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QotD: Is This Thing On?


When was the last time you had to speak in front of a group? How did you feel?

There's an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation that opens with Enterprise heading into some sort of bizarre electrical storm that sends a bold of energy into the bridge, striking Jean Luc Picard in the chest. The energy disrupts Picard's artificial heart ("What? He has an artificial heart? How the heck did that happen? Oh? Wait for it? All will be revealed in the next 54 minutes? Okay, fine, I'll keep watching."), and he starts to die.

As he lay there dying, Q (the annoying all-powerful, but not quite, omniscient) shows up and hovers over Picard. He knows about the heart; he knows why Picard has it. He offers Picard the opportunity to redo the moment in his life that lead to his having the heart in the first place. He knows of the decisioin Picard made years ago, the moment that regretted to this dying moment, the choice he would have made differently if he'd had the chance.

And who wouldn't jump at that chance to undo that one such moment that has caused a lifetime of regret, to fix the source of all that is wrong, to live a moment longer knowing you finally made the right choice?

Picard accepted the offer, and found himself moments before a barroom fight which will end with a Klingon's weapon in his chest, moments before he stood up to the bully in the room and nearly died for the effort, an artificial heart a constant reminder of the choice he had made.

No gift from Q is ever truly a gift, as Picard remembers as he flashes through moments of his life up to the according-to-the-viewer present moment. Each moment that we see begins as an event where Picard is the Picard we know: he's strong, self-assured, confident and leading the charge. As we watch, in the pivotal moment, he crumbles. He doubts. He second guesses himself as he had done in the bar, as he had done when he chose the second time not to fight.

He is unable to follow through, and becomes less of a man. He never reaches his potential. He thinks, all I need is a chance, my chance, to prove to everyone he is the leader he knows he can be, the leader the viewer knows he was. Chance after chance he tries and fails. He doesn't follow through and no one believes him, believes in him.

The one moment he felt was his biggest regret, the moment he believed was his worst choice was as he believed: the moment that defined him. But it defined him in the way of his fullest potential, and not the smaller person he could be.

I recall very few episodes of STNG. I recall that one because it reminds me of how I feel every time I stand up in front of a crowd. The feeling of this-is-not-quite-as-it-should-be hits me as I get ready to stand. The worst moment is when the speaking is impromptu and I've had no time to prepare. Can I think of something witty? Can I be clever and dynamic and smart and funny? Crap! Where are my jokes?!

My briefest of moments of such was in June, as BarCampSF started. Messina asked every attendant to stand up, give their name and a 10 second explaination of what they hope to get out of the weekend. Rather than something witty like, "I'm just hear to make sure you have snack food," something tragically nondescript and stupid came out. Something like, "I'm here to learn new AJAX tricks and techniques."

Interestingly enough, my heart didn't pound, I didn't sweat profusely, my blood pressure didn't rise. Standing in front of 200 techies doesn't bother me. Not having something to say does. Not having time to prepare (who prepares for a 10 second introduction to people who, chances are, you won't interact with much after this weekend?) bothers me.

It bothers me because I know I can do better speaking in front of people, having done so with my presentations and lessons I've done over the last years. I know I can be that happy, confident, self-assured person at the front of the room, talking to everyone. I know I can be the Picard who made the right decision the first time, instead of the second time when he second-guessed himself.

I know, because I have been, am, and will continue to be that person.

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