From Nerves to Confidence: How I Conquered the Stage

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From Nerves to Confidence: How I Conquered the Stage
Chui Mei Yan Ceci, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr, a young boy confronts his shyness and takes his first steps on the public stage. Discover how he did it.


From Nerves to Confidence: How I Conquered the Stage

By Chui Mei Yan Ceci


Once upon a time, in a tiny cosy home tucked away on a tranquil street, there lived a boy named Chris.

Chris sat in front of the TV with his hand gripping the remote control tightly in anticipation of the speech about to be broadcast to a lost nation. As it finally began, he was immediately drawn into its story. As it unfolded, the boy leaned forward mesmerized by the speaker’s words and the bold aspirations they bravely proclaimed in front of the world. Chris’ heart raced as the speaker boomed out his message that would become iconic.

‘I have a dream, today…I have a dream that…’ 

Despite the TV’s grainy black-and-white screen, this confident black gentleman beautifully articulated his awe-inspiring message. He repeatedly built up the excited tension of what might be with each hope and dream he dared the audience to share. Toward the end, Chris found himself cheering.  And it was then he knew that he had discovered the true art, charm, and power of speech.    

The speaker concluded his message to thundering applause. 

Chris sat back, turned off the TV and headed to bed in a reflective mood.  He couldn’t help but be pumped up by what he had just experienced, but he also couldn’t help but admit this was something he could never do. Could he?  With a bold smile, the timid boy made a mental resolution to spend less time alone in front of a screen and more time outside and socially engaged.

This resolution would not be easy to achieve, however. Chris was a shy and introverted boy who often kept to himself. This was tragically ironic since he secretly dreamed of being a smooth talker and even a successful public speaker on stage.  But the thought of standing up in front of a large crowd and having all their eyes and ears trained on him was a stomach-turning proposition.

Yet, despite his fear and self-doubt, Chris spent hours practising his speeches in front of the mirror, perfecting every verbal inflexion and gesture. He imagined himself standing on a grand stage, commanding the attention of hundreds with his eloquent words and confident presence.

Over time, people started to notice that Chris was more willing to speak out. One day, his family decided to host a small gathering at their home. The boy’s heart thumped noticeably, but not necessarily in a bad way, as he realized that this was his chance to practice his public speaking skills in a somewhat safe and familiar environment. He refused to let his fear hold him back any longer and decided to take advantage of this opportunity.  

When the day came and the guests arrived, Chris retreated to his room, his stomach churning with nerves. But as he listened to the lively chatter and laughter coming from the living room, he remembered Martin Luther King’s inspirational invitation to join in the dream. With a renewed resolution, Chris answered the call. 

The living room was packed to capacity with lovingly supportive family members and friends forming a dense crowd and even spilling into the hallway. The boy left the safety of his room to take his place as the man of the day. All eyes were fixed on the ‘stage’, where a tall figure now stood imposingly dressed in a sharp suit and tie.  

 “Wow, Christopher, is that you?! I have never seen you look so bright and confident,” An aunt commented from the crowd. 

Many others nodded in agreement. 

With a deep breath to steel his nerves, which vibrated in front of the 30 pairs of spotlights on him, he began. 

His voice quivered at first, but as he continued to speak, he found his rhythm, and his confidence began to grow like King’s vocal crescendo. 

The guests sat in rapt attention as the young orator’s words weaved a tapestry of emotion and inspiration. As he finished his speech, the room erupted in applause, and Chris couldn’t help but smile with pride…and, yes, relief.  

“Thank you, everyone,” Chris began his prepared words of gratitude, “for helping me to move from frayed nerves to this now vibrant confidence gained from conquering this stage. This is an important first step in achieving my dreams. Thank you for taking it with me.” 

Chris built on this successful day by continuing to hone his public speaking skills, taking every opportunity to practice and improve. And while he may still be shy and introverted at times, he knows that he has the power to captivate a room with his words and that anything is possible if he believes in himself and dares to leave his comfort zone. 

In future talks, Chris would recall for the audience his first successful public speaking experience, which came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of his quietness. He often noted how answering the call to achieve dreams isn’t easy. Chris, himself, has been seared by the flames of public speaking before. 

“But all you need,” he would say, “is that small first success to provide a bolt of confidence and a beacon of hope. “ 

He would often conclude with a question: “What, my dear friends, will be your first step?”

I’m sure you readers of this article have been in a similar situation before.

As you approach the podium, your heart is pounding, your hands shaking with nerves, and all you can feel is the judgmental eyes of the audience upon you. And you are regretfully wondering what in the hell are you doing this for

Let’s answer that important question. 

Effective communication is one of the most critical skills in today’s world, whether you’re giving a speech to a crowd, interviewing for a job, or simply having a conversation with colleagues. And public speaking is one of the most effective ways to develop this skill as evidenced by the many stories and examples that demonstrate its power. 

