I’ve always disliked public speaking. Oral presentations in school made me a nervous wreck. Group presentations were okay because I only had to speak for a couple of minutes. I’d grip my notes, stare down at my paper, and stutter out a few words. Eventually the more extroverted group members would take over and continue the presentation.
Individual oral presentations were my own personal hell. I’d wake up in the morning feeling sick to my stomach. My nerves would be on edge and my whole body would be shaking. While speaking, my hands would shake, my voice would tremble and I’d stutter out slightly related words. I couldn’t speak extemporaneously so I’d read my notes word for word. Then as soon as I sat down, I would start to analyze everything. What I’d said, what I’d forgotten to say, how nervous I was, my inability to speak like a normal human being, etc.
This sums up my public speaking experiences through junior high and high school. After high school, I took a graphic design course in University which required many presentations. I could hide my nervousness a little better, but it never went away.
After graduating from University, I decided to take a two year course down in the US. While I was there I took a public speaking class. It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had. The first speech was an icebreaker, an opportunity to share yourself with the rest of the class. I was nervous, shaking, voice wavering and on the verge of tears. I thought I was going to throw up. I felt the same for the next few speeches. But they were a little different. Although the focus of each speech differed, I was able to talk about things I was genuinely interested in. I really enjoyed the speech preparation, the research, and the writing that was required. I would write out my speeches in full. Then I’d write the introduction, SPS (specific purpose statement), main points, and conclusion on a cue card. I’d practice them over and over so I knew exactly what I wanted to say. Introverts can learn to be amazing public speakers because of how much preparation they can do beforehand.
Speech evaluations were a challenge. I was told to speak louder, to improve my eye contact with the audience, and to use more gestures. These were things I was not comfortable with. But I had decided to take this class, so I knew I needed to put in the effort. I slowly started making progress. It was not easy for me, I struggled with every speech. I messed up all the time. I cried during evaluations and even in some of my speeches. It wasn’t fun, or easy, but it was worth it. I started to speak louder during my speeches. I started making more eye contact, even slipping in a few hand gestures. In one of my last speeches, I even threw in an impromptu joke and people laughed. I started to look forward to giving my speeches, just a little bit.
All of these things really helped my confidence. I wasn’t afraid to go up in front of class any more. I could give speeches, I could entertain. It made me feel I could accomplish other things too. Taking that speech course was one of the hardest things I’ve done, but I learned so much about myself and it really helped me grow as a person.
Do I love public speaking now? Not at all. But I know I can do it 🙂
Do you have any similar experiences?