The butterflies were unlike the creatures you usually see fluttering ever so gracefully. These gentle creatures had taken on a more sinister appearance, growing horns, fluttering wildly in my stomach, determined to wrest away from me the joy of public speaking! Needless to say, that first outing was a painful one for me and to this day I feel sorry for the assault on the ears of my professor and course mates.
On looking back now, I must say that I am thankful that this happened way back in my youth. Young people are amazingly resilient and after a couple of days licking my wounds and recovering from the above-mentioned near-doom experience
I wandered into the university library in search of a tome that would make public speaking a saner experience. I was amazed by the vast collection of books on the subject. If only I had spent more time in the library! Sometimes, pride (and I am speaking for myself) prevents us from seeking help, be it from literary sources or other mortals!
The fear of public speaking is very real. It has been known to paralyze the mind and body. Green (1999, p.77) observed that the three common fears are â€œthe fear of Failure, the fear of Looking Foolish and the fear of Breakdownâ€. Vassallo (1993, p.15) noted that â€œEveryone gets butterflies in the stomach. The trick is to train them to fly in formationâ€. The literature is replete with suggestions on overcoming stage fright. I have found the following bits of advice particularly reassuring:
1. Prepare and rehearse. Adequate preparation is of utmost importance. Do not wing it! Have your notes with you. Rehearse several times to help you get used to the flow of your presentation. I have found that rehearsing prevents me from stumbling over the words!
2. You should be aware that in spite of exhaustive preparation and rehearsal, mistakes may occur. Do not panic! Should you trip over a word, pause, and smile and start the sentence again!
3. Think positively. Can you do it? Yes you can! The audience is on your side and wants you to do well! Your nervousness will recede as you progress through your presentation/speech.
4. Concentrate on your message. I find that this allays my nervousness.
5. Do not shy away from opportunities to speak in public. Gain experience! I know this is easier said than done. Experience will boost your level of confidence.
6. Dress appropriately yet comfortably. It is important for one to feel good!
7. Take a couple of slow deep breaths before you start your presentation/speech. This has a calming effect.
8. A good nightâ€™s sleep before your presentation works wonders. You will feel energized.
9. I limit my intake of coffee before a presentation. A cup will do. I find that too much coffee raises my anxiety level.
As we progress through life, we will encounter many occasions where we are called upon to â€œsay a few wordsâ€. The inevitable should not be regarded with fear and dread. With adequate preparation and a positive frame of mind, you will be well on your way to experience the joy of public speaking!
Garg, Anu. 2003, A word a day: a romp through some of the most unusual and intriguing words in English, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.
Green, Gerald. 1999, The magic of public speaking, Gerald Green, Malaysia.
Vassallo, Wanda. 1993, Speaking with confidence: a guide for public speakers, Golden Books Centre Sdn Bhd, Malaysia