fear and anxiety · personal experiences · public speaking

How I Overcame Public Speaking (part 1): Because Math.

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Statistics show that people would rather die than go up on stage and deliver a speech. This is completely true for most people. However, this is an unfortunate reality because the feeling hinders individuals from achieving the greater possibilities of life. The surprise is, overcoming the fear of public speaking is not that hard; and this is coming from a 5-foot girl who used to have chronic social anxiety and said that she would never be able to speak in front of more than two people.

Let me tell you a bit about my story: Up to my senior year in high school, I was dead shy. Note that this was not mere introversion, I actually had the fear of talking to people. I only had two close friends (who, by the way, had their own group of friends), and I had little to no acquaintances. With this, you can see how speaking in front of a crowd is a life-threatening situation for me. I remember the day when my language teacher told me to read a poem in front of class; my hands trembled like a strummed guitar string. To make things worse, I completely embarrassed myself when my Chemistry teacher called me out to explain molecule geometry in front of class. I blanked out, lost for words, and my friends told me that I couldn’t speak for a crowd… not even for a small group of people for that matter (you know who you are). It was then when I promised myself I would never EVER do anything like this again once I get out of high school. I said to myself that I have had enough sleepless nights and nervous breakdowns.

Guess what? I proved myself and my friends wrong. I am now in my second year of college and I have had several chances of being the master of ceremonies for events of more than 100 people. I had the humbling experience of being one of the speakers for promotional videos. Furthermore, just after one year of graduating high school, I became a student lecturer for a mathematics course at my university, and I have proudly received wonderful reviews from students. If my high school friends met me again, they would be surprised by my different personality, new outlook on the world, and the absence of the chronic fear of public speaking.

So how did I make it? Just this one discovery about myself: I absolutely love talking about math.

When I was in high school, you could say that I was a nerd. But, I was a nerd who liked to help people with their school difficulties. I discovered that when I talk about mathematics, I could go on and on without being so conscious of what I am saying. I usually get nervous and beat myself up for not being able to speak clearly to other people. But when I talk about math, I do not mind the confused faces people give me because I would be too happy to explain more about the art and magic of math.

This realisation came to me when I was a college freshman; and it so happens that at that time, I was looking for a part-time job. I found an open position for a student lecturer in mathematics and I immediately applied for it. I could never forget how terrified I was going to the interview, but it was a good thing that my boss didn’t test my speaking abilities and my A’s got me in. I could never forget how close I was to quitting the job the day before my first day of lecturing. I could not sleep that night. I kept thinking to myself if I was doing the wrong thing and that I should back down before I completely embarrass myself in front of people I don’t know. Sudden thoughts kept appearing: what if I mess up? What is 3+5? What if I don’t know the answer? What if I forget? What if I came into the wrong classroom?

Next thing I knew, I had to do my lecture in an hour… 30 minutes… 10 minutes… 3… 2… 1… I entered the room shaking like a chihuahua with a worried smile. For 60 seconds, I introduced myself to the class and began lecturing. This was when the magic happened. My worries, nerves, fears, and anxiety began to disappear. They all just became a drop of ink in the pacific ocean. Because I was happy to talk about math for hours, it felt like time had only passed by 5 minutes, but my lecture time had ended. I made several mistakes during the lecture, but surprisingly, I was not embarrassed. I was open to students’ input and they even helped me solve the problems. I was alright even though some things went completely out of track. There and then, I finished my first math lecture in front of 15 people. I was proud of myself that I overcame my fear of public speaking; and it all started from my love for math. My abilities in public speaking apparently didn’t just end with math. Because I knew that there was nothing to be afraid of, I immediately was able to speak on any stage and host any events.

Even though I have had experiences in public speaking for almost a year, I honestly still do get nervous before every talk. This is only normal; but I have learned to ignore the feeling because I believe that if anything went wrong, my passion for the things I will talk about will help me get everything back on the right track.

So what do you absolutely love talking about? People are afraid of public speaking mainly because they are afraid of making mistakes and being judged. But what can you talk on and on for hours without being conscious of the eyes looking at you? The civil war? Women’s rights? Makeup? Your favourite burger? Start from here and talk to more and more people about your favourite things to talk about everyday. Increase your comfort zone and the threshold for the number of people you are comfortable talking to. Even if you say something completely wrong, you would not be afraid of the judgment because if you are passionate about the subject, you would create discussion rather than awkward silences. Trust me, your fear of public speaking will slowly fade away, and one day it will absolutely disappear.

I am writing this post in the middle of the night half asleep. I apologise for any linguistic mistakes; but I hope I got my message across 🙂

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