Just the other day I was messaged with a topic request. After reviewing the request, I felt very honored because the topic is something that could benefit many readers. The topic was overcoming the fear of public speaking, For those who do not know me personally, I am a shy person. If i could do it so can you, so let's dive in.
The first time that I noticed my fear of public speaking was back in the sixth grade. Back in those days I used to compete in math tournaments and wanted to try something new. Lucky for me, because I was now in sixth grade I automatically qualified to take part in the story telling competition. At this point in my life I was reading a book or two every week and even writing short stories in my spare time. Just to put it into perspective, my sixth grade teacher had a competition between me and one other student to see who could read the most books and write book reports for them; I won the competition. All the kids that wanted to compete in the story telling competition had to go through a screening process with the school librarian. From my classroom of thirty students only one other student applied, she was the same person who I was in competition for most book reports in a school year. We were both given about ten minutes to read a short passage before we had to try and retell it. Sounds simple but when it was my turn to speak I began to mumble and talk in a low voice. As you can probably tell, I did not pass the primary screening. Many of you right now might think that I was mumbling and talking in a low voice because I had not memorized the passage. Unfortunately I have a very good memory and pride myself on that. Heck throughout my working life my coworkers had to change their phone passcode multiple times throughout the month. They had to change it because they knew once I saw it once I would remember it even months later.
To graduate eighth grade I had to do an exit project for science and social studies (history). The exit project consisted of a five page typed report and a presentation that required both visual and verbal presentation. I know I have spoken on this presentation before and how it came off of the top of my head. The reason I had no notes for my verbal presentation was because I knew that they would not help me. If I had note cards, they would either be damp from sweat or would have cause a distraction for the audience because of my trembling hands. When it was my turn to go, I stood up at the front of the room and just stood there. My audience was my entire eighth grade class, my homeroom teacher, the dean and the teacher of the subject. To make matters worse than they already was, I had not even done research on my topic. I remember being told that I can start by the dean. I tried to start but the words didn’t come out. I swear I am one of the luckiest people alive because right in the front row sat my best friend; I looked at him and saw what appeared to be thumbs up. For both of my presentations I only looked in his direction while I spoke. Seeing a familiar face in the crowd can help calm you down when speaking. I know that in my case it allowed me to talk and act as if I was conversing with him and only him. When I am truly being myself I can be very convincing. If you don’t believe that, let me tell you that my social studies topic was about how great a Leader Hitler was. That is correct I convinced an entire room of over thirty people that Adolf Hitler was an amazing leader and a great role model.
As a high school senior I was given the option of picking my English class, I chose Gothic English. To my surprise my course has a semester of public speaking aka speech class. We had to give different types of speeches ranging from persuasive speeches to explanatory speeches. Before each speech we were given a couple of minutes to prepare outside of the classroom. Throughout my high school life I was always the silent partner in group projects. So this preparation time was never used effectively, rather I just paced back and forth in the hallway like a madman. To help cool my nerves I decided to think of my public speaking performances as a game. If I kept the attention of a single one person or got applause at the end of the speech I would win the game. So when I walked in and gave the first speech I locked on to the face of a friend and did my best to keep them entertained. My teacher was aware that many people suffer from stage fright so she did not say anything about presenters not focusing on the entire audience. With every speech I preformed I added a couple more targets to focus on. By the end of the semester I was able to maintain eye contact with the entire class not just one person. The only problem was that I would still tremble a bit and sweat when I was in front of a crowd.
As a college freshman I had to take a semester of speech 101 as a prerequisite for my major. The speeches were mostly informative speeches, so they were backed by facts. I remember one of the speeches given in the class was talking about in taking water and certain fruits with a high ph. value can help your immune system. Since we had to submit outlines for the speech before hand with a bibliography, I had to change my approach for giving speeches. It was no longer about me planning a mind game with myself; I had a mission that had to be completed. My mission was to explain my topic to the class as best I could. The only catch was if I didn’t perform my duty, they could potentially die. I set it in my mind that the information I held was crucial in my peer’s survival. This helped stop me from becoming nervous when speaking in front of people. Now the only problem I had was getting rid of the monotone voice I had whenever I did public speaking.
This problem had nothing to do with my voice, but rather my level of comfort when speaking out loud in front of a group of people. You might think that comfort level is the same as nervousness, but they are two completely different things. Just because I am not nervous when preforming a task, does not mean that I am in my comfort zone. Just take cooking for instance; I am not nervous when cooking a meal because I know the basics, but I am not comfortable when cooking because I do not know the correct temperatures to cook at. The way I overcame this problem is honestly quite funny. Karaoke helped me solve this problem, not at first of course. When I first went out to sing karaoke with a group of friends I could only do background vocals because I hated how I sound on a microphone and. As I went to karaoke more frequent I began to come out of my shell. It didn’t matter what other people thought of my singing, it was my time to shine. This might sound easy to do but it is a long process that took me months to perfect. In about eight months I was able to go from a low sounding background singer to singing on a stage in front of people. Just so you know, my singing is horrible but I was able to sing and dance in front of over five hundred people. Yes, you heard me correctly; I performed in front of over half a thousand people without breaking a sweat.
Public speaking has become a big part in my life both in my personal life and my professional life. My titles on my resume range from supervisor to assistant manager all the way up to manager. For all these positions I am required to hold meetings with team members. If I had not gone through all the steps listed above in overcoming my fear of public speaking I would not have been able to perform my job duties. Another way that overcoming my fear of public speaking has helped me is working in retail. Since I work in retail I have to talk face to face with customers. These interactions aren’t always bright, there are many times that I have to tell someone bad news. Imagine telling a customer that all their info from their computer is gone, or that all their contacts and photos on their phone have been lost. These are extremely difficult conversations to have with someone, however with the lessons that I have taught myself over the years they have become easy conversations to have. Heck, they have become as easy to speak of as if I was telling the customer about the weather. If I had not overcome this fear I would not be able to post videos online on YouTube, not even my audio only ones. In today’s digital age public speaking also deals with social media. Just a simple tweet or Facebook post is seen by thousands within a matter of seconds. In society today people get bullied heavily on social media, this increases the fear of public speaking.
I know there are thousands of ways to overcome the fear of public speaking, but these are the steps I took in overcoming my fear. They may or may not work for you, but some “proven” methods did not work for me. We all know the cliché remedy of picturing your audience in their underwear. This did not work for me at all. The reason why is because my classes were at least 50% FEMALE. Picturing them in their underwear would have a different effect on me. As a closer, I just want to touch on the story telling contest’s other applicant. The person that I went up against ended up being the three-time champion in the contest. Not from the school but from the city and if I recall they might have won the state competition one year. This person also became valedictorian for my junior high class consisting of 120 students and class president and valedictorian of my high school class consisting of 1092 students. You might say that the bar was too high for me for the story telling competition but who knows. What I do know is that it was a stepping stone for me to overcome my fear of public speaking.
Feel free to share this with a person who you think this post might help. If I have helped you with in any way overcome your own fear of public speaking, feel free to let me know in the comment section bellow. Feel free to send in topics that you the reader would like me to go over. You can send it to me in the comment section or through the various methods on our contact page.