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Adventures in Public Speaking

In my years at NPR, I've been called on to read essays on Morning Edition, speak extemporaneously in roundtable discussions, and (for the first time this week) talk live on the air without relying on NPR's editing magicians to turn my apelike grunts into coherent commentary.

I'm still a rookie at this public-speaking stuff compared to Bob Boilen and Carrie Brownstein, with whom I've gotten to co-host many of our live streams in the past two days. Bob's been hosting All Songs Considered for years, while Carrie has stood in front of gargantuan crowds while in Sleater-Kinney. Still, when it came time to decide who would introduce last night's Yo La Tengo webcast/broadcast on stage, in front of a thousand or so people at the Austin Music Hall, Bob and Carrie and I all turned green simultaneously.

As the most easily discarded member of our particular broadcast team, I was chosen for the task — no matter how many times I insisted that Bob is the ruggedly handsome face of NPR Music, or threatened Carrie with plans to incite an audience chant of "Carrie! Carrie! Carrie!" to bring her out on stage in my place.

In the end, I got out there, flapped my yap for 30 or 40 seconds, and did not burst into flames and die of embarrassment.

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But it got me thinking: We had three natural candidates for this particular task — an experienced host, a veteran rock singer, and an attention-starved toddler — and the thought of talking on stage terrified all three of us. Why is that, exactly? Barring an actual study on the subject, I'll blame every elementary-school play ever performed, starting with my own.