I vividly remember the first time I ever addressed an audience. It was my first semester in university. Up until then, I’ve only listened to teachers giving their speeches during morning assemblies. The opportunity never came up, and I did not experience any form of public speaking up until I was close to being 20 years old.
I have always been an active participant in sports and social activities. There were little, if at all, difficulties with being around people. I had the impression that I could present to an audience quite similarly to how I interacted with others in day to day life. “Just keep in mind what I have to share and talk about it in front of them”, I told myself.
I have never been so wrong.
As soon as I went up to the classroom, my body began to tremble. I was stuttering a lot. Somehow, the ideas that I wanted to share with the other students did not appear in my mind. There were long uncomfortable moments of silence. I stumbled around mentally, looking for the points that I thought I had prepared. It was a mess.
I learned later on that what I experienced was anxiety. Instead of believing that it is a point of weakness, I took it as a challenge. I began rehearsing more before each presentation and prepared cue cards for points that I’d like to keep in mind. I even went to the extent of challenging social anxiety by approaching strangers at the mall, university, bars and clubs. At first, I would start with asking for the time. I then went up a notch by introducing myself, and asking for the other person’s name. And then, I worked up to initiating conversations instead. I have to be honest: I felt like I was going to faint the first time I approached a stranger!
I do not identify with the term “conquer your fears”. I’ve had my fair share of experience speaking in public since that paralyzing speech in university. What I’ve learned is that the fear never really goes away. Every time I am addressing an audience, I feel the same anxiety that overwhelmed me when I was 20 years old. When I go on stage, I feel my limbs trembling. Each time, there will be a gush of blood to my head. I start feeling flushed and my thoughts get scrambled. This doesn’t change no matter how many times I give a talk to an audience.
What has changed though, is the belief in my abilities to manage the situation. There is no talent in this. It is purely based on experience from repeating the same behavior over and over (and over) again. I have also learned that no matter how bad the talk is, that in the grand scheme of things, it is no big deal! I’m still alive, so it can’t be that bad?
I am writing this because of the anxiety I felt at a recent TEDx talk that I presented regarding a mental health platform in Malaysia. Even if I may look calm and composed, my mind was actually all over the place! You have probably seen someone doing something that you’d always like to do. However, you may at times believe that doing it is beyond your abilities. Remember this: this person once felt exactly the same way as you. The only difference is that he or she started doing it and (currently) has more experience!
There is wisdom from the tagline of a well-known sports apparel company. When facing your fears, one simple advice to follow is: “just do it”.