It was that time of year again—time to give our annual four-to-six-minute oral speeches in front of the class. This assignment was one that I, along with many of my classmates, dreaded. It came up every February—right after all the students came back from a lovely winter break—and it could not be avoided. Luckily for me, I was in eighth grade, and this would be the last speech that I would ever have to give in elementary school. If I could just get through this last speech, I was golden.
Those who performed the best in these class speeches were chosen by the teachers to give their speeches in the gym—in front of a panel of judges, as well as their parents, teachers and the rest of the student body. Those competing had the chance to qualify to represent our school at a regional meet against other students from other schools.
I was never interested in this opportunity; performing my speech in front of just my class was hard enough. The thought of performing my speech in front of everyone was too scary to even contemplate. If I had any say in the matter, I was never going to perform one of my speeches in the gym.
After much research, preparation and practice, the day for me to give my speech to the class finally came. As usual, I was extremely nervous. I loved being social, and I loved to talk, but formal public speaking was not something I was a huge fan of.
Even though it was a bit of a challenge for me, I managed to give my speech to the best of my ability. After I finished the speech and sat back down, a huge weight lifted off my chest. In my mind, I was done with all oral presentations until high school.
Well, the joke was on me.
My teacher, Mr. Murray, thought it would be great for me to compete in the gym competition and share my speech—which was about toilet paper, by the way—with the other students in the school. I told him there was no way; I really did not want to do that. He was immovable, however—he seemed to think it would be a great opportunity for me and that I would do fine. He didn’t really give me the option to say no.
So there I was, dreading the day when I would have to face one of my biggest fears: glossophobia—the fear of public speaking.
A week later, after much more practice and anxiety, the day came for me to give my speech—again. My stomach was filled with butterflies, and I could barely remain still in my seat. It was torture to have to sit through all the speeches before mine. One by one, ever so slowly, each competing student got up to speak. Finally, it was my turn.
To be completely honest, it was not that bad. I managed to get through the whole speech, and it was actually pretty fun once I got up there and started speaking. After it was over, I chalked it up to a great “once in a lifetime” experience.
Much to my surprise, however, I managed to place first in my age bracket, and now I was set to represent my school at one of the regional speaking competitions.
You have got to be kidding me, I thought to myself. I have to speak again!
Previously, I thought speaking in the gym was as bad as it got, but now I was supposed to give my speech in front of total strangers and compete against kids from other schools. My teacher and classmates were excited for me, but I was in total shock. This was a whole new challenge for me. Thankfully, my parents and teacher were there to give me guidance, encouragement and support through it all.
When the night to speak finally came, I was—once again—very nervous and a bit shaky. But I decided to just give it my all. I really wanted to represent my school and classmates well.
As I got up to speak, my nerves seemed to vanish, and the butterflies were replaced with excitement. Throughout the entire speech, I found myself actually enjoying the opportunity to educate people on a topic that I really thought was interesting and funny (yes, it was still about toilet paper).
I heard many great speeches that night, so I was more surprised than ever when I placed third in the competition and qualified for the city meet. This time, it was impossible for me to compete since the meet was on a Saturday. The fact that I had qualified for this competition was still extremely satisfying, however. The entire experience far exceeded any of my expectations because I had just never imagined myself doing anything like it before.
In all of this, I learned that it is good to step out of your comfort zone. We should always be growing and improving, and a great way to do that is by taking a chance and trying a new, beneficial thing. Had my teacher not pushed me a bit, I never would have had those speaking experiences. I never would have been able to confront my fear of public speaking or improve my public speaking skills. I never would have grown.
As it was, because my teacher pushed me out of my comfort zone, other opportunities opened up as well! That same year, as my class graduated from eighth grade, my teacher chose me to represent the class as valedictorian. With this responsibility, I had to give a speech at the graduation banquet to my teachers and classmates, as well as their family and friends. The experience I had with the speaking competitions earlier on in the year really helped me prepare for the speech I had to give at the end of the school year.
All those different speaking experiences also helped me prepare for the speeches I gave at Philadelphia Youth Camp. I had more confidence, and I even ended up giving my toilet-paper speech to my dorm mates one year.
As a student at Herbert W. Armstrong College, I gave many more speeches and was challenged to step out of my comfort zone more than ever. I am grateful for the experiences I had in eighth grade because they helped prepare me for the AC experience. They taught me that even if you are nervous or afraid, taking a chance and stepping out of your comfort zone will help you develop character and grow as a person—whether it be talking to a senior on the telephone, applying for a summer job, or giving a speech about toilet paper.