Stage fright: How an impulsive decision absolved me of my biggest fear

A student shares how she got past her fear of public speaking while participating in her high school’s Model UN competition.


My biggest fear has always been public speaking. 

At 7 years old, the worst thing my parents could ask of me was to talk to someone outside of my immediate family, and presenting in front of my class was a nightmare. 

Every time I had to speak, my throat closed, my eyes started to water and my voice shook. I felt even worse after speaking, as I couldn’t get my hands to stop shaking and my heartbeat was irregular and fast.

My fear didn’t have a dramatic origin story; there wasn’t a specific incident that catapulted my anxieties, I just wanted everything I said to be perfect and I was simply terrified to make a mistake and face judgment from people I didn’t know.

My family thought they could help overcome my fear. My parents would constantly sign me up to speak at events like talent shows and school plays, thinking if I read enough itineraries at school functions, I’d stop being so fearful.

When I spoke in public, I mumbled my words and sped through scripts. My grandpa was always encouraging me to push past my fear. He taught me how to pronounce words and constantly told me to slow down so people could understand what I was saying.  

As I grew up, I started to notice my fear was affecting my health and social life. I was only 14, yet the idea of a class presentation made me lose sleep and I had a hard time meeting new people and making friends.  

I felt pathetic. It seemed impossible for me to get over such a trivial fear. I admitted defeat and made peace with knowing I just wasn’t good at public speaking. Deep down I knew it wasn’t a permanent fact — I was always just too scared to try. 

Two shameful years went by and just when I thought I was fine with my inability to communicate in front of people, my school announced the start of that year’s  Model United Nations competition. Model UN consisted of several mock trials during a week-long span, where students would assume a role and debate in front of others.  

My friends had been a part of Model UN for years and had the best times when they participated. I wanted to join, but I knew I would freeze on the spot. I was tired of missing out on moments with my friends, so I made an impulsive out-of-character decision and joined the club at the last minute. 

I hated myself for signing up, but I still went and pushed myself out of my comfort zone because I’d already paid the participation fee. The first day was the worst; my heart was racing, my head was pounding and I was sweating through the fancy clothes we had to wear. 

I was assigned an important role, and the debate would have been dull if I didn’t participate, so I tried my best to say something. 

When I stood up to read my opening speech, I froze. 

I imagined that moment many times, and I was hoping I’d suddenly be able to speak eloquently, but the reality was far off from my dream. I didn’t pronounce a single word clearly and nobody understood my argument. 

The committee’s president, an older girl whom I’d never met, saw how scared I was and she encouraged me to speak. She sent me notes saying I was doing a good job and motivated me during recess. 

Her support helped me gain more confidence every day. She reminded me I was prepared for it, and told myself no one would care if I said something wrong. Everyone was there to have fun, not to judge others.

I knew I’d be disappointing her and myself if I never tried, so I decided to try again in another debate.

Calmed by the girl’s belief in me, I was able to remember my grandpa’s advice before speaking. I heard his voice and remembered every time he told me to breathe between sentences, to slow down and to pronounce words properly.

I realized it didn’t matter if I made a mistake and noticed I was good at debating when I wasn’t so worried about presenting. I understood that if I waited until I had crafted the “perfect sentence” I would spend my whole life waiting.

By the end of the week, I was able to manage my jitters before a presentation.

When I was finally able to control my fear I stood up and spoke like I had always wanted to. I got my point across efficiently and clearly, and I was able to control my voice even though my heart was pounding. I was proud of myself and I was happy all my hard work and preparation had finally paid off.

Sharing my opinions and ideas was liberating, and after getting over my jitteriness, I even found it amusing. Years have passed and now I’m known as a certified yapper because I can’t seem to stop talking. 

Forcing myself out of my comfort zone was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It helped me face my biggest fear, and now I talk to strangers for my job daily. I’m proud of myself for overcoming my fear even though there was a time I thought I’d never be able to do it. 

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