How I Found The Power Of My Voice
|By Deanna Mathis
Small Parcel Freight Manager
My first memorable achievement was graduating as Valedictorian of my high school class of 350, and having to give my first speech to more than 2,000 people. It took a lot of hard work to get to that moment, and a great deal of courage to stand up in front of a very large crowd with little speaking experience.
From the blaring loudspeaker, I hear my name announced. As I approach the podium, my heart is pounding out of control, my palms are clammy, my hands are shaking, and suddenly my mouth seems drier than the Sahara. I focus on breathing, inhale…one…two…three…four, Exhale…one…two…three…four… and slowly edge toward the microphone.
I look up and see thousands of faces blankly staring back at me. My soon to be former classmates, their families and friends all staring back up at me waiting.
The hours I spent writing, re-writing and practicing my speech suddenly seem like no time at all. I feel ill-prepared to deal with the silent stares. I open my mouth to begin and the words begin to tumble out. At one point I feel disconnected from what I am saying. My heart wants so much for this speech to be impactful, inspirational, and eloquent, but I feel like I am failing miserably.
I mention a private joke in our graduating class, and my class lets out a large collective laugh. Suddenly the faces in the crowd look more encouraging, I see smiles and nods. Building on the positive encouragement, my voice grows stronger as I near the end. A roar of applause carries me back to my seat.
As Mark Twain once said, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” This being my first speech in front of a large crowd, I was understandably nervous (read: terrified), but once the speech was over I felt an overwhelming sense of pride for what I had accomplished. I have gone on to give many speeches to varying sizes of groups in my career, and each of them gets a little easier. It is so important to find how to take the first step, and then another and another.
Though you may never fully quell that nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach before you step on a stage or raise your hand at a meeting, there is something you can do to reduce it. Find an opportunity to practice, practice, and practice some more.
In my college career I had the pleasure of knowing an adviser with an eloquent speaking presence. Watching her give a presentation was truly magical. She commanded the audience like a seasoned professional. One day I asked her how she became such a great speaker. She shared with me that she was once very shy and terrified of speaking, but she attributed her current success to an organization called Toastmasters. This organization focuses on helping members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills through practice. We are fortunate to work for a company who values these skills, and has started a chapter of Toastmasters, led by Maria Zamora.
Toastmasters is only one avenue to practice your public speaking skills. Many community organizations will allow you the opportunity to get up in front of a group and speak, but you have to be willing to raise your hand and take that chance.