Getting over the terror of public speaking

Posted by: Cath Jenkin | Date: November 21, 2014 | 1 Comment
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Open up just about any magazine or browse the self-help section at your nearest book store, and you’ll be flummoxed by just how many words throw themselves at you, promising to imbue your life with a sense of … confidence.

Now, I used to be the biggest fan of self-help books and the contents of my bookshelf will attest to this. Heck, yes, I do even own He’s Just Not That Into You in paperback and on DVD. But, you know, those books only framed my own inner thinking a little bit, and only for a very short while.

The thing that’s helped me feel a reasonably sustained sense of personal confidence? Other people and the opportunities they’ve been so generous with.

At the beginning of the year, I committed to getting myself over the utter terror of public speaking. I did one public speaking event in 2013 that, during it, I was gulping down vomit the whole time. I loved what I spoke on, but I felt very much like some sort of sweaty amateur with zero chill and a blunt spoon, attacking a piece of proverbial toast.

So, I committed and made it known to people around me that I was keen to move beyond my vomity self and get better at doing it — not brilliant, not spectacular — but confident enough to do it without wanting to expose my innards on stage.

And despite the fact that, every single night before an event I’d speak at, I’d lie awake, internally freaking out, even though I was prepared, focused and could not wait to get it done.

In school, I remember looking at fellow pupils in complete wonder and total envy. They’d jump on stage, grab a microphone and speak. I remember even looking at my high school head girl (the sweetest human who ever walked the planet, truly!) in complete awe as she gave her final address on the day we ditched our school shoes for good. And I, the girl who once completely fluffed her two lines spoken into a microphone in a school play, just could not do it. Those things scar you, if you let them. I’d let it scar me.

That feeling of being incapable of doing it never left me, until this year. And, when my very own kid started needing to do her own sort of public speaking at school (you all remember the “charm” of doing orals in class, right?), I shivered. I didn’t want her to have the experience I did, so I’ve spent a lot of time practising with her, cajoling her past her nerves and reminding her (something I forget, too) that everyone gets nervous — even presidents probably pooped their pants a few times when they were sliding up the speaking scale.

After a year of this, where we’ve had to do orals and speeches, projects and plans, she was to take the stage and say a few short lines at a school function. She’d played down her nerves a lot to me, but I knew it was making her mind whirr with anxiety.

And then she did it, and my heart sat in my throat as I watched her look down at her feet, breathe in, look up and speak.

You see — the thing about confidence is … you won’t find it in a book or whip it out from a magazine. You’ll discover it in experiences.

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  • Stephanie Millar

    After watching you at Durban Digital Day, I was awed by your onstage presence. You were captivating, confident and had me convinced that you’d been rocking the mic since your days in the womb. And it’s so true, you can read how-to’s for days, but confidence is not something you learn overnight, it’s something you earn over time.