As I step up to the podium, I catch my first glance of him. Big, burly, snickering widely. With an imposing presence that pollutes the space.
“Who IS this guy”? I wonder, turning away and inhaling deeply. My stage-fright angst turns to total dread as I consider the unlikelihood of delivering my presentation in a composed, confident way.
“Why in the world did I agree to this”? I wonder, mentally kicking myself for having to endure this needless stress.
The fight-or-flight instinct begs me to make a run for it, but instead I bite my cheek and prepare to begin.
I launch into my presentation, hoping some magical autopilot instinct will propel me forward. Gently skimming the crowd, I can’t even fathom making eye contact with anyone. It’s hard enough to feign audience engagement.
Praying my peripheral vision will fail, I lock in at about 2 o’clock, a safe distance from my enemy. I try to convince myself he is sitting attentively, but my better judgment tells me he is probably snickering or sneering or whispering verbal attacks against me to his neighbor.
I continue my speech, quite certain of its mediocrity. I imagine that some will demand a refund of their money – or their time. Perhaps I should apologize from the podium or refuse the token thank-you gift likely to be presented to me.
Instead, I soldier on. And on. And on, hoping to eat up whatever time is reserved for the Q&A. A typical highlight for me, this “open mike” section could only spell trouble by allowing my nemesis a platform to publicly maim me.
Fat chance, sad sack.
As I near the end of my speech, I muster up the courage to gently turn toward the guy who ruined my evening. Curiosity wins out and I just have to see what he’s up to – whether laughing, or yawning, or making obscene gestures. I will not allow this bully to bully me anymore.
But I’m not quite prepared for what I witness.
The chair is empty, except for a ladies coat and purse slung across it.
Sometimes the biggest enemy lies within.