Diary of a college student: how I cracked my fear of public speaking

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Many people shy away from public speaking or speaking before their peers. They may be afraid of making mistakes, believe that everything has to go perfectly or are afraid of embarrassing themselves. Well not long ago this was me. To my friends I’m considered very outgoing and talkative, and I believed in having a confident attitude towards challenges that came my way. However, when it came to public speaking I found myself avoiding situations where I might have to speak in front of an audience. However I knew that I couldn’t cover up this fear forever, and eventually the time would come where I would have to overcome it.

First challenge?

My first real public speaking challenge came whilst I was on my NCS (National Citizenship Service) course. Two weeks had already passed whilst being on the course and I was very confident talking among my new friends. Then my group leader asked me and another girl to manage and present a showcase event in front of my peers and their parents. We had to involve all the groups on my NCS wave and what they had been preparing over the past week, such as music, drama and dance performances. Immediately negative thoughts rushed into my head, I thought, “there’s no way I can do this, what if I mess us up?” and “I’m going to embarrass myself”. The thought of presenting in front of around 80 people was daunting and made anxious. However, I knew that I would only be letting myself down if I didn’t try. As a result, in only 3 hours we organised and produced a 2 hour showcase event, and by the end of our performance we received a standing ovation which brought a huge sense of relief and pride. I then realised that dwelling on the negatives isn’t necessary, and with good preparation and self-belief, speaking in front of loads of people is very achievable. This made more confident and allowed me to become a more able leader in the future, which would contribute to my public speaking skills.

What next?

After this first experience of public speaking, my confidence grew. I began to volunteer myself for more public speaking roles, especially since I was going into my first year at sixth form college. Near the start of the school year I volunteered to take an assembly in front of the whole sixth form. I remember how at the beginning of the talk I was uncontrollably shaking and was very anxious. However, as I got into it my shaking stopped and I began to actually enjoy it. It was good to share what I had to say. This experience further increased my confidence – both in public speaking, and in a broader sense. Not only this, it opened up doors for me in other areas such as being able to become a prefect, and eventually led me to becoming house captain where I would have to deliver an assembly to the lower years every half-term, even more public speaking…

My learning curve…

What have I learnt? One of the main things I learned from my experiences is that you cannot succeed if you don’t try, as you never know what benefits your may reap from the extra effort of pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. There is nothing to be gained from dwelling on negative thoughts before public speaking, instead focus on the positives of what you are doing and see it as opportunity to grow your skills and build your confidence.

A few tips I picked up along the way…

Through my public speaking experience, I learnt a thing or two about how decrease my anxiety and fear. Firstly, try to build your experience; the more you practice delivering speeches or presentations the better you will get. This may even mean starting small, meaning practicing in front of friends or family, eventually building up to bigger audiences. Secondly, preparation is key. For example, a footballer will spend around 3 hours a day or 4-5 hours a day for 5 days a week practicing in order to maximise their performance on the pitch. It’s exactly the same for public speaking. When preparing for speeches, the more familiar you are with your content (without needing to fully memorise it) the easier it is to present. And lastly use positive visualization – visualising a speech or presentation going well creates a good performance because we tend to ‘live out’ what we have rehearsed in our head in the lead up to the event. When all is said and done, it’s just a case of mind over matter.

Alfie Young is a sixth from student from Lewisham, London.

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