I had an English teacher who would always suggest when we’ve finished writing stuff, we read it again to ourselves out loud. The aim was to pick up on mistakes we might not have noticed otherwise. Revolutionary. But what if we don’t like the sound of our own voice? That’s always been slightly true for me. I think I sound like a geek. Although on reflection, I think I just don’t use my voice enough. So when I do speak, it’s not the husky and sexy vocal vibrations I imagine myself with, it’s a thing which etches it’s way out of my mouth. I’ll be fair on myself; it doesn’t happen all the time, usually only in loud places or where I’m speaking to a large group of people will my voice – literally – break.
However, every now and again I like challenging myself. A few summers ago, I gave myself the biggest challenge of doing a spoken word. Spoken words – good ones anyway – require you to actually speak. The clue is in the title. It literally couldn’t have been made any clearer to me that this activity expects you to be able to use words vocally with a certain degree of confidence. Something I didn’t possess. Yet, because I’d already bailed on this previously, I couldn’t bail again. Especially as the person organising it was the tutor I would see every single day at college.
The spoken word in question was something I’d written: an article for English class concerning how to go about killing spiders. Reading it to yourself… probably the best way to enjoy it. Having it awkwardly recited to you through a mess of incoherent, strung-together syllables and sentences in a dimly lit room… you’d probably think ‘oh, this is so very unfortunate’. Thoughts like that did not help the rehearsals in front of the mirror. The level of self-confidence was already low. And that was the problem. I couldn’t attribute this angst to any specific public speaking fear, it was all just down to a scarcity of belief within myself.
The evening of Monday 8th July 2013 is one that won’t escape my memory. The day was spent in panic; the only thing accompanying it being a pit of nauseous swirls in my stomach. I was even worried about taking the bus to get to college for the rehearsal. Efforts were made to resolve my mind to prayer. GOD GET ME OUT OF THIS! CANCEL IT, PLEASE! JUST DO WHAT YOU CAN!! Despite those strong, faith-based, mountain-moving prayers, I found myself in the drama studio rehearsing my word to two other participants of the night. Their response was all I had been hoping for. Laughter. Then I had to perform it again; this time in front of everyone who was taking part in the evening. More laughter. There was a passing mental suggestion that this might turn out to be okay.
7:00pm and the auditorium begins to fill up with bodies. I’m sitting in the second or third row, scouring the faces to see my family. When I see them, I feel calm for a moment. My mind remembers how people had reacted before. But then, the little confidence gets displaced by anxiety and I start shaking. Not normal shivering, just proper shaking in my seat as I see performers come and go, leaving me at some point to inevitably ‘go next’. My mind now is a constant stream of prayer.
Even as I carry my legs to take my place behind the microphone, centre stage, I still feel shaky. Looking at the audience, it’s a little bit smaller than I perceived; maybe around 30-50 people. But that’s not important. What’s important is what happened next. Before I was about to speak my first word, in all honesty, there was a silent calm that graced itself upon me. I know where that came from. Now, against every fibre of possibility, I’m up there, on the stage, performing my piece on killing spiders to a group of 30-50 people and I am kicking ass. Owning it. Bossing it. Making my insecurities watch me do what I know I’m capable of. Everyone in the audience is laughing with me. My Dad and my sister literally have their heads bowed trying to conceal it, whilst my Mum is looking at me like, ‘is this really my son?’
During the intermission, so many people come to me. Their praise is synonymous. I’ll never forget one family in particular whose kid’s were buzzing. The night gets replayed in my head every day for the next few weeks. Sure, public speaking since then might not have been as successful, but now what I’ve got is ammunition. Someone wants to tell me I can’t do something? I’ve got plenty of (non-lethal) bullets that say otherwise.
Want to read the actual thing? You can do so here 🙂