For instance, consider the story of Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech, which is widely regarded as one of the most powerful moments in American history, especially for its role in expanding the civil rights movement. Through his words, King was able to inspire and unite millions of people of all races at a time when social disharmony was rampant.

To deliver such an impactful speech, King employed a variety of rhetorical devices, including metaphors, which he used to make complex ideas more accessible and memorable to his audience. Adding to his mixture was repetition, the rule of three, alliteration, and parallelism to emphasize his message and create a sense of rhythm and momentum that swept up the audience in a rising tide. And being a master at connecting with his audience on an emotional level, King expressed vivid imagery and personal stories to evoke strong pathos and inspire his listeners to act.  

While King certainly stands out, effective communication isn’t just important for historical figures and world leaders. It’s equivalently important in everyday life for people like you and me and Chris.   

If Chris were here with us now, he might say there are three fundamental steps to building effective speaking skills that you can start practising in your life. And if Martin Luther King were here, he would tell us to use them now! 

Actively noticing things is the most foundational first step. When reading actively, try to understand the author’s purpose and perspective and ask yourself how they shape the content. This can help you to develop critical thinking skills – which makes any communication more engaging – and to notice and adopt other peoples’ communication tactics: why and how they make and implement the decisions they do to effectively inform and engage the reader. 

A big part of this active reading is the noticing of vocabulary, especially in context. Words and phrases are the building blocks of communication, so notice the new ones and adopt the great ones. It won’t be easy, especially at first. But luckily, when you actively read, you will often encounter the same terms repeated throughout the text. This repetition can help you dissect new contexts, remember new words, and reinforce your understanding of their meanings, which allows you to store up your vocabulary treasure box. And when you get on stage, you can unleash your expanded lexicon like a pro. 

Similar to active reading is active listening. When practising this second step, give the person speaking your undivided attention. This means making eye contact, nodding your head when you get what they are saying, and asking questions when you don’t.  

Now, I know what you are thinking: Asking questions is so difficult and dangerous. Perhaps, but it is also a critical part of the building of communication together with the speaker. This type of transactional approach makes any talk much more effective for everyone. Remember that bravery is required if success is to be had.

And while you are mustering up enough courage to ask a question, you can notice the body movements and physical expressions that you find appealing in the speaker. Observe them and adopt the ones suitable for you. By using appropriate gestures, you can emphasize and enhance the sincerity of your message, which builds audience confidence in you and your speech, which then allows your message to be more effective. 

With these two steps already started, the last thing to do is practice. You can start small by simply talking more in class or during informal group gatherings. Then you can get bolder by giving a presentation at work or school and even joining a public speaking group. This graduated approach can help you build confidence and improve your communication skills little by little. 

If you follow these steps recommended by Chris, you will be able to overcome one of mankind’s greatest fears: public speaking. And once you master your fear over this important communication skill, all other dreams are possible. 

Who knows, you may even be able to ask that guy or girl of your dreams out on a date. 


About the Author
Ceci is an avid lover of English writing and a first-year student studying Industrial and Systems Engineering at PolyU. She hails from Hong Kong and is actively involved in various activities on campus, including being an Emcee and a Student Departmental Representative.

This young writer finds solace in singing and often explores second-hand bookshops to indulge her love for literature. Ceci also enjoys engaging in outbound activities with her peers, where she seeks adventure and the creation of lasting memories. It is not surprising, then, that she is an avid traveller, who embraces different cultures that broadens her horizons.

Ceci’s fascination with writing, reading, and the English language manifests itself through her love of fantasy books and English pop music, particularly Taylor Swift. When authoring her own stories, Ceci aspires to transport readers to imaginative worlds and evoke strong emotions through her vivid storytelling.

Author’s Reflection
After finishing my ELC2012 Persuasive Communication course in year 1, I knew I wanted to continue to explore this topic, especially via the written form, and offer practical insights to help others. As an author and student committee member for Inscribe, reflecting on the process of writing has been an ongoing and enlightening journey for me.

Throughout my recent writing, I encountered multiple challenges. Organising my thoughts and ensuring a coherent and logical flow of ideas required careful planning. Additionally, striking a balance between providing informative content and maintaining an engaging tone proved to be a delicate task.

Fortunately, the feedback from my editors was invaluable to my growth as a writer. Their input highlighted the importance of using relatable characters and anecdotal stories to engage the reader from the very start. Additionally, a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach was one of the most useful skills that I learnt. After taking this feedback into account, I revised my article on public speaking to create a deeper connection with readers, making the message more relatable and engaging.

The topic of public speaking holds significant meaning for me. It symbolises my transformative journey from being a timid little girl who was scared of ‘the spotlight’ to finally overcoming this fear and embracing personal growth through risk-taking. This narrative arc reminds us all of the need to step out of our comfort zones. And the satisfaction of seeing my work published reinforces my passion for writing and the joy that flows from impacting others in a positive way.

Now, on to the next stage.