When I was in college, I was walking across campus one day when a boy standing next to a banner that read ‘Toastmasters Club’ called out to me. “Hey! Do you want to become a better public speaker?”
Immediately, I thought of a story from my childhood that I didn’t want to remember.
When I was 11 or so, my mom was working with Robert Kiyosaki and she was scheduled to speak at one of his conferences. Her and my father were reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad to my sisters and I at the time and we often discussed it at the dinner table. So when it was suggested that my two sisters and I briefly speak onstage at Robert’s conference, we were all so excited for the event.
I don’t remember the moments leading up to it, only the moment I was there. I was suddenly onstage with my mother, my two sisters, and Robert Kiyosaki. The stage was brightly lit and I couldn’t see the audience, but I knew they were there–thousands of them.
My older sister spoke first, smiling and speaking about a few ideas from Robert’s book. Next, it was my little sister’s turn. She smiled and began, “Hi everyone! I am Kenzie Kanna!” She was eight years old and she held the microphone with the confidence of Kanye.
All I remember next is looking at a microphone that was being held out for me. I don’t remember any hands attached to it. Just the microphone, suspended in black air.
There was a pause. I had planned a minute or two of talking about ideas I liked in Robert’s book, but suddenly my mind was blank.
I backed away.
After a moment, my mom started talking. The conference went on.
Later I was told by Robert and many others that I had been very brave and that none of it was a big deal. I was just a kid, they said. I was upset, but family assured me that I would feel better in no time.
I did feel better later on, but from that experience, I started to believe that I was awful at speaking in front of people. I would shy away from any chance to speak in front of an audience. I would see a copy of Kiyosaki’s book and hope that no one remembered.
I began to tell a story to myself about how I was a bad public speaker. And it seemed like the whole world believed the story too.
When the boy on campus asked if I wanted to become a better public speaker, I felt the fear return. I began to tell myself the same story. But this time, I wondered why I was so afraid.
What if the purpose of fear is not to cause me to run from something, but towards it? For years I had been telling myself the story that I was a bad public speaker. What if I changed the story?
I smiled to the boy and told him that yes, I would be coming to the next Toastmasters meeting. I joined the club and I started delivering speeches every week. The next year, I became the VP of Public relations for the club. I went around to classrooms and campus events where I gave speeches encouraging others to join the club. I still felt fear before my speeches, but I ran towards the fear and I turned it into fuel for growth.
I began to tell a story to myself about how I was an incredible public speaker. And it seemed like the whole world believed the story too.
Today, speaking in front of an audience leaves me with an excited, happy rush. My stage fright at the Kiyosaki event seems like a funny little memory now, something I laugh at. I’m glad I backed away from an audience as a little girl because from this I chose to become a woman who walks towards one. I changed the story, just like anyone can.