From Shy to Confident: Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

April 25, 2017

By Jocelyn Tsai

She drifts over to the funeral podium and clears her throat. She prepares to give her eulogy about her great aunt. Her heart beats out of her chest uncontrollably. She inhales a deep breath as an attempt to calm her down. It fails to work though. Public speaking poses as her worst fear ever. It surpasses flying on planes, spiders, and even death. She can't even bear to think about talking in front of an audience. Why does the fear of giving a speech outweigh the fear of being the one in the casket? According to WashingtonPost.com, public speaking poses as the number one fear in Americans. People fear talking in front of crowds more than heights, clowns, and drowning. For some reason, speaking in front of others inspires fear in people. Perhaps the possibility of endless judgments the audience might have sparks the fear, or the fact that all eyes focus in on the speaker. Whatever seems scary about public speaking, I can definitely relate. During elementary and middle school, I was most certainly a diffident, soft spoken student. I barely had any experience giving speeches and would never have even given thought to talking in front of large crowds. As a result of participating in the MarinSEL program, I evolved to appreciate public speaking and grew more confident. This metamorphosis occurred because of all the practice speeches and presentations I had done in my MarinSEL classes.

Recently, in English, we started crafting a Pecha Kucha, a style of presentation that originated in Japan. Pecha Kuchas have twenty slides with images and very little text. The presenter can only spend twenty seconds on each slide, challenging them to say the most crucial information as clear and concise as they can. In English, we were split into partner groups and assigned to create a Pecha Kucha regarding an intercalary chapter from Grapes of Wrath. Pecha Kuchas require a lot of practice beforehand in order for the timing of the slides to flow correctly. Therefore, being prepared for the Pecha Kucha presentation prove to be necessary. In addition, in our Biology class, we devote class time to prep for a huge presentation for our Mutant Academy assignment, where we created a superhero who positively impacts the environment. At the end of our project, we will present our superhero to a panel of teachers and explain how the complicated processes of DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis worked together to result in our superhero. Then, in World Geography, we recently finished our zero net energy home presentations. My group exerted all our brainpower into calculating our home energy usage and how to conserve it. After we constructed our zero net energy house model, we presented to our classmates about our process behind it. Through constant exposure to public speaking in the MarinSEL program, I have improved greatly on it and grown more comfortable in front of an audience.

While giving the many speeches and presentations I have done this year, I received critical feedback on how to advance my speaking skills even more. In Seminar, every time a classmate would give a presentation, the class would provide suggestions for improvement. Through this process, I learned that I speak way too fast and need to slow down in order to deliver an understandable, clear message. Improving on public speaking relies on finding weaknesses and building on them. What better way to do this than through the accepting and kind MarinSEL community? When I'm speaking in front of my MarinSEL classmates, I know that if I mess up, they will give me constructive, never negative, advice to improve it. Our Seminar teacher, Ms. Frack, also made it a huge point to count our filler words every presentation. After a presentation, Ms. Frack would tell me how many filler words I had muttered without even thinking about it. I tend to use filler words mindlessly, but little but little, I learned to be more aware of words such as "like" and "um." All of this constructive feedback allowed me to grow into a better, more confident public speaker. 

The MarinSEL program improved my speaking skills and let me partake in numerous opportunities to practice it. Recently, MarinSEL hosted their annual Business Mixer, where companies mingle with MarinSEL students and faculty to learn why they should support this program. This event showed me how much I had grown on my public speaking. At the Business Mixer, I gave a speech about my experiences as a MarinSEL student. I had practiced endlessly before, remembering to speak slowly and concisely and limit my filler words, all skills I had learned through MarinSEL. As I stood up on the podium, looming over my audience of mostly adults, I realized that I wasn't scared. My heart wasn't pounding out of my chest and I wasn't all jittery. Public speaking no longer frightened me as much as it used to. As result of constant presentation and speeches during freshman year, I had become accustomed to talking in front of audiences. I, Jocelyn Tsai, had overcome my huge fear of public speaking, and happiness radiated from me because of it. I would no longer allow my fear to keep me from missing out on speaking opportunities. I transformed from a shy girl to a student who just delivered a speech in front of countless business officials.

Everyone undergoes a miraculous metamorphosis at least once in their life. Whether it be learning to appreciate the Earth more or realizing that they can be much more than just a superficial person, character development proves itself as inevitable. I'm so glad and grateful that I conquered the fear of public speaking and became more confident along the way. It was all thanks to the MarinSEL community, from the helpful feedback to simply assigning many oral presentations. With a little encouragement and help from peers and a whole lot of courage and initiative, anything can be accomplished, even overcoming a huge fear.