Alice shares her experience with public speaking, detailing her journey from shy and anxious in front of large groups, to finding her confidence and speaking up.
If I could go back in time and tell my teenage self that, aged 22, I would be writing an article about my passion for public speaking, I have no idea how she would react. There’s a good chance she would believe that I was some kind of impostor and that the real me had been abducted by aliens or something. To be honest, this would have been a lot easier to believe than the truth.
At school, I hated speaking up. Parents’ evening was a bit like groundhog day for me. Since I can remember, every single teacher, every single year had the same feedback: ‘She is conscientious and hard-working, but she really needs to participate in class.’
It was all well and good being told that I needed to speak up more, but I never felt that I received any tangible guidance on how to do so.
Left to my own devices, I beat myself up for being ‘cowardly’ every day after school in an attempt to force myself to magically improve overnight. Of course, this never happened, and just made me feel worse. My first piece of advice when it comes to getting better at public speaking is to please be kind to yourself! Set small, attainable goals and celebrate every tiny success, rather than focusing on the negatives. Let yourself grow at your own pace, however slow that may be.
Going to uni in September 2018 was a huge turning point for me. It gave me the space to start afresh. It also helped that on my very first day, I happened to befriend someone who noticed all the negative ways I talked about myself and was able to help me rethink them. It was quite annoying at first, but extremely helpful. It takes time to unlearn these thought patterns though - that was four years ago now and he still has to remind me sometimes. My second bit of advice is to find people who can (patiently) keep you accountable for being kinder to yourself. This could be friends, colleagues, family members, a partner or even yourself!
The second turning point came in my second year of university, when I discovered that I had to give a 20 minute presentation in one of my favourite units. After being unable to find a university society where I could get help, I decided to start my own student society called Speak Up - ‘the public speaking society for people who don’t like the spotlight,’. We ran weekly training sessions for people who hated public speaking, addressing things like impostor syndrome and self-doubt.
This pushed me out of my comfort zone, but my newfound purpose really drove me and suddenly the fear didn’t matter so much anymore. I was also extremely lucky to have the unconditional support of my parents and friends, which gave me the added confidence I needed. My third piece of advice is to start practising in an environment where you feel safe, with people you feel comfortable around, and begin by talking about your passions or hobbies. This makes public speaking so much easier, and more fun!
Two years on from founding Speak Up, I can now say with total honesty that I actually enjoy public speaking (I still do find it scary though!). I graduated in 2021 and have just celebrated my first year of full-time work. The company I work at is really supportive of my passion for public speaking and I now run training, webinars and practice sessions and write articles for people across all levels of the business, aimed at helping them become more confident.
In the last two years since I formed my society, I’ve had so many interesting conversations with all different types of people. As it turns out, impostor syndrome and the fear of public speaking affects almost everyone. My final bit of advice is to try to remember that you aren’t alone if you have experienced public speaking anxiety, and that you are capable of overcoming it.
I wish I could go back and tell my teenage self how far she’s come.
Hi, I’m Alice. I am really passionate about helping others develop their confidence and self-esteem whilst I work on improving my own. I graduated from my History degree at the University of Bristol in 2021, but I fell in love with the city so can’t imagine myself leaving particularly soon! Outside of work and my passion for public speaking, I really love pursuing creative hobbies like painting, embroidery and crocheting :) I am super grateful that Matriarch has given me a space to talk about public speaking and hopefully help others begin to overcome their fears.