I am terrified of public speaking. This isn’t an exaggeration. I’m shy, introverted and have a slight speech impediment (it was much stronger as a child). A few years ago, I was asked to present some awards in an assembly. I was new to Victoria Shanghai Academy and overwhelmed by the size of its staff (it’s by far the biggest school that I have ever worked at). Children are not the problem. I can speak to hundreds of them, no problem. Adults, on the other hand, are terrifying. To this day, I have no idea what I said during that presentation. I just know that I was a nervous wreck. I was deeply upset and embarrassed at the time. Later that day, I shared the experience with a friend. This was his response:
“I also hate public speaking. That’s why I don’t do it.”
This is clearly the easy option, but it was never my intention. We won’t grow if we avoid challenges and risks. I didn’t want to be held back by fear. Speaking of fear, Zig Ziglar defines this word brilliantly:
“F.E.A.R. has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise’. The choice is yours.”
I love Carol Dweck’s work around growth mindsets because it applies as much to adults as it does to children. I am capable of getting better at speaking, and anything else. With the right attitude, effort and risks, I can grow. I consciously put myself in my ‘stretch zone‘ and accept that mistakes and mishaps are all part of learning. I have also been inspired by Susan Cain’s book and her ‘year of speaking dangerously’. I have similarly been taking every opportunity to practise presenting and I believe that it is starting to pay off. I’m facing my fear and (slowly but surely) rising. There’s a long way to go, but I am proud of my progress.
For a while, I have been attending the brilliant Teach Meets that are held regularly by 21st Century Learning. These are fantastic opportunities to network, build relationships and share ideas. I set myself the goal of presenting at one of them before the end of the year. This was a huge aim and a daunting thought. Last night, I did it.
As well as taking this photo, Andrew recorded a video of me. I was unsure about watching it back but I’m really glad that I did. It proved that we really are our worst critics! I looked/sounded a little nervous, but nowhere near as nervous as I felt. I thought that it would have shown a lot more. People often tell me that my nerves don’t show and I never believe them. To a certain extent, they have been right all along. For nervous speakers, I encourage you to watch yourself back. It’s actually very encouraging.
I am curious to learn about public speaking tips but, at this stage, I find most of them unhelpful. I consider them before speaking, and then they go straight out of the window when I’m actually presented with a microphone. Perhaps in the future, I’ll be in a better position to take these ideas on board. Right now, I think that I just need to build my confidence through more and more practise.
Are you a nervous speaker? How did you overcome your fears and what advice would you offer to others like me? What can we do to develop speaking confidence in our students? Please leave a comment below. To sum up, I’ll leave you with this quote:
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”