At twelve years of age, I was a bold, smart and cheerful little school girl who was brimming with confidence. Until a few words from my father, spoken unthinkingly, brought my confidence crashing down forever.
The day of the competition was going well. I had prepared my speech myself and knew it was good. My family, like always, never interfered in school work. After an hour of speeches, it was nearly my turn, when disaster struck.
My father, with the best of intentions, decided at this moment to take me in hand and coach me about public speaking – what to do, what not to do, how to speak, how not to speak. After a small demonstration, he laughed. “You sound like you’re singing,” he taunted.
“High and low, high and low. Rubbish! The voice needs to be well modulated and in as flat a pitch as possible. Hands held like this -”
For the next quarter of an hour, I listened with growing horror to how I had been speaking the wrong way all along, how my pronunciations were terrible, how my body posture was adversely affecting my volume, the list seemed to be endless. It was like a slap in the face.
Before long, unable to bear the strain, I broke out in uncontrollable sobs. And I was still wiping away my tears and gulping them down when my name was announced. I was up next.
That walk from my seat to the podium was the longest walk I had ever undertaken. Even before my feet touched the stage, I knew this speech was doomed. I couldn’t remember a single thing!
“Good evening, ladies, gentlemen, esteemed judges, guests, and er, erm, guests.” I began. And it was all downhill from there.
As I finished my speech, my hopelessness reflected in the little shake of my head as I stepped down. I didn’t win. And since that day, I never gave a formal speech in public again.
Fifteen years later, I look back on that fateful night and I think I can understand why a number of things went wrong for me:
- I copied out my speech at the last minute on a fresh piece of paper, instead of sticking to the more familiar although threadbare original notes. With no visual clues for my brain, words moved and changed location and I didn’t have a handle on them anymore.
- The venue was new and unexplored. The podium was too high for me due to which neither the audience nor I could see each other and therefore I had no way of gauging their reactions, reading their body language or ensuring I had the attention of the whole room.
- My notes were crumpled in my fist instead of being spread out in front of me in readiness, even if this process took a few self-conscious seconds before I began speaking.
- A very damaging action was the little shake of my head in disappointment when I finished my speech and was stepping down. Had I appeared confident, pretended that the few fumblings and mistakes were inconsequential, this would have reflected in my bearing and my upbeat attitude. And a positive attitude is infectious.
- The judges, too, would have ignored these small mistakes as insignificant and focussed on the overall speech delivery and content. However, with that shake of the head, I unconsciously communicated my own negativity and lack of confidence to the judges. After that, knowing that I had myself acknowledged defeat already, would any judge take the decision of still awarding the prize to me?
- And finally, my father’s behaviour didn’t help matters even though he intended to encourage and educate.
By Devyani Borade.
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