event for me. Even though the resulting report of the NCS did not include any of my recommendations for the next 50 years of the American space program.

In the early 1990's I learned that some of the formal space conferences were opening up paper presentation abstract submissions to all people, instead of just to their specific membership. So in early 1995 I found myself once again in front of an audience, this time at Princeton, NJ, presenting a technical paper on my Centristation concept, an automated wet-launch sequential launch and teleoperated docking into the classical wheel-type space station in LEO. There I faced my public speaking fears again; learned from my mistakes. And went on in subsequent years to do a similar thing there and at other space technical conferences, writing and presenting eight technical papers involving unusual space transportation and applications concepts, seven of which resulted in published papers in conference proceedings.

I would not have done any of that, if somehow through Energetics and the National Commission on Space speech experiences, my relationship with laughter had not drastically changed.

And now, I ponder thoughtfully musing to myself, I do Laughter Yoga volunteer work via my home computer and the internet, and also have become a certified Laughter Yoga Leader, at least in theory.

Looking back at it all, maybe it also has to do with my great admiration during my younger years, of the great American comedian, Bob Hope.

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