The Scared Speaker: What Motivates Me

As a young kid, my mother used to tell me a story of when I was born. If you aren’t aware, I was born on a date divisible by the rank of a bronze medalist. We didn’t have a telephone in our house in Pune, so my dad went to our neighbor’s house to use their landline. The phone was light green in color, bulky, with a rotary dial, accompanied by a corded handset.

After some eons, my father spoke with my maternal grandfather and informed him, “It’s a boy, and my sister has got a brother.”

My grandfather stayed in Mumbai and decided to visit us in Pune. He and some of my relatives left for Pune, and here is where the twist in the tale arrives. In that year, till this date, the rainy season had not arrived in Mumbai, but on that day, everything went haywire as it started raining cats and dogs. Due to this, my relatives had to return midway through their journey.

You might wonder, “Why is this person telling me a boring story?”

Please bear with me for a few more seconds as I am about to get to the point. If you haven’t been able to guess some elements of my date of birth, let me tell you I am a Gemini. Don’t worry; I am not getting into astrology, but by nature, being a twin sign, I was supposed to be talkative. But here I was, the quietest person, trembling in fear to say even a few words in front of fifteen people.

As a teenager, I loved arts and crafts (I still do), and as part of a competition in my junior college, we did a project on “Pollution control.” I built a small conceptual model using Thermacol depicting a factory building on the left, a house with a garden in the middle, and a factory plant on the right. From my house, we could see a fertilizer factory from the window, and I created a similar-looking structure (building on the left shown in the image) to show something close to reality.

The process of creating the model was painstaking but enjoyable. The next day, we took the model to college, which was within walking distance from my house. We were a team of three members, and at around two in the afternoon, we were to present our solution to the judges. However, this tale had a twist: only two people in each group were allowed to show their solution. To date, I have no idea why such a rule was there, but it was time for us to decide who would be our speakers.

At that, in my mind, I had complete clarity. So, I stood back, the only reason being that I feared speaking. Think about it: you have put in a lot of effort to create something, but you don’t want to stand there to talk about the same. Obviously, there are multiple ways of looking at this situation; some people will tell you that you stay in the background because you are good at that. Others will say that you need to come forward. Personally, I don’t agree with the people who will constantly remind you, “Oh, you are just good working in the backend.”

In the above story, one of my group members was my cousin, and he told me I must go inside and speak. But I didn’t want to talk, even though I wanted to be part of the group. I went inside a few times to set up the model and get it working because we had created a working model to showcase how the pollution was happening. After that, I stood outside, lurking in the corridor, constantly peeking through the door to see when my group would present our idea. Fortunately, seeing my fearful enthusiasm, when it was our group’s turn to present, one of my teachers forced me to go and stand with my team.

“Whoa!! Is this good or bad?” I wasn’t sure as thoughts raced through my mind. But in the end, I spoke two sentences at lightning speed about the model’s working.

Fast forward two years, I stood before a class of sixty engineering students. My hands trembled, and my voice cracked with long, unwanted fillers as I avoided eye contact with my classmates. Back towards the class, I faced the blackboard as I heard murmurs from the crowd, “He looks so scared!”

One of my friends in engineering college was an outstanding speaker. He used to perform in plays, stand on stage in the college auditorium filled with five hundred people, and speak fluently. I once asked him, “How do you speak so fluently?”

“It’s easy; you just need to practice,” he suggested calmly.

You will know I don’t speak much if you know me personally. Fast forward another three years, when I started my corporate journey. I hardly spoke with many people. I would focus on my work and nothing more. From a work point of view, it was good; I was getting the job done, but from building relationships with colleagues, it wasn’t great.  

The biggest challenge in the corporate world is that, practically, there isn’t any role where you will work as an individual. Yes, you might argue there are roles titled “Independent contributor,” but that doesn’t mean you won’t speak with others. The reality is that relationships matter.

At this point, I wanted to overcome my fear of speaking. Pursuing an MBA helped me in one way, as I had no option but to communicate as there were numerous presentations and tasks to be completed. Yes, many other solutions exist to overcome the fear of speaking, but the biggest and best solution is to push yourself to speak. Find opportunities to speak in front of a crowd, which is what I actively pursued.

In conclusion, the biggest motivation for me, especially in terms of public speaking, is “The Fear of Speaking.”