I was at a Wunmi’s home last weekend when I (as most Nigerians do) decided to engage in some meaningful and deep conversations. Amongst political discussions, arguments on feminism, I mentioned to my friends that I am shy and often lack confidence. They refuted this like it was an argument and they were best placed to assess how I feel. Surprising yet amusing, they decided to give instances of when I did not seem phased by new faces and I handled things confidently. My friend Efosa described when I was campaigning for my current role within the Union and I talked to a class of over 100 pharmacy students in a lecture. He said, ‘remember, you even had the cohort clapping because they were moved by your speech.’ He is indeed correct, I had a class of non-familiar faces laugh at my jokes and even give a round of applause when I was done.
I have a confession to make- my communication skills are alright so I naturally enjoy meeting new people and talking to them but I am often terrified (I repeat terrified) of speaking to a group in public. I say often because the times that I am not as terrified are when I am unable to think (Yes, I am an over-thinker) about it or I am having fun doing it that I forget. The more I think about it, the more I stress about saying the wrong thing and because I want it to go so well after all, it is my ONE chance to make an impression. Yet this confession was shocking to close friends of mine.
Back to the pharmacy speech instance, yes, I came across confident but the real question is was I actually confident? The answer is no. I had practised my speech beforehand because I was going into a number of lectures that week. In fact, I credit my success to the fact that I ran across the campus from my Land Law lecture just to meet these pharmacy students. So my brain was not thinking, ‘what will I say’ when I was trying to safely cross the road, it was thinking ‘get there in time before you mess this up!’ When I walked in, I was caught off-guard because the students were a lot more than I had anticipated and there I was walking from the back of the room to the front as I felt all eyes follow me.
The lecturer was very kind; he even handed me a microphone. In true Ebun (that’s my name) fashion, I confessed, ‘Oh, I have never used one of these microphones before and I did not think I was going to be speaking to these many students’ and when a girl walked out after I introduced myself, I made a joke about catching her outside later (Get it?). So yes, I talked about the changes that I hoped to make and why they should put their trusts in me. It also helped that I had a couple of familiar faces in the room and one part of me believes that my friends started applauding so everyone else had to follow or perhaps, I give too many excuses for my success.
Believe it or not, this same Ebun feels terrified of asking questions at formal events. I do not know if it is that I am intimidated by the students in the room (which i doubt) but I refuse to raise my hands at events to ask a question. In fact, my brain has now mastered this so well that I cannot think of a question because I am too stressed about whether or not I should be asking a question. Yet, my friends Shile and Jess do it so effortlessly. I also get terrified networking and meeting new people especially those that I hold in high regard. I have missed many opportunities because of this fear. I remember being at a Baker McKenzie event and wanting to speak to this partner but I just would not go forward because I was terrified and so intimidated by his achievements.
With my current job, I have had many opportunities to practise so you would think that I have mastered it by now but no. I recall the beginning of the academic year where we had to deliver a speech on behalf of the Union welcoming students in the Vice Chancellors speech. I was again terrified! I delivered this speech and I even met students who later said ‘oh you’re the girl that delivered that speech’. Whatever that means, I assume that I made a good enough impression. So, I am sorry to break it to you, if you are a person like me, you might never be confident and comfortable enough to speak effortlessly. You can certainly do it, you just might have a preference not to.
It can be done! You can fake it till you (never) make it. It becomes more comfortable as you practise. Now that I have had almost a year of speaking to strangers, speaking in public compulsorily, I can handle the situations better. I find it easier to not overthink when that student did not get the joke or why they were looking too closely at my face. I have also found an easing sentence– my name and my role. This gives your brain a chance to relax because I might not know my speech in and out but I sure remember my name and what I do. So, yes, when I was asked to be a panellist for an event later this summer and speak at my previous college, I said ‘YES, YES, I would love to do that!’
I can only end with what my friend Samirah rightly said, you probably don’t get used to public speaking, ‘you [just] get comfortable in your anxiety.’ Whilst you’re getting comfortable, don’t forget to breathe 🙂