One week before I wrote this story, I delivered the commencement speech for the business school at a prestigious university in front of a large audience. I think it went really well, at least in comparison to how well I did in my first classroom presentations as an international student just a four years ago.
In my second semester, I took a geology class with concentration on natural resources. Its final project was to choose an energy topic (e.g. oil, gas, hydropower etc.) and to present their applications, advantages and disadvantages to the class, followed by a question and answer session. The instructor hinted us that he would be grading on the quality of presentation and the interaction as well, besides the validity of information in the presentation.
It was going to be my first time taking part in a public/ classroom speech in front of a group of students. I did perform in public before, but that was limited to Koran recitations in my home country when I was younger. Hence, I did some practice runs and the results were not encouraging at all. I was either speaking out of memorization like a parrot, or losing a hold of my speech when I looked at the crowd in order to be interactive. Based on the practice, I was horrified. I did not know what to do, and I did not know how to curb the fear of failure that was building up inside me with each failed attempt.
I researched the Internet and talked to my mentors for advice. Finally, I found some of my pressure points that gave me some relief before the speech.
First, I talked to my professor before the speech. I went to his office hours, exchanged experiences and views. After all, he would be my main audience and I was going to mainly address my presentation to him. Hence, knowing that he had confidence in me helped a lot.
Second, music gave me a burst of energy before the presentation. Music works my soul and polishes my brain. Listening to motivational tracks like ‘eye of the tiger’ makes me fired up for at least the 10 minutes of the presentation, if not more that that.
Finally, I reminded myself that I had nothing to lose. I looked at the harsh reality that I was a nobody in that class. Nobody knew me, I didn’t have to be the smartest person in the room, I had no reputation and certainly did not have a dignified accent. When there’s nothing at stake, it is just worth trying for the fun/ heat of the moment. These three pressure points helped me to do well in that presentation. In fact, they have helped me to do well in every presentation after that.
Back to my graduation, as I walked down the stage after giving the commencement speech, I thought about that first, terrified attempt to speak in front of my geology class. As we work to make ourselves better for the future, I thought we often forget where we started and how much progress we have made. If we recognize the distance we have travelled, we students can be more inspired and optimistic about the future. Even international students who are scared to death as a class presentation is approaching can be.