Back in the academy, during my third term, public speaking competition was introduced for the first time.
My squadron, Delta, won the championship twice in a row as we had some kickass speakers. Come, sixth term and the rules were changed. Instead of allowing squadrons to nominate good speakers, the authorities started choosing random cadets from each course. So, basically they chose cadets who had never spoken before or were really bad at it. Being the public speaking captain, I was responsible for the chosen speakers.
Of the 12 speakers nominated, 9 were real bad speakers. They had never faced an audience in their life and all of us were worried that we would lose. Fact was, the other squadrons also faced the same problem. I used to call all the speakers post dinner and make them speak. It was hard to even make them remember the speech and then present it with annotations and expressions. One of the very few instances in Academy, where I had lost my temper on a few juniors as they were totally underconfident. Three days before the event, I called the entire squadron and made the speakers present their speeches. It was beyond dismal.
“ Everyone sitting here, all 120 of them are as idiotic and unaware as you are. What you’re speaking is also shit, just shoot that shit with confidence.” The squadron cadet captain, one of my coursemates spoke.
“For the squadron’s sake, please give it your best.” I too barged in with a request.
The next three days we practiced non stop. Each and every sentence was practiced again and again in front of the mirror, during classes, during the showers, literally everywhere. We did not win that term but the speakers were brilliant. They spoke well beyond their abilities on the day, and that made everyone proud.
A few guys couldn’t even utter a word on the first day and they spoke like they were born orators.
After that when I took all of them out for dinner in the cafeteria, one of them said, “Shoot shit with confidence works, sir. When I was speaking, I did not feel like anyone was watching, I just spoke because I wanted to.”
The key to overcoming stage fear is practice, practice and practice combined with the understanding of how much shit you can shoot at a particular audience. When I look back now at those days, I am thankful I had the opportunity to do that. Today, when I interact with students in colleges and other places, a part of me is thankful to the academy for making me a potent speaker through so many experiences.