Recently I was asked to speak at a meeting of the Democratic Party of Orange County. The focus of the meeting was to inspire young women to find their voice and become active. Although the speech was for a political event, it transcended political affiliation.
To say I was apprehensive at the thought of speaking in front of over 200 people, would be an understatement. What would I speak about? This is a speech to young women to encourage activism, but what would I tell them? I don’t regularly take to the streets to show my support and solidarity for any cause. I teach…this is where I find the strength to speak with confidence. Teaching others is the place where I find a purpose for my activism. And it is really only in front of 50-60 students at most. This event would be in front of several times that. For the first time in a long time, I experienced stage fright.
I agreed to do the speech, so I had to find a good topic to talk about and relate it back to the theme of the event: empowering women. My speech was also expected to last 15 minutes… That doesn’t sound like a lot, but this is different than standing in a classroom interacting with my students. What would I talk about for that long that anyone would be interested in hearing?
Being the methodical person that I am, I made a list of steps to prepare myself for the speech in the hope that this organizing would help alleviate some of the stage-fright:
Decide on a good topic
Brainstorm ideas & approaches
Write a rough draft
Practice the speech in front of a mirror and people that I trust
Have others read it over a few times
Make corrections, rewrite and then…
Practice and practice some more
After a week of thinking through, writing, editing, practicing, editing, and practicing some more, I felt I had a good 12-minute speech prepared. To my surprise, despite all that preparation, my stage fright only diminished a little bit. I was okay, but I was not my usual confident self yet. I needed to relax a bit and accept the fact that I was still going to have to do the speech. Sometimes we need to do things despite our apprehensions because they are important stepping stones in our lives.
I recalled a few tricks I learned from a public speaking class I took back when I was in college:
Print your speech in large font (20 point) and double space it on the page. This makes it easy to read and your eyes don’t get lost when you look up from the page
If you wear glasses, take them off. Being nearsighted has been a blessing for me. When I take off my glasses, I can’t really see people in the audience, so I am less nervous.
And of course, practice, practice, practice
At long last my speech was ready and so was I. The stage fright had subsided and I knew I had prepared enough. I titled my speech The Politics of Action. It was quite a speech. You can read it here, if you like.
I was not mistaken, the speech was a huge success. From the enthusiasm of those in attendance, it was obvious it had been well delivered. I received a standing ovation and was mobbed for photos afterwards. It was a very nice surprise.
* * *
From that experience, I’ve learned that I am a pretty good public speaker after all. More importantly, I can speak in a way that motivates and inspires. It was an affirmation that that my skills can extend beyond the classroom. I also learned to embrace the stage fright. I now know that it dissipates the more we practice. It is such a relief knowing that I can speak in front of an audience no matter the size.
Glossophobia, the official scientific name for the fear of public speaking (commonly known as stage fright), is a real thing that nearly ¼ of all speakers report experiencing at some point in their lives. In other words, having stage fright does not make you weird or less capable… it actually makes you normal.
So embrace the fear and go for those public speaking opportunities.
You won’t regret it!.
This article is part of a newsletter published weekly called The Gigster 'Zine. It is a production of the Colégas Group, an organization that seeks to offer new opportunities for anyone with a college degree. To learn more about us, to receive valuable strategies for improvement, and to find innovative employment opportunities, sign up for the complete newsletter at colegasgroup.com.