Speaking in front of a crowd is unsettling. Giving a 30-minute presentation about something that shaped your life to 7th graders is downright scary. I wasn’t informed beforehand that I would be doing this twice as well. I was scared because I kept on imaging what my evil 7th grade version of me would do because I was what some people refer to as “a little shithead” when I was younger. Thankfully my sister-in-law was one of the teachers, and Sarah doesn’t stand for shenanigans from her students.
I walked into the school at New London, spoke with a few faculty members and a pair of policeman patrolling the school before finally arriving at Sarah’s classroom, where I was set to present. I could feel the nerves beginning to gather as I laid out my uniforms, boots, coins, and all the other good stuff I thought kids would like to see. Sarah was attempting to shoo the kids out of her room when she asked me if I had created a PowerPoint. The last thing I wanted was to deliver a presentation about the Marine Corps via PowerPoint because the Marines invented “death by PowerPoint,” and it just seemed wrong. Instead, I found a PG recruiting commercial from the 90s that I remember seeing as a kid. I used it as my attention getter. Anyone who has a pulse gets a little excited when they watch a motivational video from the Marine Corps. It wasn’t long before the kids looked like they were all jacked up on Mountain Dew.
It may not seem efficient to the average person, but my go-to strategy for presentations is to wing it. I’ve constructed presentations before to ensure I hit a particular length, but I would forget the order mid presentation and get flustered. Improvising as I go works better for me, but it is hard to be calm before public speaking when you have prepared almost no bullet points to talk about.
This was mistake number one.
I knew I would make mistakes, so it didn’t exactly knock me off my soap box when I awkwardly paused before speaking. I began telling them from start to finish my journey in the Marine Corps carefully pointing out cool, fun, or just interesting things that occurred on the timeline I was following. After I got rolling, telling the story was more like being a tour guide on his 500th tour because I’ve told the story to everyone I know and sometimes more than once.
My story was over, and I threw out some numbers and facts about entitlements, benefits, and other stuff to satisfy the requirement of career day speeches. Now it was question time and an all to obvious mistake number two appeared. Sarah and I have quite the rivalry now that I am back, so I was embarrassed when I was unprepared for her little one-liners that she bribed her students to say.
My favorite was from the chubby kid in the front row who asked, “How can somebody that is so young have so many gray hairs?” which is her favorite little joke to make me angry while I court young ladies at the bar.
I was defenseless, and even worse, I couldn’t shoot back because her kids would need psychiatric help if I called their beloved teacher her usual nickname. Needless to say, I smiled, kept calm, and began planning my revenge for a future date.
The presentation was a success, and I felt great about it. I felt extremely worthy and useful after teaching those kids lessons about the military and government employment. I very well could have convinced a kid to join the military someday because of what I did.
The presentation gave me a lot of confidence in myself, which is necessary in life after EAS because it gets boring and depressing from time to time. I would encourage veterans to do the same: Don’t talk to adults who will ask you loaded questions and doubt you. Instead, speak out to classrooms of children who don’t know anything about the subject. Being a child’s first impression of a service is like being a poster boy — they will always think of you when they picture a Marine or a Soldier.
I would take the confidence built from that presentation over the knowledge I could have learned from the class I had to skip to be there any day of the week.