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Making Every Word Count: How to Ace Life’s Important Speeches

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Thomas Martino
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Published on April 3, 2014

This is a guest post by Michelle Landahl for Student Stories. 

PUBLIC SPEAKING.

Did those two little words just make you cringe? Well, if they did, you’re certainly not alone: more people fear public speaking than death. In my high school career, I faced both. And this is the story of how a random catchphrase from my honors speech class got me through it all.

I was “that” person in speech class. I could make up a speech on the spot and ace it, despite the fact that there were times I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I could have the class on the verge of tears or splitting their sides with laughter with a simple voice inflection or the perfect choice of words.

I made it look easy…so easy that the audience never saw my trembling hands or flushed cheeks. They never saw my knees buckle or heard my voice crack.
When people asked me how I could do it so effortlessly, I didn’t really know what to tell them. To me, it was far from effortless, so my usual response was, “I really don’t know.” That is, until one day when my teacher put a phrase to it: “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

That was her advice to us for every speech. Nervous? Fake it ‘til you make it. Couldn’t remember the next line? Fake it ‘til you make it. And if you faked it hard enough, you could have the audience on their feet, on the edge of their seat, or at least on your side. And you’d start to believe it yourself. 

I was her poster child for that expression, but there was no way I could understand how much that little phrase would come to mean to me. The semester ended, we said our fond farewells, and parted ways.

The next speech I would give would be improvised like all the others, but it would be at a candlelight vigil in a high school parking lot.

Tragedy struck my small town as two of our seniors lost their lives in the same week. And I was the one who always had the words to say. I could always be counted on to give the perfect speech, but when students, teachers, and my deceased best friend’s family all looked to me, words were increasingly hard to come by.

Somehow, I spoke a few times that night. I spoke two days later at her funeral. I spoke months later in front of my entire senior class. Every time, my hands trembled and my cheeks flushed, my knees buckled and my voice cracked. But did anyone ever notice? Absolutely not.

All of this has made me realize that life is marked by important speeches. The speeches given to oneself before an exam, a team before a game, or a potential employer before landing a job. Are those speakers never nervous? Never doubtful? Of course not. All you see is them “making it.” That’s the whole idea.

Throughout life, remember that you will have to make many important speeches. They may come in the form of an important answer to an interviewer’s tough question, a last goodbye to a family member, or a proposal to the love of your life. Before each one of these crucial moments, you’ll have flashes of self-doubt where you’ll want to turn back. To give up. Times where you’ll want to say, “I can’t do this,” and walk away. Your hands will tremble and your cheeks will flush, your knees will buckle and your voice will crack. But if you know how to fake it – suppress your fear, see the opportunity, and take it – then without a doubt, you will make it. 

About the Author: 

Michelle Landahl is a sophomore at Elon University majoring in Biochemistry. Currently, she is “overcommitted, in over her head, and loving every minute of it.” Although she wants to work in an emergency room after graduation, her main goal in life is to pass on her wisdom and advice through laughter, tears, and every other medium in between.

Thomas Martino

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