You are standing before a group of people, with bright, revolutionary ideas in your mind. You walk towards the lectern and clear your throat. Your palms start sweating, and your legs stiffen with every step you take. You shiver looking at the eyes staring at you. Despite having brilliant thoughts, you are unable to get them across, simply because you cannot break free from the shackles of fear. Do you relate to this feeling?
I do. It was the year 2007 when I first met my fear. The fear that held me back whenever I wanted to ask a doubt in class. The fear that made me doubt my self-confidence with the mere thought of being the centre of attention. The fear of facing an audience. I used to pre-plan for something as simple as an oral presentation at school. As trivial as it sounds now, back then it was a herculean task and a huge energy drainer.
There is no avoiding public speaking situations in any sphere of life, be it professional or personal. I knew that I had to change from getting panic-stricken at being called up to speak, to loving the spotlight and communicating with conviction and power. It is only when you accept that you have a problem, can you think of changing it. To me, it was a life changing incident that struck me hard. It was my failure before people that charged me to take it up as a challenge. If you are ignorant of your problem or do not want to change from within, no one can make you drink water even if they manage to lead you to the pond.
Although it took me time, I came to terms with my weakness, and took the first step. I entered a room with a set of people with similar motives. That’s when I figured, the simplest way to get over the fear is to practice speaking before an audience. I was called up for something called a “Table Topic”.
As I walked to the podium, I felt the fear get the better of me. The topic was announced- “Are leaders born, or are they made?”. I succumbed to my fear. This was my biggest mistake. I found my palms frozen and couldn’t utter a single word. The audience was excitedly staring at me, waiting patiently for my speech. I was staring back at them, blankly. After a minute of deafening silence, I heard an applause for my failed attempt and I walked out with my head hung in shame. I had ideas, but couldn’t speak. I was extremely embarrassed at my failure before a set of unknown people. However, as is rightly said by Paulo Coelho, when you have a strong desire, the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.
A person sitting in that very room came up to me and said, “Come here twice a month, and you will see the difference”. I didn’t believe my ears, but gathered all my courage and decided to give it a shot anyway. With every meeting I discovered ways of breaking the barrier. I first learnt to fake it, and then managed to make it. Within a span of one year, I had done 6 speeches that were 7 minutes long and focused on specific public speaking skills, and numerous impromptu speeches. I soon started winning awards at Toastmasters Annual Contests at the club level. I had never imagined that I would go through this metamorphosis. My fear had transformed into love for public speaking. I became a better listener, speaker and leader. I began hunting for opportunities to speak before people. I now love the same attention that I once used to run away from. It was indeed a big transformation.
I cannot stress enough on the importance of the art of communication in the world we live in. Public speaking is not just a skill, it’s an experience, it’s a risk. When you stand up to speak, you are taking the road less travelled. You can fail to engage the crowd, you can make a fool of yourself. The good news is that platforms exist out there that can make this risk feel less intimidating and make the transformation smoother. I saw myself fail terribly, and now I see myself speaking with more confidence than I ever had. This is a very empowering feeling. I have learnt that the journey from fear to love is just six minutes long. Well, six minutes was the time limit for the ice breaking speech!