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The Fears of Freeways and Public Speaking

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Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

No, the picture above this column hasn’t been tampered with. And Jeff Meyers has not been harboring a deep dark secret. For those of you who don’t recognize me, I’m the original Ventura County Life editor, and I’ve returned to my post.

And it is great to be back. By now I must know every square inch of Highway 101 between here and Downtown Los Angeles, where I have spent the last several months on temporary assignment in the Life & Style section.

The commute from here to there and back each day was arduous, especially through L.A. during peak traffic periods when the rush to the highway is reminiscent of locusts in a migratory swarm.

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It can get pretty scary being with that many cars, all of them crawling up one another’s tailpipes while trying to maintain speeds of 85 m.p.h. There were times when I was downright terrified. But that was before I read Len Reed’s Centerpiece story and discovered that real terror does not lurk along the roads. It isn’t even outside. It is indoors, when you have to stand in front of an audience.

“I’d read some time ago of a survey that asked people to list their greatest fears. Topping the list, ahead of death, was public speaking,” said Reed who was quite familiar with the debilitating effects of the form before he began work on his story about Toastmasters.

“I knew the symptoms of terror well: galloping heart, dry mouth, that woozy feeling,” he said. “Recently, in performing best man duties at a New York wedding, I found that a stiff drink before my toast offered no help--all it did was put halos of light around the chandeliers. I got through the 10 minutes of it OK, but not without the help of cue cards and some deep meditations beforehand.”

So how did he get through it?

“I then remembered the experience of an uneducated relative who, attempting to rise above his working class roots and poor diction, joined a Toastmasters club. He kept this secret from his family and work mates. But he was said to have been beaming about newfound self-confidence, both among friends and on the job, and, to his wife’s dismay, unstoppable as a sidewalk schmoozer in the neighborhood,” Reed said.

“He finally copped to what had happened in all its step-by-step detail. Those who thought his grace was his silence felt Toastmasters had created the Loquacious Monster, while most felt it had given him the keys to something profound,” he said.

“I had to see for myself.”

We’ll let you go ahead and read Mr. Reed’s story and then you can judge for yourselves.

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