Overcoming fears leads to learning new skills

Mackenzie Bill, columnist

Back in April, I had to virtually present a piece to my U.S. history class. My class consists of 25 people, some online and some in person. Before I presented, irrational thoughts swirled through my head. 

What if my wifi goes out and I sound like a robot? What if no one likes what I’m saying and they all start laughing? What if my hair looks like I just came out of a wind tunnel? What if everyone hates me?

We all know the unwelcoming butterflies that thrash through our stomach when it’s time to present to an audience. Whether it is in person or online, public speaking can be terrifying. 

It may seem like you are the only person who gets the jitters before having to stand up and speak in front of an audience but don’t worry. You are not alone. 

80-percent  of Americans feel some sort of anxiety surrounding public speaking. This percentage is overwhelming, but not surprising, according to a study done by Forbes.

For me, I feel this anxiety before I have to present something, talk to my parents about something important, or really any time I speak in front of a large group of people.

This anxiety traps me and makes me freeze at the moment when I’m speaking; I lose my train of thought and blank out on what I am about to say.  

I am familiar with public speaking; I remember many times at my church when I have had to speak – in front of the congregation. It was so hard to stare out into the audience and have a sea of faces staring right back at me. It got a little bit easier every time, but I would always freeze the moment I was standing in front of the audience.

I remember that before my U.S history presentation, I decided to talk to my dad. I asked him for advice since he feels comfortable speaking in public.

He told me that when you have less experience in public speaking, you may lack confidence and your self-image may be based more on how you think others perceive you.  With maturity, experience and more confidence that may not be as important. Through obtaining these important things, your self-image is more developed from how you see yourself.

Confidence and maturity are key to being a good speaker. A confident self-image can add so much to a presentation, it’ll help humanize your presentation strategies to further connect with the audience. Keep in mind that the audience wants to hear what you have to say. Don’t automatically assume that what you are talking about is insignificant (entrepreneur.com). 

The number one concern for people who struggle with public speaking usually is, “How are people perceiving me? Are they judging me?”

As a high schooler, I do care about how other students perceive me. Especially freshman year when I was self-conscious and timid in a brand new environment. It has gotten better as I’ve gotten older, but my dad is right: something that may hold inexperienced people in the world of public speaking back is the fear of being looked at differently or negatively. 

I decided to try to gain a little more control over my worry about how others perceive me before I presented to my U.S. history class, so I tried to look at the bigger picture. 

This one presentation in front of my class is not going to make or break my academic career. This one presentation in my junior year of high school, out of dozens of others that I have had to do this year, is not going to fall short. I also kept in mind that the people that I’m presenting in front of are people who have worries themselves and are probably not watching every move that I make.

The time came for me to present. I unmuted and presented my written piece, and I made a few mistakes. I stumbled over a few words and may have even skipped over a line, but once I was finished, I was more than happy with how things turned out. 

Making mistakes is a part of being human. 

Even though you may have some slip-ups or errors when presenting, it does not mean that your self-worth or the message you’re trying to send to the audience is diminished. 

I encourage you to block out those negative assumptions and stand up tall, speak up and most importantly remember that every presentation is practice, a step closer to mastery.

I am not good at public speaking, but with practice, I know that every stutter and every blank is worth the skill I will obtain in the end.