I’m not a wallflower by any means. I’m pretty social and thrive on being a leader as well as being a team player, but hand me a mic and I freeze up.
There’s no doubt that public speaking is my greatest fear. I’ve never been good at speaking in front of a crowd, no matter the topic, it’s just not my forte. Like I said, I can lead a group, speak in meetings, even give a presentation, but I have stage fright is too real – and I have no idea why. Needless to say, my fear of public speaking has been a huge drawback for me. I’m sure it has cost me in more ways that I can even imagine.
So when I was asked to give a speech to a group of college graduates last month, I was flattered, but also completely scared.
I also knew I couldn’t say no, and here’s why…
I was devastated after the presidential election, and I realized that I had to do something positive for my community or else I’d go on feeling worthless. I made a conscious choice to be proactive and help the Latino community in whatever way I could. My new year’s resolutions definitely did not include “get over fear of public speaking,” but it was to give back and to be of use.
I was informed that I’d be speaking to a group of Latino college students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
I was also told that this special graduation ceremony was held because Latinos on campus wanted to recognize the hard work and dedication that our community puts into the University. The ceremony would also be in both English and Spanish to engage the families of graduates who, many of them have not felt connected to the University partly because there may have been a language barrier. But most importantly, they wanted an additional gathering in order to encourage current students to continue working towards graduation and not get discouraged.
Here I was presented with an opportunity that fell in line with contributing a positive change. I couldn’t decline the invitation.
I accepted the challenge and now I had to get to work.
Writing the speech wasn’t completely difficult. I knew that I wanted to discuss the challenges Latinos face once they become working professionals. The hard part was practicing and reading my speech out loud.
Several people advised me that if I wanted to pull off this speech I would have to practice and practice and practice until I knew each word by heart. I practiced as best as I could, or I should say, as best as my ADD would allow me to. Either way, there was no backing out now.
When I arrived to give my speech, I was told there’d be around 30 people in the room. I thought “that’s not so bad, I can handle that.” Then I saw this…
CREDIT: Araceli Cruz
I was calm until I saw the program, with my picture on it! It really threw me for a loop. The whole thing really felt like a bigger deal at that point. The title of the program was “Si Se Puede!” And that was perfect. It was the encouragement I needed.
Then something extraordinary happened…
I met the students and talked to them briefly before the ceremony. Their cool and composed demeanor really put my nerves at ease.
CREDIT: Frederick Serrano-Jimenez
Each and every one of them were so nice to me. Their stories gave me the strength I needed to get up there and speak.
Then the time finally came. I had to get up there and give my speech. I won’t include my entire speech but here’s some of it, including the part that always made me choke up.
“When I was back in that dark place, living at home, taking for granted that I had a roof over my head, I’d look at pictures of my parents when they worked in the fields. The pain that I was going through was nothing compared to the hardships that my parents experienced as first generation Mexican immigrants in this country. They worked picking strawberries or taking care of other people’s kids. They scrimped and saved, and always had to fight to pay the bills. I was afforded the privilege of working in New York because of them, and I was not about to let them down — or myself.”
You can read the entire thing here.
So how did I do? Not bad, but not great either.
I tried to make eye contact with the audience while also saying the right words and it was really difficult for me. But the most important thing is that I did it! I didn’t hide or run out of the room.
Looking back now, I didn’t necessarily put my fear aside to accomplish this task. My fear stayed with me the entire time I was at the podium, but I conquered my goal regardless.
My desire to inspire and help others became bigger than my fear of public speaking and I am so grateful that I could see beyond myself.
CREDIT: That’s me and the graduates!
Aside from the stress, I do look forward to doing it again!
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