How I Found My Voice in Public Speaking

by | Nov 30, 2015 | Leadership

How I Found My Voice in Public Speaking

by | Nov 30, 2015 | Leadership

I recently delivered my 60th speech in two years – a big cause for celebration. Most of the time my speaking engagements are spread out, other times they are squished together which was especially true when, last week, I drove over 1000 kilometres to speak eight times.

I visited high schools with as few as 80 students to talk about mental health, seeking help, and resilience. I spoke to parents on how to navigate depression in their children. I spoke to a group on authenticity, and another on the benefits of activity in daily life. Many people would say, ‘Phew. That sounds exhausting’ but, for me, it feels invigorating. When I speak, I feel alive. It’s the same feeling I have (and you may share in this, too) when I’m listening to whole-hearted music, getting lost in a book, feeling the cool breeze on my face as I ride my bike, getting the biggest hug from a loved one, or dancing like no-one is watching.

 

Why I Speak

The main reason why speaking is so meaningful to me is because it reclaims a quality about me that had been forgotten for a long time.

 

Let me turn that wishy-washy sentence into something that makes sense with a short story:

 

Alongside embarrassing stories of my childhood, my mum always shares this one. It’s the kind of story that your parents tell when everyone is feeling lethargic after a satisfying lunch, the one that you roll your eyes at. Mum says, “Well, when Bronny was four, you couldn’t get her to stop talking! And do you know what she did? There was a girl in her class at pre-school who was a selective mute – this girl wouldn’t make a single peep to anyone, ever. The girl’s parents and the school didn’t know what to do. Bronny walks over there, 10 minutes later, the girl speaks her first word in weeks.” My mum tells this story with a tone of voice that is half-pride and half-exasperation, and whoever she’s telling the story to always laughs and says, ‘You’re a bloody good talker, Bron.’

 

The thing is, when I grew into my teen years, I stopped being that fearless four-year-old. Like many others my age, I withdrew into myself. Like many others, I began to have thoughts that I wasn’t good enough. Unlike others, my thoughts became worse and very soon I was ruminating for hours on how repulsive I appeared to other people, how I was always so awkward and stupid in every conversation I had, and how there was something fundamentally wrong with me as a person. By age 17, I couldn’t walk in public without an intense fear that the people around me were only just holding back their disgust. I eventually stopped going outside. I stopped talking to people, touching people, looking at people. Making eye contact with anyone made me terrified that they would immediately work out how truly dysfunctional I was and reject me.

 

My mental and physical health worsened until it was recommended that I be hospitalised. During this time, I would wake up every morning wanting to take my life rather than deal with the pain of being myself just one more second.

 

I spent a lot of time laying on my bed and looking at the ceiling while in hospital. Most of the time I was incredibly anxious and confused, so I’ll never forget the time I had a moment of clarity. I was thinking about the dreams I had when I was four, eight, twelve years old. I wanted to be Prime Minister, I wanted to help people, I wanted to play music. Where I was, right now, that wasn’t what I wanted. I was 18 years old, assigned bed-rest, and having to ask my psychiatrist whether I could go outside. Suddenly, I thought, “I still have something to say.” I didn’t know what I still had to say, but I knew that I did.

 

Years later after hospital, I knew what it was that I had to say – it was sharing my story. I began to volunteer with Black Dog Institute. The first time I shared my story I had the biggest lump in my throat, felt tears well up in my eyes, but the words poured out nevertheless. I shared my story over and over, each time getting easier than the last. Sharing my story began to help me figure things out about myself, and it began to help me really, truly like myself. Soon, I began to branch out and speak about other subjects when I joined Toastmasters. I spoke about my love for running, yoga, research, and mental health. Every time I spoke, I spoke words that I had held back for so long because I thought they reflected who I was as a broken person. Now, those very words were the ones I was so proud of.

 

Today, I love pouring myself into every speech I give. I speak to feel that same fearlessness I felt when I was just four-years-old. I speak because it gives me a sense of purpose. Most of all, I speak to continue discovering what I still have to say and to help others lead flourishing lives.