My first public speaking experience was in primary school. My school had reached the third stage of a competition whose first two levels were written and we were to participate in a quiz and a debate. I was chosen for the debate.
Prior to this, I had never spoken in front of a crowd larger than my class because unlike most schools, my school did not have a literary and debate club. I did not think this was an issue, shebi it is just to speak? I do that pretty well.
My dad, an English Literature teacher helped me develop the points and before long, I could tell you why private schools are better than public schools in my sleep. I practiced with my parents, my siblings and in front of the mirror. Days before the competition, I knew I was ready to dazzle them.
The D-day came and I was called on stage. The problem started when I looked up and I saw a crowd larger than my entire school. It didn’t help that most of the people in front were adults and they were not smiling. I picked up the mic with shaky hands and I clammed up. I could not speak. I knew these things but I just couldn’t talk. I started searching for a familiar face, it was hard considering we were not in the town I lived or schooled in but I found my proprietor’s face. I eventually talked but it was with a shaky voice and the judges were already disinterested. It was no surprise that I did not make it to the next level.
After the winners were announced, tears started running down my cheeks. I felt like a total failure; I had never had such an experience before. How would I face the proprietress? I should not have worried though. She held me until I stopped crying and wiped my tears. Next, she brought out her floral scented powder and applied it on my face.
All my life, I would run away from public speaking until there was no choice. I was pretty vocal behind the scenes but not in front of a crowd; never in front of a crowd.
I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I knew that being able to talk so much does not equate to being a good public speaker. I wish I knew that understanding the points were more important than memorizing them. I wish I knew that the best of public speakers were also nervous on stage and I wish I had an idea of what I was going there to face.