I remember when I was chosen to participate in a public speaking contest in 1974. I was in high school and I was only 14 years old. Though this contest took place a few decades ago, I still have the speech. I will never forget my first time in the public eye!
I was somehow chosen by my grade 10 French grammar teacher. She delicately asked me to participate in an oral presentation competition. I don’t know why I was selected. I was very shy and extremely quiet at the time. Nevertheless, I decided to go for it… I would give it my best shot! I agreed to participate in the contest and started working on my public speaking. My best teacher was my father. He showed me a few tricks to feel more comfortable in front of a crowd. My mother was a very good writer and therefore wrote my speech. The subject was – I am only one, but… and I had to begin my speech with those exact words.
One trick my dad gave me was to look straight ahead and above the audience’s heads during the speech. By doing this, I would give everyone the impression that I was looking at them, while in reality I was looking at the back wall. He told me that I shouldn’t look at anyone in particular. My father also advised me to write everything on note cards and highlight the keywords. He also told me that practice makes perfect… so I practiced in front of a mirror. At first, I was very nervous, even when practicing alone… I would tremble and become very anxious, fretting over the possibility of forgetting my speech before the crowd. Even with the words written down, how would I remember the correct sequence? What if I ended up looking like a fool?
All these presentation tips were very helpful and I was eventually able to feel somewhat confident for the ‘Big Day’. Practice does really help! I had learned my speech so well that I felt ready to a certain degree. Now I had to work on timing my intonations with my movements. However, I never managed to feel completely prepared for the big event, and it was too late to back down. The day of the event, I sat down in the auditorium and pretended to listen to the other candidates’ speeches. In reality, I was repeating my speech in my head. Then my name was announced and I presented myself in front of the audience. I remember this moment like it was yesterday: my voice was shaking, my hands were trembling, my mouth was dry and my face was flushed. I didn’t feel very good… But amazingly enough, as I kept talking, I became more and more relaxed. I remembered all the words and, to my surprise, I began feeling better and I started gaining confidence. After having completed my speech, I returned very proudly to my seat. Many people congratulated me on the content of my speech. I didn’t win the $500 prize, but I remained very proud of myself.
After this experience, I continued speaking publicly. I became more and more comfortable in these types of situations and I even developed the ability to look the audience right in the eyes. Among the events where I had to speak publicly were a winter carnival pageant (for my high school and for the community) and the student council elections during which I ran for vice-president.
To conclude, if someone as shy as me can learn to speak in front of the public, anyone can do it. I was so shy at the time that I couldn’t even speak to guys, I would blush when looking someone in the eyes, and I would mumble and say stupid things when I hung around groups… Brain Ball, Bug Teeth and Ski Slope were some of my nicknames and were given to me in reference to my good learning skills, my teeth and my nose respectively. Who would have thought that I would one day become a self-assured, confident leader?
I have been presented with many occasions to speak publicly. I still occasionally get the shakes in front of an audience (see Part 2 for more).
Have you ever been in a similar situation? Are you still very shy? Would you like to be able to speak freely and without any sign of fear? Have you ever been asked to present something to your colleagues? What was the outcome? We want you to share your stories!
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Story by Joanne
Edited by Coreen B.