Are orators born? Are they blessed with an innate talent to address an audience with ease & confidence? I feel, from my own experience, that it comes with practice. And passion.
Stage fright & the self-consciousness that causes it, comes much later, when you become aware of your classmates’ snide remarks & when they start making fun of what you said or how you stood.
I began participating in extempore during my high school, mostly during my 11th & 12th standard. It was not easy. I remember I used to be SO scared. I didn’t know how to hold the mike, how to speak into it, how not to breath into it. I learnt everything by trail & error & over many years & many attempts. But the overriding emotion I still remember was that of feeling extremely self-conscious. Of what people would say, will they comment, will they pull my leg, will I be a laughing stock, or will I be the joke of the century? As opposed to what people think that bachche bhagwan hote hain (children are like God), they can actually be very mean. They can jab into a classmate’s confidence with their cutting comments. The bullying can easily break whatever little courage one has tried to muster.
But, thank God & my teachers that I stuck on. Once I had tasted success, I never looked back. Every year, every competition, I was up there on the podium. The topics, the time, the audience nothing mattered. The high of being out there was a great draw. Today, I enjoy the energy in the room, the fact that I’m the center of attention, the spirited interaction that follows, the Q&A, the thoughts & ideas being thrown back & forth. It’s a high like no other - the thrill of holding the mike, facing the crowd, looking around the hall & knowing that your voice is reaching out to many. Some may concur, some may not, but most are listening to you (if you speak sense, that is).
But one must prepare. There is no short-cut. Practice at home. In front of the mirror, door, people, & wall – till you’re comfortable with your body, with the very act of standing, with your hand movements, leg positions, & various other gestures. Your body language is important to establish a connection with the listeners. You can’t stand like a robot & speak like one. Your enthusiasm, or lack of it, will get transferred to the audience.
Extempore is relatively harder. “No ideas” –is the common hurdle people face. “My mind goes blank. What do I do?.” The solution lies in reading -lots of reading. Read all kinds of stuff - books/magazines/newspapers. Reading can make you wax eloquent on “Sky is blue” just as on “Utopia is surreal” No topic is easy or difficult. It’s the way you approach it that matters. No one is interested in a PhD thesis style explanation, but what you “feel” & “think.” Who likes a human Wikipedia?
The jittery feeling before a presentation or speech is a good sign. Shows you’ve taken the task seriously. The nervous excitement keeps you on your feet & stops you from being complacent or arrogant. You try & give your best. And succeed. I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I go on a dais & start speaking. But once I start, there is no fear, & so, no stopping. You never really overcome your stage fear. You just get used to being on stage.