As someone who is neurodivergent, introverted, awkward and just generally terrible at speaking in front of people, I have had my fair share of horrible experiences presenting in school.
For instance, in sixth grade, I once got so nervous presenting a poem I had written that I asked my teacher to finish reading it for me.
In seventh grade, I once inexplicably lost my voice in the middle of a presentation and ran to the bathroom crying, and my twin sister found me there guzzling down water like a dehydrated dog.
In tenth grade, I once got so tongue-tied that I could not spit out a single coherent sentence during my presentation, and my teacher felt so bad for me that he gave me a good grade anyway.
I find presenting to be an absolute nightmare. It is on the “group project” level of my most-dreaded classroom assignments. It makes me feel absolutely terrible about myself, and the fact that I have never had a presentation go well makes my contempt for it that much worse.
Growing up, I was always taught that I had to maintain eye contact during presentations, talk slowly and cohesively and act as enthusiastically as possible, which are all things that I am absolutely horrible at.
The knowledge that I need to be making more eye contact and talking slower while I am presenting makes the very knowledge that I am presenting that much more unbearable. I get so panicky about all the things I need to be doing that I end up not doing any of them at all.
However, as a neurodivergent person, I can confidently say that nothing feels more validating than just allowing myself to be terrible at something — especially when that something requires me to make eye contact with people for a prolonged period of time (absolutely sinful, I say).
A little piece of my soul will always die when I see “presentation” on the syllabus for a class I am taking, and it gives me hope to know that one day, I will never have to partake in this classroom activity ever again.
I asked one of my friends from high school last week if he remembers what it was like to watch me present, and he says that to this day it is still painful for him to think about. That is how you know you are not built for public speaking — when someone tells you with a look of genuine despair on their face how painful and cringe-y the memory of you presenting to the class was for them.
I will be glad when I am able to finally escape the dread my body is consumed with every time a professor tells me I have to publicly speak for course credit. It is something I have consistently despised doing since I was a small child.
To all of my future professors: Please do not be alarmed by all of the horrible presentations of mine that you will witness — I am well aware of how uncomfortable they are to watch, so I apologize in advance.
Sincerely, a neurodivergent student with a frog perpetually stuck in their throat and an almost humorous inability to look you directly in the eyes (trust me, it does not get better from here).