I don’t like cameras. I don’t like holding smiles at them, I don’t like looking into cameras when people take photos, I don’t always love making videos. Sometimes it takes a little while of me sitting in front of the camera quietly before I can look it in the eye and start to speak.
I’m also not the academically excelling kind who adores study and exams and flourishes in the current schooling system. (Hi! Dropout, remember?) But I love public speaking. This hasn’t always been the case, it wasn’t an inbuilt natural thing – I used to hate it. I would avoid pretty much anything to do with presentation at school.
In year 6 I didn’t want to run the cross country so I pretended that I hurt my foot. My mum took me to the doctors and they said I had a crushed tendon (I think they just wanted to diagnose SOMETHING wrong with me) and gave me crutches. I loved not doing the cross country and not having to do P.E. so much that I had those crutches for 6 weeks. At that point my mum told me that I had to try to start walking again or I’d have to have injections and physical therapy and many unpleasant things. At this point I’d not used my foot properly for so long that it took me another good week or two to be able to walk again. This was pretty stupid and selfish, I’m thankful that I am able to walk – but oh the things you’ll do when you’re 10, desperate to get out of things, and don’t understand your privilege.
In year 10 I’d somehow become my music teacher’s golden student and we had our practical exams. I play bass well. Everything else at this point was… okay, and I didn’t quite know how I’d do a bass solo for a music piece. So, I kept telling my teacher that I wasn’t ready to do it, and it got further and further on, and when we got to the end of the class she said that she would happily give me a mark based on what she thought my performance would’ve been. She gave me a very generous 10/10. I know.
Since then I have tried to be better. Now that I think about it, I would’ve hated going to school with me, because really, I got away with a lot.
In year 10 as well, in English this time, we had to do a presentation on a book of our choice, complete with a speech and powerpoint presentation. I’d chosen The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, a 650pg book that I hadn’t started reading, and slowly got to work. (Spoiler: I didn’t finish that book. Still haven’t.)
When it came around time for my class to do presentations I ended up volunteering to be one of the first to do my speech and presentation despite the day before dreading talking in front of a room of people.
This was a fairly easy decision for me to make, but I couldn’t tell you how. It feels like something my brain justified before I thought about it. Looking around the room I could see that none of my classmates wanted to do their presentation. Whether from nerves or not, the room was bored before the beginning and there was a palpable anxiety. Y’know what I figured in that moment? The best and most generous thing I could do for my classmates was to entertain them. ‘None of them want to be here or do this, but I have the ability to alleviate a little bit of this boredom if I choose it.’ So I did.
I think it genuinely comes from a place of something bigger than the speaking anxiety. Either that what you have to say is more important and you want to be able to express and convey it well so that it really takes root in people, or that no one cares that you’re anxious. Get that through your head – no one cares that you’re anxious and you’re doing a bad job. They won’t remember it. So, you can either leave people underwhelmed and inattentive, or try your best to blow your mind.
It’s like tricking your mind into doing something before you have time to think it over. You hear it constantly that the brain is a mighty powerful thing, and sometimes your brain will surprise you by doing things you didn’t even know you could do.
This isn’t about nerves, I still shake every time I speak regardless of the number of people, and I regularly preach at Youth church now. It’s about trying your best despite them and never saying that you ‘can’t’. If I had done my best at P.E. in school I’d probably be fitter and my health would be a lot better for it. If I’d done my best in music exams and drama, I would probably be a lot more outgoing and willing to try, rather than expecting to fail.
That being said, I still struggle to sing in front of anyone (and I mean anyone), and I think it’s because that feels like a more personal thing. But I know I have a talent for speaking and I can reaffirm that within myself. It’s something I practice and pursue, and actively want to get better at. So, for me, it was also a matter of telling myself that I had to find out whether or not I liked something before I let myself fear it.
I love communicating what God has put on my heart to the kids and leaders in the Youth and Church. I love making videos to share my thoughts about literature. It’s a little bit different because of the camera, but you still get the nerves! (Or, I do.) And I love these things more than I dread people looking at me, because I get to be braver than I feel and do what I think is important. I get over myself and into what matters.