It's something a lot of students dread, and we're constantly told it's a skill we are going to need in our day to day life. I never found myself thinking that I would be speaking in front of a crowd very often until a great opportunity arose in my life about a year ago. The only catch, I would have to speak in front of a crowd more often than I would like.
At the end of my junior year of high school, I was elected as one of three presidents of a club called Student Leaders. It was a mix of student council, student government, and a party planning committee. We would talk to families whose kids might be interested in our school, lead tours of new students, plan proms and Halloween parties, and everything in between. I had been a general member of the club for about a year prior to my "promotion." It was the first club I'd ever been a part of, and it was a really great experience. I made plenty of new friends and was giving back to the school that had already done so much for me.
At the end of my first year in the club, the presidents at the time had announced the new executive board elections. There were many positions open, president, social media liaison, attendance keeper, etc. The only requirements to run for any of these positions was to have good standing in the club and be able to make a speech relaying to other members why you deserve to be voted for. This immediately turned me off and there was no way I was going to run for any position.
After overhearing people talk about the club and how it could be better, I decided that maybe I should try for the position of president because I had the passion for me to change things and I strove to get even more involved with my school. Along with encouragement from the club supervisor and presidents at the time, I entered into the election. I talked myself into getting past the whole speaking part, even though speaking in front of any type of crowd had always scared the life out of me. I would advise anyone with a fear of public speaking to take the risk, even if it scares you as much as it used to scare me.
Although I had received a satisfactory grade in speech class, I was still prone to constantly stuttering and messing up my words. Even when talking one on one with a teacher or adviser, I was shy and quiet. I had always been socially awkward, and I would still consider myself just that. But starting out small was the best thing I could have done to help myself with this skill.
When there is no way to avoid public speaking, I would always volunteer to go first. That way, you don't feel like you have to one-up anybody, and you're not intimidated from previous performances. On the day of the Student Leaders elections, I was arrived at the meeting early and was more ready than ever to perform my speech. To prepare, I recited it over and over in the shower, in the car, before bed, and any time I had the chance. I'm sure my family was incredibly annoyed by me, but it was so worth it because I got the position!
I was told many times by previous members of Student Leaders that I would have to initiate all conversation. Everyone in front of me was exactly where I had been a year ago; sitting patiently and minding their business, just glad they didn't have to have a speech ready every time the group met up.
I started coming out of my shell during meetings with just myself, my co-presidents, and the adviser of the club. I would bring to the table new ideas, ask questions, and make suggestions. The first meeting with the club as a whole was a little rough. I did stutter and mess up some of my words, and definitely left useful information out. The good thing about being a president was that I could send emails summarizing the important information of the day. I also had my two friends speaking with me, and we would chime in during each other's turns; we had each other's backs.
Throughout the year, I visited other high schools, talked to groups of parents visiting my school, and lead group meetings every other week. I learned to leave out unnecessary and boring information, and relate what I was saying to the people I was saying it to. Becoming closer to people in Student Leaders made it easier to talk to them on a professional level. By the time the school year was wrapping up, another opportunity fell into my hands and it involved public speaking. I was asked to be a featured student speaker at my school's graduation ceremony.
The nerves from the year before returned because I had never spoken in front of a group this large. There were around 500 people expected to be there! Minutes before walking out with the other graduates, I peeked through a door to see the crowd I would be facing in just a few minutes. The good thing was that the lights were so bright I could barely see anything except the front row of the audience, which was lined with my closest friends I had gone through high school with. Prior to making my way on the stage, I thought of all I had done to prepare for this moment.
I gave myself a lot of time to write out a thoughtful, humorous, touching speech and I was able to practice in front of an English teacher from my school. She was very present in the drama/theater community, so she gave helpful tips on performing my speech. All I could do was practice. Deep breaths, slow down, chin up. I was first out of the three student speakers. I started off way too fast, and I cringe while watching the video now, but when I became acquainted with the stage and audience, I felt comfortable enough to slow down. I was nervous the entire time, without a doubt, but afterward, I received many compliments on the delivery of my speech.
If you find yourself in a position where you're going to have to talk in front of a large group of people, think of the position it's going to put you in in the future. People will respect you for having the courage to do so. Practice your speech every time you get the chance. Perform your speech sooner than later, and once you're finished speaking, try to stay in the habit of large group speaking, so you're always ready for the next time. Make your speeches relatable and touching to the targeted audience. Most importantly, know that it's okay to be nervous. No one is expecting you to get up there and belt out high notes (unless, of course, that's who you are). Being nervous is normal, and when you have adjusted and started to enjoy public speaking, your confidence will soar.