The Confidence to Speak: From Epic Failure to Second Nature

Do you know what it’s like to feel like a total embarrassment in front of your peers? Trust me, I know the feeling very well. When I was 14 years old, I had my first public speaking debut in high school. The class teacher gave us an assignment to create humorous statements using puns.  I thought to myself, I have a pretty good sense of humour, this assignment is going to be fun. My peers laugh until they pee themselves when they hear these statements. Ha!

It was that day I realised that I wasn’t funny at all. Furthermore I didn’t realise how much confidence I needed to deliver my presentation in front of the class. With each joke I shared, no one laughed and none seemed to be engaged with what I had to say. The wallow of disappointment started arise up within me. Then I began to lose my voice until my lips were moving but no sound or words came out of my mouth. Folks, I completely choked in fear and nervousness. In that moment, all I wanted to do was to burst into tears and disappear into mid-air….just like what you see on Star Trek. Before my peers and teacher I felt like a pile of embarrassment.

As in any high school situation, after that day, I was butt of jokes and target for teasing. Trust me, after this event, my self-esteem was shattered just like this piece of paper and I never again had the confidence to speak in front of my peers. My confidence was done! But sometimes the universe has a great sense of humour.

As much as I avoided doing any further public speaking, it was like if I could run but couldn’t hide. Fast forward to university, I enrolled in bachelors program Management Studies. Now trust me, for someone who didn’t ever want to speak in public, almost every course in the management studies program required presentations in front of peers and the professors and not just any presentation….group presentations mind you!

Interestingly enough, that embarrassment I experienced 5 years ago became a distant memory. At 19, I was old enough to use my first taste of epic failure to rebuild my self-confidence to speak again in front of my peers. With each presentation I participated in, the better and better I became. The key things I learned from group presentations is that preparation and dress rehearsals are essential to delivering a solid presentation. My confidence to speak became more solidified. I learned how to convert that nervous energy that typically emerge within me a high energy delivery.

Fast forward to today, who would believe that that girl who stood before her peers at 14 years old, choked with nervousness and left with a destroyed confidence is on her way to becoming a Competent Communicator! The reason I chose to become a Toastmasters member is that I have seen the positive growth effect of this program in my professional life. In my profession as project coordinator and curriculum facilitator, I was able to apply my public speaking skills to help me become successful and multi-competent in my work. You wouldn’t believe how easy it gets the more you put the skills into practice, you can address an audience on social media sites, MC a screening event with over 60 people in attendance or facilitate weekly sessions of groups of 15 to 20 participants.

I will leave you these words, there comes a time in everyone’s life where we need to shatter those fears that hold us back from realising our greatest potential. Life is too short to be defined by one episode of epic failure. As one toastmaster puts it, ‘bad speeches can happen to good people.’ So instead of wallowing in your self-pity and embarrassment, piece by piece pick yourself up and begin again. As Stan Smith says ‘experience tells you what to do but confidence allows you to do it!’


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