Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


June 17, 2012

The art of public speaking

It wasn’t a Sunday after-church potluck dinner, nor was it homecoming in the tiny town of Bluewell. It was Tuesday, not quite the lunch hour but too late for breakfast. I was driving to speak to a local church group, the XYZs, at the Bluewell United Methodist Church. The church is tucked away off Route 52 and not visible during my daily commute to work. But I knew I was in the right place when I walked through the door. I could smell lunch. Church and food go together like a good handshake chorus and hand sanitizer. You can’t have one without the other. Tuesday’s combination — the welcoming members and yummy smells — made my nervous butterflies disappear.

Public speaking isn’t in my job title at the paper. Writers are more comfortable behind the computer, or with pen and paper. Words flow best on screens and in notebooks. However, there are times when reporters and editors, and others in the journalism field, are asked to speak to groups. I have a hard time refusing any church group who celebrates their age with fun acronyms like XYZ, which means extra years zeal. I talked to the group about the newspaper, Prerogative Magazine and exposed a few details about Lifestyles. I spent 30-40 minutes talking and answering questions. Loaded down with food, I headed back to the office thinking every day should include a covered-dish lunch and chocolate cake.

At my desk, I started to reflect on the afternoon. My mind strayed back to high school. I remember silently praying the teacher wouldn’t call my name. I didn’t want the attention, nor did I want to speak in front of my peers. I was scared to speak in public. In college, I had to take speech class over the summer; it was a requirement to graduate and I was determined to achieve an A. I had to stand in front of the class and present not one speech, but three, sweaty hands and all. My professor, a kind but gruff man, was simple and direct. He didn’t expect award-winning speeches, only confidence, organization and respect. I practiced in front of the mirror, on the way to school and in the bathroom before class. Even with sweaty hands and a case of butterflies, I got an A in the class.  


I wish I could tell you public speaking is easy. Unfortunately, it is the No.1 fear for many individuals. Each week, I share my life — my childhood, my dreams, goal and fears. Sometimes that is harder than standing in front of a crowded room. It isn’t the fear of stumbling on a word or too many “uhs” during a speech. It is allowing others to judge for 30 minutes without reprieve. It is sharing life in a newspaper column for the world to read.

 A lot of teachers told their students to imagine the audience in their underwear. I didn’t see the humor in the scenario. I prefer another tactic: a room of friends. It is hard to find a better audience than the folks in  southern West Virginia. From warm smiles to good food, residents in our area know how to treat guests.  I am grateful the XYZs and the Silver Saints of the First Church of God (I was invited to talk to them last year) in Princeton allow a few “uhs” in a speech.


Maybe it isn’t fair to compare public speaking and journalism. But each week, when I finish my column, I am suddenly aware of its destination. It is always on the right side of the front page of Lifestyles without fail. My photo hangs above the headline, giving readers a face to go with the words. The only thing missing is a podium and a voice. My heart and thoughts are in these words. I know there are no facial expressions, no laughter or misplaced “uhs” to go with today’s column. Yet, the words are chosen with the same care. And sometimes, even read out loud.

Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at or follow her @BDTParsell.

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