My greatest weakness and biggest fear is public speaking. This a lie I’ve told myself for as long as I can remember. But, when you tell yourself something enough, you begin to believe it. While I’ve never been the most outgoing, and my voice does not project very well, and having the spotlight on me makes me anxious, these factors do not create within me an innate weakness in public speaking. However, from the moment I began school and had to give any sort of oral presentation, I dubbed public speaking my mortal enemy.
The sheer act of standing in front of a class and opening my mouth to say something of value caused me so much distress that I would actually begin to cry. They weren’t tears of sadness or anger, it was that my anxiety level was so high my body’s reaction was to have my face turn red and cause my eyes to leak salt water.
There is nothing that scares me more than public speaking.
As a freshman at Gill St. Bernard’s high school in Gladstone, New Jersey, a right of passage, of sorts, came in the form of the first year presentation. Each student would choose any topic he or she wished, and had to give a ten-minute speech on it.
Being a self-proclaimed Reese’s peanut butter cup connoisseur and having just returned from Hershey Park in Hershey, PA, I was convinced that the only topic that I could expertly present on would be Milton B. Reese and his wondrous peanut butter and chocolate masterpiece. Wearing my orange tie-dye Reese’s t-shirt and carrying my big tub of Reese’s cups, I stood up in front of the entire class of 2011 and told them all about the history of my favorite candy.
As you can imagine, given my disdain for public speaking, I delivered a very rushed speech with teary-eyes and at a barely audible volume. Despite having rehearsed for weeks and telling my stuffed animals over and over again, with unbroken eye contact and perfect diction about the marvelous invention that is the Reese’s, the actual presentation did not go as smoothly as planned. I failed to look up from my note cards, even though I had every single word memorized, and I gave the illusion that I was simply unprepared for this massive project that I had, in fact, put an immense amount of effort into.
Upon completion of my Reese’s ordeal, everyone was invited to dive into my bin of peanut butter and chocolate deliciousness and take part in the history of a company that I just spent 10-minutes mumbling through. Feeling elated that the presentation was over and simultaneously dejected because of the poorness of my delivery, I dreaded the day I would receive my grade just a few weeks later. When I received the email carrying my fate, I found a grade reflective of my less than adequate performance: a “B-”.
While it certainly wasn’t the end of the world, my 14-year old self found it difficult to find the silver lining in my situation. The worst part, though, was seeing my faults written in the “notes” section of my grading sheet: make more eye contact (demonstrated a clear knowledge of the material, but did not look up from note cards); speak slower; project.
To make matters even more traumatizing for my ill-adjusted adolescent brain, my brilliant, outgoing, brother, Nick (whom I love dearly) gave an award-winning presentation on Steve Irwin not one-year prior. Nick not only earned an “A” on his project, but garnered the coveted title of “presentation of the year.” Three years later, my theatrical, incredibly beautiful, overall perfect little sister, Libby, (whom I, again, adore with all my heart), gave an ovation-worthy performance on Judy Garland, opening her speech singing an especially stirring rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The result? An “A” and yet another recipient of “presentation of the year.”
There was only one gap in the Galli family public speaking lineage of greatness, and that sole spot belonged to ol’ “B-” over here.
Why was I such a poor public speaker? Why did it make me so nervous to the point where I would actually begin to cry, not out of sadness or frustration, but as an involuntary response to having unwanted attention on me? Was this really an innate weakness in my wiring that I would never be able to get over?
Truthfully, I do not know why I have this fear, the only thing I know is that it’s been within me for as long as I can remember. Following my freshman year at GSB, I would like to say I tried to work on and eventually overcame my fear my public speaking, but that just didn’t happen. Though I was tired of this charade, I wrote it off as something I would never be good at. So, I simply accepted my fate and continued to treat public speaking as my mortal enemy throughout high school and into college.
In college, though, I was forced to tackle this beast head on, something I hadn’t previously been made to do. It started in my freshman seminar class where the tables were set up in a horseshoe shape so my professor could sit or stand in the middle of the room and be sure no one was safe when he randomly called upon us. When, not if, you were called upon, a simple answer would not suffice; you had to explain why you came to that answer and defend your response. Our professor would not stop staring at you or prodding deeper into your answer until you gave one that was sufficient enough for him. While that class was scary at times, it helped me to grow so much as a speaker, a writer, and as a confident defender of my opinions. It ensured my collegiate academic journey would be far more successful than my high school one.
While college did foster this growth in me as an overall person, I still loathed public speaking. I graduated from Oglethorpe University, still afraid of having people look at me, being the center of attention, and having to speak in front of a group of people in any capacity.
So, you might be wondering, how, then, did I find myself in the world of podcasting? Putting my voice out there every single week for anyone, and perceivably everyone, to hear? Having to create valuable content and having enough confidence and faith in myself to trust that what I have to say is in fact worth saying at all?
Well, I took the advice of Harvard professor, Amy Cuddy, after listening to her speak on one of my favorite Ted Talks: I faked it (and still do quite a bit of faking to this day) until I became it.
I am by no means a great public speaker today, nor am I an expert on this subject. In fact, it still scares me, and at times the anxiety I feel from it is overwhelming. But I know that the cost of stopping my podcast and ceasing to put myself out there is far greater than any fear I irrationally possess. If I stop and concede to my anxiety, I would be giving up the potential of fulfilling my ultimate goal of helping student athletes just like me…and that’s what keeps me going.
Today, I challenge you to keep moving forward in spite of your fears. Are you up for it?