Learning to Speak Up


by Alice Proctor, Epigram Cartoonist

The Croft // Having struggled with a fear of public speaking throughout secondary school, Alice Proctor shares the progress she has made with ‘finding her voice’ at university and her establishment of the Bristol University Speak Up Society to help like-minded individuals on their journey.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had real trouble expressing myself vocally.

My difficulties with speaking were at their worst in secondary school. I couldn’t even talk in lessons without my face glowing red, my stomach churning like I was on a rollercoaster ride, and my brain fogging up so I couldn’t think straight. No matter how much I wanted to speak, my body would just not allow it. Someone only had to say my name for me to go into Panic Mode.

As you can probably imagine, the problems I had with speaking led to many amusing incidents. The most memorable of these was in Year 12 when I had to participate in a public speaking competition as part of my Art A-Level. Unhelpfully, my teacher had lost the only copy of the script I had prepared.

The Public Speaking 'Panic Mode' | Epigram / Alice Proctor

I rambled on for about eight minutes, struggling to think above the roar of the Panic Siren going off in my head, but the ending of the speech was the true pièce de resistance: I concluded my presentation with a very insightful ‘… also… ummm… nothing.’ My brain had completely switched off, abandoning me when I needed it most, stranded awkwardly in front of the crowd. I did my best to make a joke of it as I wobbled off the stage, and one physics teacher did give me an encouraging thumbs-up, which I appreciated a lot at that moment.

It was only when I got to university that I realised that a little kindness and self-care can go a long way

I always saw my low confidence as a horrible character flaw that made me a weak and cowardly person. Every evening after school, I would beat myself up for being pathetic and try to force myself to be better the next day. Of course, this never made a difference, and just led me into a self-flagellating spiral that lasted from the ages of 12 to 18. It was only when I got to university that I realised that a little kindness and self-care can go a long way.

When I got to university, things really changed for the better. It was surprising how quickly my confidence improved when I started being kinder to myself. Rather than beating myself up for what I did ‘wrong’, I learnt to praise myself for things that I succeeded at and to take pride in any instances where I had to speak in front of a group, no matter how small.

Helping others to find their voice | Epigram / Alice Proctor

I even performed a cringey rendition of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ at an open mic night in my first-year halls, which would have been unthinkable a year before. It sounds silly, but I remember being so proud of the fact that I was able to stand in front of all 200 of the people in my halls and do something embarrassing and outgoing; this moment was incredibly liberating for me.

Something that I have noticed since being at university is that loads of other people struggle with similar problems or have it worse than I do. That is why I decided to start Speak Up, a public speaking society for people who struggle with confidence and self-esteem. I am really lucky that I have largely overcome this issue now, but it is time that I used my experiences to help others facing similar confidence problems.

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Breaking the ice

At the time of writing, I am in the process of getting the society affiliated, but once we’re up and running, Speak Up will provide a fun and safe environment where people can practise being comfortable with their own voices. I’ve always been in awe of those who can do this naturally, and now it’s time that more people get the chance to develop this skill!

If you can relate to anything I’ve said about my confidence struggles, I hope you will join Speak Up as we try to overcome these problems for good!

You can join our Facebook group here.

Featured image: Epigram / Alice Proctor