The power that comes with finding your voice Print
Youth Column
Written by Erick Rommel, Catholic News Service   
Thursday, Apr. 24, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

I've always been terrified of public speaking. Actually, I'm pretty uncomfortable with any sort of speaking that involves people looking at me as sound comes out of my mouth.

If you knew me, you would find this admission humorous. I have the reputation of a frequent speaker who has little problem sharing opinions. If you doubt that, check out the yearbook from my senior year at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, Md. I was voted, "Talks the most, but says the least."

Looking back, I now understand why I appeared outgoing despite an internal struggle to say anything at all. That's because there's a significant difference between talking and speaking. Talking doesn't bother me. Engage me in a conversation and our conversation will be engaging. Put me on a stage, no matter how small, and the feeling is quite different.

I remember my sophomore year of high school. We were reading Romeo and Juliet aloud. I couldn't speak. My teacher joked about whether it would be easier if I read from the closet or if I read while she stood in the closet -- a motivational tool I find even more bothersome today than I did at the time. But I couldn't get the words out.

My discomfort continued through college. I attempted to face my fears. In addition to classes where I had to speak publicly, I chose to participate in electives that required public presentation, including a basic acting class. It was fun, but it didn't ease my fears.

Then I faced the ultimate obstacle. To graduate, I needed to find a client, complete a professional project and then give a 30-minute presentation. To me, 30 minutes might as well have been 30 hours or 30 years. But, when the time came, I spoke. I don't remember a word I said, but I know it was perfect.

How did I clear the hurdle that always blocked my path to speaking? Was it a fluke? A fleeting moment of success? I didn't know.

I finally found understanding at a friend's wedding. I wish I could say that, as best man, I gave an incredible toast, that I was witty and wise. Unfortunately, that wasn't so. I froze. I couldn't put two words together coherently. If there had been a closet, I would have entered it, or asked all the guests to squeeze in while I spoke.

I had memorized the speech, rehearsed. Why did the toast go poorly?

I realized that in an effort to feel comfortable, I had prepared a speech that was everything I wanted it to be: witty, wise. Unfortunately, it wasn't me.

That's when everything came into focus. When I spoke well in front others, I believed in what I was saying.

Today, like many of you, I still don't like public speaking. But, I no longer let it shut me down. With the courage of my convictions behind the words I say, I am fearless.

If I were in high school today, I still wouldn't want to read Romeo and Juliet in front of the class, but I could. I'd also have the confidence to speak with my teacher to explain that her teaching technique left much to be desired.

People would probably still say I spoke the most. At least now, I know I have something worth saying.

Erick Rommel is head staff writer for The Catholic Spirit in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. His column is syndicated through Catholic News Service.


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