When I was little, I suffered from a lot of social anxiety. I was never diagnosed, but thinking back, I dreaded interacting with people. It was stressful for me. I felt judged and I didn’t want to sound stupid.
Whenever someone approached me, I would freak out on the inside. My heartbeat would increase, and I would have trouble focusing. I was terrified of people.
One of the biggest reasons why I felt this way was because I was unable to communicate in English. English is my second language, and it was extremely difficult for me. I was afraid of mispronouncing words, and I had very limited vocabulary.
Although I went to school briefly in Hong Kong (until I was 7), the English words I had acquired helped very little. I knew the basic “How are you?” “How do you do?” “Fine, thank you.” But that was it. I didn’t know how to carry on an actual conversation.
The few British English words that I had remember were not very useful. I was made fun of for spelling “mommy” as “mummy” (The kids would pretend to look like a mummy, haha). I also called an “eraser” a “rubber” (That’s what I was taught!). “Garbage” was “rubbish”. A “truck” was a “lorry”. And so on.
English grammar was by far the hardest thing for me to grasp. It is so confusing!!! Chinese is so simple (speaking wise). For example,
I today go
I later go
I yesterday go
I tomorrow go
It’s always the subject –> time –> action/event. The word “go” doesn’t change.
Whereas in English, we have “is going”, “has gone”, “went”, “will go”, and so on. There are so many different tenses!!!
I can write an entirely new blog post on grammar.
Anyhow, I wasn’t able to speak in proper sentences. Therefore, I wanted to be invisible. If no one saw me, then no one would approach me. If no one approached me, then I would not have to worry about what to say.
I would literally hide under the table, hoping I wouldn’t be seen.
It wasn’t until I was at the age of ten before I was able to converse in English. It took me nearly three years!! By then, I was no longer as frightened speaking one on one, but I was still terrified about speaking in front of groups.
Presentation was a nightmare.
I would be unable to sleep for days beforehand, and while presenting, I would tremble and stutter.
I would read every single word, and avoid eye contact to the max.
You would probably be nervous just watching me.
Then one day, something clicked. I realized I didn’t give a shit about anyone who presented (please excuse my bluntness).
I didn’t care whether they presented well or not. I only cared about my performance. They can be good or they can be bad, it didn’t matter to me. It was all about me. Me. ME!!!
I looked around the room. There were people falling asleep, drawing on their desks, daydreaming about something, or just looking plain bored.
I decided that’s it. No more. I don’t want people to give me that kind of reaction when I am presenting. I want to be interesting. I want to be engaging. I want to be a good presenter!
But how? Well, I knew I must change. I cannot continue being the way I was if I wanted to be a good speaker. I didn’t even want to listen to myself, who would want to listen to me?!
I started observing all the good presenters. What made them so good? Shortly, I realized that all good presenters have/do the following:
*They make eye contact with the audience
*They do not read out everything
*Their tone of voice convey emotions (doesn’t sound like a robot)
*They are confident
So I changed.
I added emotion to my voice. I started to look up. I no longer read from a script.
And everything changed.
I started gaining confidence. I felt good about myself. I didn’t want to hide anymore. I wanted people to get to know me. The real me.
I’ve come a long way since then. Today, I’m no longer afraid of public speaking. In fact, I love sharing my views and ideas with people. I know for some, it’s still not easy. Some people never get over their anxiety.
It is hard. But know that it is not impossible. If there is something you want to change, you can change.
Remember: The same boiling water can harden an egg or soften a potato. Don’t let your circumstances define you.
P.S. You can read about how to build more confidence here.