This winter semester, I took a Public Speaking class.
Like millions of other people, I hate public speaking. Ever since middle school, I’ve absolutely dreaded presentations in class or sharing my ideas with others. Whenever I try, I get the usual anxiety. My hands sweat and my heart pounds and I feel my entire face and chest turn the brightest shade of red that’s physically possible. I’m not kidding – after presentations, people used to ask me if I was sunburned… even if it was the dead of winter. But, I definitely wanted to get this class over with in 3 weeks rather than go through an entire semester of it.
As much as I dreaded going into this class, it truly wasn’t bad. I knew that if I walked in on day one and thought about how scared I was, it would be miserable. So, I decided that I was great at public speaking. I decided that nobody in the class intimidated me. I told myself every 10 minutes that I’m confident, and I can do this. It worked. Totally worked. Of course I got a little nervous before going up to present each time, but as soon as I was up there, the time flew by. This class really proved to me that attitude is everything. If you go into anything with the right mindset, it’ll all go smoothly.
But, that’s not what I really want to talk about today.
There were 26 people in my class. Some people younger than me, in their freshman year. Some people were older than me, in the middle of their career. This class was so diverse, yet we were all there for the same reason. Since the class spanned over such a short period of time, it was hard to get to know my peers. I knew the girls I sat next to each day (a little bit), but if you asked me to name the people on the other side of the room, and I probably knew 2. All I knew about these people was what I observed. I knew the girl sitting in front of me was busy; she always had a coffee, was running late, and multitasking all class long. The man sitting next to me had a family; his laptop background was him and his children. That’s it.
During this course, we had to deliver a Storytelling speech. In 5 short minutes, we had to share something we experienced that changed us, whether it be monumental or minimal. I knew what I was going to share from day 1. I told my class about a horrible date I went on almost a year ago, and why it completely changed my life. My story was light hearted but relevant, and something I can talk about with great care (post coming soon!).
Some of the speeches were humorous.
The usual, “Lost my keys on a drunken night out,” or “Ran away from home in middle school,” type things. One guy told us about a time he sang a solo in his A Cappella group to impress a cute girl.
Some speeches were heartwarming.
A woman told us about a time she was away from home for the Haitian Independence Day, but her friends cooked her the traditional pumpkin soup all Haitians have to celebrate their independence. A few people shared their failures, tragedies, and mistakes but inspired us all to persevere and continue to work hard until you do achieve your goals.
Other people dug deep. Really deep.
One of the quietest people in class walked right up to the front of the room, and told us about how his family abandoned him when he was younger. He shared how it’s caused him tremendous anxiety and fear when it comes to interacting with others. Other stories told of hitting someone with their car, or spending a night in jail. That busy girl that sat in front of me? She was sexually assaulted. The outgoing woman with the purple hair? Had her childhood best friend die from physical abuse.
Listening to all of these stories was emotional. Intense. Speakers cried, audience members cried, the professor cried. It was really moving hearing all of these stories from people who were essentially strangers. It was one of those moments that really makes you think; These people are all so different. Everyone in this class is different. We’re all sitting in this one classroom from 10am to 1pm, but we come from different places. There is absolutely no way to tell what someone has been through, until they tell you.
These people looked average. Normal. But what does that even really mean? What does someone with a DUI look like? What is the face of someone who’s been assaulted? Witnessed a death? There is no standard. There is no stereotype. People are people. Experiences are experiences.
You have no way of knowing what someone’s story is.
Every person that you meet, encounter, or even see, has a story.
That person in front of you in line at the grocery store, fidgeting with all of their loose change, has a story. That man in the Escalade that cut you off? He’s got a story. All of the people in all of the cars on the highway have stories. They all have lives as intricate and important as yours. They all have families and dreams and struggles.
Nobody likes to be judged. No one wants to be judged. So why do we judge others?
I get it. I’m an offender myself. I get the most horrible road rage. Seriously. I maintain my composure throughout my days but as soon as someone is driving 15 mph on a main road, I lose it. After my little yelling spell is over, I always reflect. I realize that I just snapped at a complete stranger for driving slowly, when I have no idea what their reason was. Maybe they were a new, scared driver. Or, maybe they were lost. Maybe they had an upset toddler in the backseat who they were trying to console. Who knows.
Patience & Kindness
If there was one thing I’ll remember from this Public Speaking class, it’s not how to deliver an effective elevator pitch. It’s the fact that you never know someone’s life or someone’s story. Always meet people with kindness. Always give people your patience. Allow people to bloom. You wouldn’t want someone judging you on your worst day. You’d want to be met with an open mind. Give that to others.