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My Speaking Ability Issues and Public Speaking Experiences

Updated October 30, 2021
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My Speaking Ability Issues and Public Speaking Experiences essay

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The lesson of the day in my kindergarten class focused on the enthralling topic of the number line. As I was discussing the implicit importance of odd numbers, I vocalized my acute observation that three was an odd number. My classmates gave me quizzical looks so I repeated what I just said. I was met with wrinkled eyebrows and skeptical squinting. In frustration I held up three fingers. Finally they understood! “Oh you mean three, not tree!” Now it was my turn to look confused. Clearly, I was referring to the natural number following 2 and preceding 4, not a woody perennial plant. Why had they heard me differently? As these thoughts flashed through my mind, I had a horrible realization: my classmates desperately needed to have their hearing checked. And I told them exactly that.

The verbal disagreement only escalated from there. Blows began to fly as threats of being uninvited to birthday parties were thrown out. But before I could challenge my aggressors to a game of four square on the unforgiving playground asphalt, our teacher stepped in to try to keep the peace. I began to frantically explain how my classmate had misheard my pronunciation of “three,” but to my horror I saw the same confused look on my teacher’s face. At the moment, I realized the miscommunication could not be blamed on my classmate’s faulty hearing, but instead on my pronunciation. As much as I kept repeating the word “three”, I couldn’t properly enunciate the “th” sound. At the tender age of five, I was met with the daunting realization that I was insufficient.

The next 8 years of my life would be plagued with the ups and downs of battling my inability to pronounce specific sounds in the English language. After conferring with my parents, the administration decided it would be best for me to enroll in a speech therapy class. This would mean that twice every week I would be taken out of regularly scheduled class and meet with a speech therapist. Although I want to say that the sessions were grueling both physically and emotionally, in reality the speech therapist that I worked with was one of the most patient and encouraging people that I have ever met. The “therapy session” usually included doing exercises such as a reading from an entertaining story or playing board games where in order to advance, one had to correctly pronounce the word. After continual work with the speech therapist at my school, my mispronunciation of the “th” sound soon disappeared.

When I had finally “graduated” speech therapy classes at the end of second grade, I began to feel as if I was no longer handicapped by my speech impediment. This feeling of being handicapped stemmed from a social anxiety that I felt whenever I would be forced to say the “th” sound. I would always be conscious of my mispronunciation and how it reflected a specific, personal inadequacy. Although it may seem absurd to let a mispronunciation ruin my self-esteem, it is the little failures that are exaggerated in our minds. Take for example the all too common high school experience of waking up and discovering that you have a pimple on your face. Throughout that day it seems like everyone that you see automatically zones in on that pimple and doesn’t see anything else. Both figuratively and literally tiny, this facial blemish horribly affects the self-esteem of teenagers like myself everywhere. These two types of social anxiety relate to being seen as different in a negative light. In the same way that I was concerned with the judgment of mispronunciation as a child, I was concerned about being considered unattractive as a teenager. I was hopeful that this anxiety would disappear as my speech impediment disappeared.

Unfortunately this was not the case as my speaking ability took another hit when I moved to a new school in third grade. This time I began to develop a stutter. While I believed that nothing could be worse than dealing with the humiliation of mispronouncing the word “three,” my struggle with a stutter was the most trying experience I have ever had. A stutter is one of the most apparent speech impediments because the disrupted flow of one’s speech limits ability to communicate ideas. Because my stutter was even more obvious than my previous speech impediment, the anxiety of being judged to be inadequate was at an all time high.

I distinctly remember nervously standing before my entire class and our parents during the third grade poetry presentation. I meekly sputtered out my version of “Falling Up” by Shel Silverstein and quickly walked off stage, glad the ordeal was over. After the presentation one of the fathers came up and offered me a couple of words of encouragement by saying I “did great and should be proud.” Even at such a young age I knew that his words expressed consolation and not congratulation. His words, while well meaning, reinforced my insecurity with speaking. Furthermore his words proved that I was correct in feeling a social anxiety when I stuttered because people saw me in a negative light. They saw me as someone who needed to be consoled and pitied. The only solution I could see to eliminate this anxiety was to avoid any situation that would expose my stutter. So I did exactly for much of my remaining time in elementary school and the beginning of middle school. I avoided public speaking whenever possible, rarely raising my hand to volunteer in class and always allowing my classmates to speak the majority of time in group presentations.

