I’ve had a chequered history regarding “giving a speech” for various reasons and have concluded that being able to speak in public confidently, is tied up with how well you understand the subject-matter.
This may sound logical. And of course it is, but I also think that how a person regards themselves at that moment in time comes into play.
Let me explain, using my own history of talking in public as an example.
When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I was gregarious. I would happily sing or talk in front of numerous amounts of people. However, by the time I was 7 years old I’d become extremely reserved around adults and other children. Often, kids seem to possess a natural confidence, but I believe events that happened to me around this age had a direct impact on how I started to view myself. I choose one special friend and basically pushed all other involvement aside for quite a few years. During this time, if I had to read out loud in class – and I was an excellent reader for my age – I felt so nervous that I’d stumble over the words in front of me. It must have been awkward for the teachers, as after a while I just was not asked to do this task any more.
I began secondary school and was separated from my special friend. Now it became clear that I would have to get my act together for survival purposes. I made a conscious effort to interact with other kids, and soon I was almost popular! And you know what, when I had to stand up and read out loud in class, I managed it. My self-esteem had been buttressed by being “liked” and this had a direct impact on my confidence.
Giving a Speech – Work Life
But reading in public is very different to making a speech about something in front of people. I realised at Uni that I could do this if I had a definite handle on the topic and spoke slowly. Many years later, when I was working in retail for a nutrition company, I often lead talks and discussions confidently as I knew my subject area better than most.
But what if I was put on the spot and asked to talk about something without prior knowledge or warning?
Well, that turned out to be a shambles!
I had just graduated and was on a weekend interview for an important fast track civil service job. The weekend was interesting in itself. Those chosen to attend had to stay for 3 nights in a place that must have been some kind of barracks. Then we were all subjected to various written tests. Psychometric and intelligence based. Plus several interviews with a panel of people and group discussions. All OK for me. Even the chatting in-front of a panel of 4 or 5 people about myself and my life – fine.
However, then came the finale! The whole group who were there for the tests – about 25 of us, and the panel, were all in an auditorium together. We were each given a topic and asked to get up on the stage and talk about it for three minutes.
My turn was near the end and as I watched all of them make such a success out of their few minutes of fame I started to worry. Then, I literally got stage fright. I can’t remember what my topic was but let’s say it wasn’t particularly difficult. But I felt unprepared and vulnerable. It is a long time ago, but I don’t think I made it through the three mins. My brain became a haze of nothing!
The experience of what it felt like losing my mind for a few minutes stayed with me for some time. Those of you who know me would probably say I am quite self-possessed and socially aware. I do not suffer from anxiety in group situations at all. So what happened that afternoon, although I laugh about it now, must have been a phobia coming to life.
A week later, we got the results of the weekend through the post. I had done so well on all the other tests, I was still offered the job, but not on the fast track. It’s a funny old world…