Caught In The Headlights?


I was probably about 11 years of age, and my mum had arranged for me to appear on a quiz show on Channel 7.

Don’t ask me how she managed it because I don’t know.
My mum did that kind of thing.
She got me a try-out for the Melbourne boys choir!
Just turned up in the middle of the morning and told me we were going into the city for a singing competition.
I remember that it was raining that day.
She knew me pretty well so I guess she figured that not telling me beforehand would stop me from worrying.
I was wrapped!
A day off school was better than gold and a day with mum was more precious than diamonds.
I remember that I sang ‘Oh Little Babe of Bethlehem’ without a single hesitation, and they said that they would let us know.
I didn’t get in.
I vaguely remember that the whole thing was a positive occasion.
So what happened in those next few years to make me freeze up in front of the TV cameras?


I wasn’t exactly ‘frozen in the headlights’, but the effect was the same. I can recall being blinded by the lights in this early 1960s TV studio, and I felt incredibly hot.
I don’t remember the question that was asked, but I do remember the answer: “FOX”.

It is etched permanently into my brain!

I was sitting there being aware of time going by but not being able to form any words.
Now, I’m no genius, but I’m not thick either. Any other time I would have laughed at such a simple question and confidently blurted out “Fox”.
But not this day.
The choir audition didn’t faze me probably because I had sung in front of people many times, though only ‘solo’ for my mum.
It would also have helped that she was there.


She was in the TV studio as well, but I could not see her; I couldn’t see a bloody thing!


It wasn’t exactly a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment, but it was the beginning of my determination to not be put off by public speaking.
It helps that I have Irish ancestors and that I inherited the ‘gift of the gab’ even though it only seems to have been present in my aunties [they were all hilarious and could talk the leg off an iron pot].

Cedric Hardwicke 8b09659u

It has been said that the fear of public speaking is higher on most people’s list than the fear of dying [this is probably another one of those annoying sayings like ‘using only ten percent of our brains’—- bollocks], but it is not on my list.
I’ve got things to say, and if I can find more than two people standing still, I’m going to say them!

16 thoughts on “Caught In The Headlights?

  1. Love it! Wonderful post. I am fully Irish-blooded – and though happy to gabble away in small groups, I am also a fellow ‘deer in the headlights’ sufferer when it comes to public speaking. So, I completely empathise!!!


  2. Fraid I`m one of the scaredy cats too when it comes to public speaking. But have recently discovered, as you suggest, that reading the whole damn thing out is the way to go.


    • The toughest public speaking gig I’ve ever had was my mum’s funeral. I was determined to speak because I was unable to when my dad died so I wanted this to be the time that I honoured them both. The vast majority of the people at the funeral were going to be my dad’s family. I thought I was going to be fine and I wanted to the run the show. The funeral director ‘suggested’ that I engage the services of a retired priest to act as MC, so to speak. I was sure I could do it all but I reluctantly said yes and he turned out to be a good bloke and he did his job well. I had made notes [not my usual style] and the notes included a poem that my mum had written out some time in the months before she died. It seemed appropriate so I wrote it out again. “Don’t stand by my grave and weep, for I am not there…….” When I got up to speak my voice broke and my eyes filled and the battle began. By the time I finished speaking I felt like I had run a marathon under water. I don’t remember a word I said but apparently I was pretty good and the poem went down well. Not a dry eye, so to speak. I know I honoured my dad as well because all his relatives [who my mum made me promise NOT to invite] seemed pleased with my efforts. If it had not been for the notes that I could barely see through the tears I don’t think it would have gone as well.
      We went to an Irish pub for the wake and some very special friends [mostly young ones] came along to support us. My amazing wife wife had way too much to drink and in the midst of her laughter she suddenly went very quiet and went to sleep. She has become famous for her quiet exit! It is a strange feeling when your parents finally leave you [it’s happened to me twice]. There is a calmness and a small amount of terror that goes with it. Suddenly you are the senior members of your family. Very strange.


  3. I once was very afraid of public speaking. Then, I did some teaching for my company. It turns out that it made public speaking much easier. Similarly, I was so afraid of heights. I took a job as a telephone installer for the local phone company. I learned to climb telephone poles in order to keep the job. On that one I’ve just learned to manage fear for chores like cleaning gutters and such. And I no longer have anything to do with heights at work.


  4. You have prompted me to tell my own story about public speaking – and a lost career in radio, Terry. I’ll get it together soon.

    What I most admire about those who fear public speaking is when they fight the fear and find they can actually do it. We are strange and frail creatures, we humans. There are so many things that cause us insecurities.


    • THat’s the thing, isn’t it? The something to say is what gets us through.
      When I finally finished my first book I decided to do a mini book tour and speak at a few local Libraries. Despite my confidence in the subject and my former ability to standup in front of people [it had not been retested in quite a few years] I was seriously nervous. It crossed my mind that the room might be empty! When I went into the room I would be speaking in there was a lady already seated. “Hello my audience,” said I. “Hello my speaker,” said she……….. that did the trick. I had something to say that was important to me, and that gets you through.
      Good for you and your alter ego.


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