On Public Speaking

Our insecurities and fears debilitate us from unlocking our true, authentic selves. Heights, the dark, spiders, ghosts: words that can cause one’s blood pressure to increase. Fears haunt us in our waking life everyday and attack when we allow them to. They're alive and raw. 

When I am standing in front of a room presenting a project the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I allow a series of what if  questions to overcome my preparation: What if my mind goes blank? What if everything I've prepared is a complete waste? What if the intonation of my voice isn't loud enough? By nature, these questions diminish any form of confidence I had once built myself. It's true, we are our own worst enemies. Most of our insecurities and fears are rooted in the unknown, the possibility of not knowing what is to come, and ultimately the fear of being rejected.

A few years ago, I was asked to speak on a panel to offer advice to incoming freshman wanting to pursue journalism as their career choice. Before that I hadn't been up in front of a room to speak formerly in years. The build up caused a great deal of nervousness. I needed to appear intelligent, in the know, and confident. At the moment, I work in the world of publishing where everyone I meet is smart and well-spoken, but we all share similar anxieties and fears about public speaking. I have spoken to professionals who have been presenting for years and years and they still get nervous when they speak in front of a crowd. 

In retrospect, my participation on the panel gave me insight on how to read an audience. Not only that, but it allowed me to pay attention to my breath. When I am speaking before a room I have the strong tendency to rush through my words. Rather than being in the moment with where I am, I think: When is this going to be over? This year, I need to practice on being more patient and becoming more fluid with my speech. 

Growing up, I was accustomed to balancing and learning three languages simultaneously: Chinese (Cantonese) and Vietnamese at home with my parents, and then English when I entered school. But in order to succeed in school I had to lose my Chinese and Vietnamese accent. My parents encouraged me to stumble into the English language, embarrass myself as much as humanly possible, and grow from the experience because they did the exact same when they immigrated from Vietnam 25 years ago.

Language influences our thoughts and actions. It's deeply rooted in how we communicate and interact with our world. As human beings, we possess an inherent curiosity to share and absorb stories. It's something that is heavily hardwired into us biologically. One of the reasons why I am motivated to improve upon this skill is that I value the art of storytelling. This is how I was able to balance all three languages, and all three cultures, within myself. But because of societal pressures, I lost my accent, and therefore a part of myself, at a very young age. I felt like my value as a storyteller slowly diminished.

For my entire life, I've admired presenters who have the power to captivate and connect with their audience on an emotional level. After listening to successful presentations, I am aware that being a masterful storyteller takes practice. No one is born a public speaker. It takes time and practice. After everything I've been through, gaining and losing languages and accents and dialects, I know I have the power to shape my reality. We are able to bring the best versions of ourselves in every situation we are faced with. I recognize my capacity to improve. I'm human after all.