Although in my head I had convinced myself that I could avoid the embarrassment of stuttering for the rest of my life, I began to realize that oral communication was going to be an increasingly important aspect of my education and social interactions. I hit rock bottom during my seventh grade stock market presentation on Exxon Mobile. I remember seeing the uneasy looks of my classmates as I sputtered and stumbled my way through the history of the company. Even worse were the abrupt breaks in my presentation where I would open my mouth, but my throat would constrict, preventing the words from escaping. It was clear to me that avoiding public speaking was impossible. Although every new experience in public speaking was painful, I changed my mindset from “I can’t do again” to “I survived and it can’t get much worse.” Hitting rock bottom reinforced the idea that my public speaking experiences could only get better after every new experience. By avoiding speaking, I wasn’t solving my problem. I was only deferring the embarrassment to the future because I would still feel the same anxiety and still stutter in that uncomfortable situation. I wish I could point to a specific point in my life where I all of sudden I was able to get past the mental hurdle and speak with ease but process was slow and difficult.

It started with baby steps as I started to volunteer to read passages aloud in class. After a while I started to gain confidence. I added those teaspoons of confidence to hours of practices for future presentations and was met with unexpected success. The success started to accumulate as I began to feel more comfortable with speaking. As I became more comfortable, my stutter made less guest appearances. It’s not as if I became completely immune to the anxiety of speaking in front of a crowd, but I understood that it was possible to use my nervous energy positively to demonstrate your excitement and enthusiasm.

By the time I entered high school, I realized from trial and error that the only way to become the best public speaker was to keep on putting myself into “uncomfortable” speaking situations. By now class presentations were manageable, and in order to raise the stakes public speaking I decided to join the Congressional Debate and Model United Nations clubs at my school. Both student organizations were focused on giving formalized speeches and participating in rapid-fire improvisational debates. Although I experienced the same initial anxiety, exacerbated by competing with public speaking veterans, my growth as a speaker was exponential. Before I knew it, I was not only competing with the best at national competitions, but also winning those same competitions. Public speaking transformed from being my greatest liability to be become my greatest asset.

I am proud of the hurdles that I had to overcome because I took away many valuable lessons from the experience with my speech impediments. The specific hurdle that I needed to overcome was the social anxiety that I felt whenever I stuttered. Although initially I avoided the social anxiety of being seen as inadequate, I began to understand that you were bound to trip over the hurdle the first few times but it was only a matter of time before you cleared the hurdle. Jumping over that first hurdle become easier after your first success. This relates to me becoming more comfortable with public speaking as I had more experience. I learned not be afraid of falling because falling is apart of the process of success.

Finally I learned that sometimes you can use these hurdles to your advantage. After I had cleared that initial hurdle of public speaking in class, I understood that I had to present myself another, higher hurdle in order to further develop my skills. That is why I joined competitive speaking teams in high school because by placing that higher hurdle in front of me I was able to push myself to be the best speaker not in my class but in the nation. Even though the social anxiety of speaking in front of experienced competitors caused the same social anxiety of being deemed inadequate, this time I understood that if that anxiety wasn’t then I wouldn’t be challenging myself. I now understand the value of presenting yourself with challenges and it has helped me grow as a public speaker but also as an athlete, a student and a writer. If only my kindergarten friends could see me now. I bet they wouldn’t believe that the kid who used to “speak funny” became the confidence young adult that I am today.

My Speaking Ability Issues and Public Speaking Experiences essay

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My Speaking Ability Issues and Public Speaking Experiences. (2021, Oct 30). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/my-speaking-ability-issues-and-public-speaking-experiences/

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