Do Not Go Gentle Into The Spotlight

Min is an undergraduate at Yale-NUS College and the President of the school’s Improv troupe and Visual Arts Society. She is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and aspiring writer. Her works can be found at: http://minlim.com.

AcademyofTalk_GraphicIt’s 1AM on a Saturday night and I’m up watching the Halo Championship Series. I have never played Halo, but once again my choices have surprised even myself. I remember two years ago, as a fresh, wide-eyed college freshman who has never performed on-stage before, suddenly deciding to join the school’s Improv troupe. I remember being hesitant in my choice, nervous about performing to a live audience. I remember how, a few months later, I found myself acting in a sold-out Improv show, still trembling with my every move.

If this were a story or an Improv scene, I’d tell you how I managed to overcome my fears and morph into an immensely confident public speaker, certain of my every word. If this were a story I’d have fallen in love with performing to an audience. I’d have jumped at every chance to do so.

Truth is, I’d rather be hiding in my room watching Halo games. My fears have not disappeared. Every time I have to give a presentation (let alone perform on-stage), I am scared.  Sometimes I find myself questioning if I should even perform at all.

But that’s okay. When I perform, I find myself falling in love with Improv over and over again. When I give a good presentation, I walk away feeling like I just won a shootout against my fears. My feet may tremble, but my voice never does.

This is in no way because of an absence of fear, and I’m not going to tell you to overcome your fears, or that “you can do anything if you try”! These statements might be true. They might be clichéd. They might be entirely unfounded. But I do think there is value in believing you can do so, or at least, pretending to be confident. Sure, it’s not easily built, but here are some things you can do that might help along the way:

Being Okay with Nervousness

It’s okay to be scared. I’m scared. You’re scared. Most people in the room are probably scared. Accepting that fear is normal and not something you should consciously get rid of may sound counterintuitive, but it is a useful step in appearing as if you aren’t afraid of public speaking. It also diverts your subconscious’ attention away from calming your nerves to the content and delivery of your presentation instead.

Being Okay with Making Mistakes

Sometimes you are going to lose your train of thought. You might say an awkwardly-phrased sentence, or misstate a fact. Don’t panic. Chances are, no one will have noticed it except for you. Even if they do, following the statement up with a succinct summary will clarify matters. Divert attention away by emphasizing on subsequent statements instead, through gesturing or voice projection.

Being Okay with Telling Your Story

Whether you’re presenting, performing, or having a conversation with your friend, whatever you say usually follows a narrative. It’s like telling a good story. You want people to believe and buy into what you’re saying. To do so, you have to believe in it. Passion and interest not only help you to focus on the content, but they are also good ways to capture attention. People have heard countless stories, attended many performances and listened to many presentations. Talking about something that you personally find interesting will make people believe in your story’s uniqueness and want to listen more.

In Improv, the most crucial thing I’ve learnt is that there are no wrong lines to be said, only opportunities to be made. Even if I find myself saying something off a tangent, I trust my troupe enough to know that we’ll make it work. Same goes for when you’re making a presentation alone –trust yourself to know that you’ll make it work. Despite any fears, misgivings, and hesitance to present to an audience, you are a singular, unique human being. You have a story to tell. You have an audience whom, with some persuasion, are willing to listen – the worrying can come later.

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