Imagine crouching in the rear fuselage of a small airplane 20,000 feet above the plains of America.
The door is open and the almost 200-mph wind shoots into the cargo area with you, howling in your face and whipping your hair. You're wearing a backpack containing a parachute that you're not one-hundred-percent sure is going to hold your weight, even if the thing comes out when you pull the ripcord. All of a sudden the straps and carabiners all over your harness feel as insubstantial as cotton candy.
The instructor is shouting something you need to hear and pointing insistently at the altimeter on his wrist, but you can't hear it clearly over the screaming gale. You only catch every second or third word.
People start jumping out of the airplane, one after the other. The instructor calmly handles them along in a slow conga line, yelling at them as they shuffle past. The air rips them out of the plane with a startling anger and flings them into the stratosphere.
Now it's your turn. You squat in the open door and stare in utter terror at the pale curvature of the Earth. Below your feet, you can see the entire southwest corner of Indiana, and slivers of Illinois and Kentucky, represented in green patchwork shapes, obscured by a cottony screen of clouds. Cirrus clouds lay across the surface of the planet below like the aftermath of the world's most violent pillow fight.
Visions flicker through your mind of plummeting toward the ground, a torn ripcord in your hand, and hitting grass and soil and rock at 118 mph, practically vaporizing your guts and pulverizing every bone in your body. You wonder if it will be an open casket funeral, or if they'll simply deliver your eulogy over a bucket full of you.
"Time to go!" the instructor shouts in your ear. The plane vibrates under your feet and all of a sudden this thing of steel feels like the safest place in the world.
The instructor pushes you into the sky.
This is what public speaking feels like for me.