I had a great fear that prevented me from doing that which I love: the fear of public speaking. I have a slight stutter and the idea of being in front of other people who listen to every word I say was scary. So, as time went on and I got older, I began to think that I’d never speak in public again. I had a small stint of time where I spoke at a church, but after a few months I began to let the fear control me again. I would get nervous and almost to the point of nausea. Just thinking about speaking in front of small groups even was nerve wracking.
I had exactly one class to finish obtaining my AA and go on to finish my Bachelor’s. That class of course was Public Speaking. I put finishing that class off my entire time in college up until May of this year. I knew that if I wanted to go on and finish by BA, I had to take this course. So, even though I was terrified to make myself do it, I signed up for it. The first day was horrible, the second day was even scarier, and the third day, the day of my first speech, was the worse.
My mind went through every possible terrible scenario possible, I’d forget my words, stutter terribly, or even worse, just vomit and run out of the class room! Yes, the human mind is a powerful creator of imagery. So, the first thing I had to do was change the images in my mind. I began by listening to great public speakers like MLK Jr, Tom Hopkins, and JFK. I focused on what it must feel like to have that power, to speak that well and with that much confidence. I imagined myself being that person, and feeling everything they feel as they poured their all into a speech.
That was the first step. Next, I had to begin to view myself as someone who loves to speak publicly. And this is true. Whenever I made it through a speech in the past, I was exhilarated. I loved the whole thing, start to finish. I especially loved the compliments afterward. I’m a stickler for positive reinforcement 🙂 . So I focused in my mind on those feelings. The feelings of success, warmth, positive feedback, general happiness and correlated them to public speaking. This was a giant step for me.
The third step was easiest. I said to myself everyday this quote I heard from Tom Hopkins. “When you do what you fear most, you conquer fear.” Everyday, every night, anytime I felt like I was slipping back into that fear, I said that quote. And I meant it too. No matter what, I decided I was going to conquer fear.
The fourth step was easy thanks to my professor. I surrounded myself with positive people. My teacher was a fantastic and wonderful lady who believes in taking small steps to make big changes. Her motto is “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch.” She began by having us introduce ourselves from our seats, next we stood up in the front with props, then we gave reports, after that we gave timed speeches just to see how long we were talking for, and finally we gave timed speeches graded on quality of speech and length of time. She was always there to give positive feedback and helpful advice. She even brought to my attention my overuse of the phrase, “You know”. When you begin focusing on the mechanics of speech and the underlying mood you want to portray to your audience a funny thing happens. You quit worrying so much and start focusing on giving a quality speech.
The fifth, and most important step, and also the last step, was to JUST DO IT! My first speech in front on the class was tough, I’ll be honest. I was nervous, but not scared like I once was. I used my mind to take all that nervous energy and convert it to power, to speak like an MLK or JFK. I made that my goal, and guess what? I did good. My classmates liked it, and so do my teacher. And most importantly, I liked it too. I built from that success and layered success upon success.
Last night, I gave my final speech. Not a stutter was uttered, and I was smooth, confident, controlled, and powerful. And more than all that, I had overcome my fear by doing what I feared most.
This post is dedicated to my wonderful, brilliant, successful, awesome, incredible, fantastic, and a million other great adjectives teacher.
I would like to thank my Ms. Mahara for her fantastic work and dynamic personality. You have helped me make more of myself than I thought possible. Because of you, I have changed my major to Communications and I will pursue public speaking as a career choice. I will be joining a local Toastmaster’s group soon so I can continue to build upon the foundation you have helped lay. I thank you again, and I hope we can keep in touch as time goes on.