Standing in front of a bunch of people you don’t know. Feeling like a million pairs of eyes locked on you. Forehead sweaty, palms shaky. Speaking to an audience we’ve never met, or even to a group of friends, can be scary if we’re not too confident at public speaking.
Recently I got interviewed on a radio podcast on SYN 90.7FM and talked about the Asian entertainment scene in Australia (radio is public speaking – talking to an audience you can’t see, but can feel…). Although this podcast was edited, I thought it didn’t go too bad as I did string coherent sentences together. But I was never this eloquent speech-wise. As a kid, I always stuttered when I gave presentations in front of the class.
For some of us Asian Australians, or some of us who are Asian, public speaking is something challenging, something we need to work at.
We need to practice public speaking to be confident at it. Most of the time we don’t do it too often and so it doesn’t come easy to us (unless we’re a teacher, motivational speaker, MC etc.). Unlike in Australia, many schools in Asia aren’t too encouraging of students speaking up in class unless picked upon by the teacher. My secondary school teachers in Singapore threatened to slap “naughty” students who interrupted them teaching – slap students on the palm with a long, super-bendy plastic ruler.
It wasn’t until at university I felt more comfortable speaking to an audience. Back then I decided to take a stab at a media career and signed up to present an Asian pop music community radio show on SYN. At first I kept stumbling over my lines nervously but a year later I got the hang of it, and the repetitive, rehearsed show introductions “Welcome in to Asian Pop Night” were second nature to me.
And so to be more confident at public speaking, we need to slow down, think about what we want to say and say one thing at a time. Know our topic well. Public speaking always looks easy and we’re usually not prepared.
We have to have courage and look at ourselves to find our weakness when it comes to being a confident speaker – to articulate ourselves better and connect with our audience more. Perhaps we have a habit of avoiding eye contact them. Perhaps we have the habit of using complicated words.
For me, sometimes I speak fast, which comes across a bit in the podcast. I probably picked this up when adolescent me lived in Singapore: when Singaporeans speak English, it sounds like rapid gunfire. Many Asian languages are syllable timed, not stressed timed. I grew up hearing my parents speak Cantonese, a blunt-sounding language. I suppose that rubbed off on the way I talk and is probably why I sound Malaysian today.
We need to realise each of us have our own opinions and won’t always agree with one another. Sometimes we’re afraid of public speaking because we’re afraid of being judged. Perhaps when we spoke to a crowd once, someone laughed at us. More than a couple of times I received live-in-studio SYN 90.7FM text messages from listeners that went, “Mabel, speak proper English” and “You sound FOB”. Some Australians don’t appreciate what I, Asian Australians have to say. If we do speak up, is anyone listening to us?
For some of us Asian Australians, maybe we don’t want to stand up and talk about our culture because we’re afraid of offending – offending with our words and physical self. As I’ve written in Why Are We Afraid Of Standing Up Against Racism?, taking about these sensitive topics or our presence might encourage more cultural tension between us.
But do we even have the opportunity to speak up in Australia about our culture, and things not related to our culture? Like gaming, photography, fashion? Asian Australians don’t feature too often in local mainstream media. It can be hard to speak up if we don’t see others like ourselves doing so: a lot of the time we look to others as role models to better ourselves.
Sometimes we’re not afraid of public speaking. Us Asians simply like letting others speak; we’re okay with being silent since we’ve been brought up to listen and let others speak. Yet it’s no secret we want to hear more Asian Australians speak up. We’re caught in between two cultures: we fit the Asian stereotype, but we long to be more “Australian”.
As radio host of Asian Pop Night, I chatted about Asian music and being Asian Australian on-air. During the show I also received song requests from listeners through the live-studio text system – I didn’t have to but I listened, played the requested songs. I still remember my last show after two years of hosting: the text message screen in the studio lit up and a message read, “Will you be doing radio in the future?” Someone likes Asian pop culture.
It’s up to us Asian Australians to speak up no matter what others think. It’s up to us to find, create our own spaces to express our voices if we want to be heard. And not everyone doesn’t want to listen to us.
When we speak confidently, we create communities. As British Youtuber Emma Blackery wrote, “the most powerful thing you own is your voice (…) even when times are hard”. When we share our voice, we share a part of ourselves, our different stories. When we speak up, not only do others learn from us, but we can learn from them too.
To speak confidently to a crowd, we have to believe in ourselves. Believe that the world is at our feet. And just speak up.
Do you like public speaking?