Overcoming my Fear of Public Speaking
“Jagger, you’re up.” My eighth-grade Social Studies teacher glanced at me with her bespeckled eyes and congenial smile.
My heart raced. My cheeks turned bright red and my body shook as if it were about to cave in. In an attempt to hide my anxiety, I looked away from my peers as I walked toward the podium. A panel of three teachers sat in front of me with concerned looks on their faces, as if my anxiety had manifested itself into some sort of physical being, which was now displayed center stage in front of over thirty of my peers. The butterflies in my stomach swarmed as if they were alarmed by a predator within my own gastrointestinal system. I opened my mouth and began to speak.
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I had meticulously tweaked my speech several times over the past week to ensure I would be less nervous about the presentation. The five index cards allocated to me by my teacher were filled with microscopic notes I had made to ensure I remembered every detail. This effort, unfortunately, proved futile as I quickly lost my train of thought. Maintaining eye contact with my audience turned into me losing my place in my speech several times. Projecting my voice became a laborious act as my voice shook in agony of the task at hand. Midway through my speech, I stopped and left the room.
In light of what happened, I was taunted by my classmates who had much higher expectations of me. Up to this point I had been known to raise my hand in class, weigh in on debates, and ask questions without fear of being judged. It was the thought of standing in front of my classmates and breaking the silence that shook me to my core. I had ideas and beliefs heavy on my mind and no way to release them into the world.
After that day, I thought about my speech and ran through it once more in my head. In doing so, I thought about my discussion of the advancement of America throughout history and the connection I made to my personal motto, “Excelsior”. This word, which I chose to live by after hearing it in the film Silver Linings Playbook, means “onward to greater things”. Inspired by this concept, I realized the irrationality of my fear and from that point on, I did everything in my power to overcome it. In this process, my confidence soared. I jumped at the chance to get in front of my classmates and enthusiastically presented my thoughts whenever I was given the chance. I entered organizations that required public speaking and assumed leadership roles within them. Soon enough, the overbearing feeling I would get before presentations became nothing more than a trivial discomfort. It was as if the ideas I had inside me grew tired of hiding from the world and began to force themselves out of me.
Overcoming my fear of public speaking was a journey of self-improvement and discovery. That fear once kept me from countless leadership and educational opportunities that I now pursue with every chance I am given. I have continued to use my voice as a way to offer new insight into class discussions and to breathe new life into lessons that would be otherwise unstimulating. Doing these things allows me to not only reap more benefits from my education but also to show others who may still be terrified of speaking in front of their classmates that it is okay to come out of their shell. After all, everyone has meaningful opinions to offer, but it takes courage and confidence to express them. How can we possibly hope to change the world if we refuse to let our ideas be heard?