The pressure at University is undeniable. PowerPoint slides on Faust or cell therapy require your ultimate dedication due to the educational repercussions if you fail. The financial stress looming over your head, and the impending student debt that awaits after graduation.
Now, try and consider delivering a speech to five hundred peers in a large hall, another few thousand watching online and it’s for a life-changing job. If you’re successful you will represent 13,000 students on a multi-million-pound decision making board on matters of inclusion, diversity, and welfare. It’s an unbelievable opportunity and I was lucky enough serve in the role twice. Yet, for someone with a life-long stutter and from a small town, I loved every year of it. Let me take you back to how it started.
When looking over at my fellow candidates on stage at my student union elections, I suddenly realised that one of us was about to give a speech that would change our lives. Engaging thousands of people to vote one of us into a multi-million-pound charity governing body at the age of 21. What are you meant to say in that moment?
At such a young age, the prospect of public speaking to most is daunting and hugely unnatural. Most people wouldn’t know where to start. From trying to find the perfect opening line to searching ‘how to win a student election’ on Google. Most of us have only experienced oral dictation to the masses in English GSCE, have been forced to speak to a class of your peers about an uninspiring topic. By the time university is your home, presentations and seminar debates are a normality. But do you ever feel comfortable in them? I certainly didn’t welcome them all the time!
The student union representative elections are often turbulent, intense, and unforgiving moments of academic seasonal activity. I have seen more people cry than celebrate. The scale of a student union election is impossible to understand unless you have been involved in one. No blogger can deliver how much emotion is in the room on the night of your speech. You have spent [potentially] months vocalizing your intention to run for a representative position, and your whole community is backing you. Now it’s time to earn that support. It is in those moments, where you learn more about yourself than any book or podcast will teach you. I found a new version of myself with every line I delivered. I felt proud of myself, and that was due to how I approached that night.
Not one solution will enable you to be perfect at public speaking, making your mark on the ears of others is done through various means. Although you will believe some people are born with the charisma and personality to match the stage, this isn’t true. The practice of public speaking should be approached like any other activity in your life that is competitive and instructive. In mindful relaxation and complete conviction. Not to an impossible standard, but to the standard you feel proud and ready to.
Spend as much time as you can on yourself. Make sure you have a good night’s sleep for the three to four days leading up to the speech. Exercise in the week, try some yoga or relax into meditation one evening. It’s as important that you are as relaxed and healthy as you can be, then it is about your speech. Once you are in the best mind frame and physically feel ready for anything, your words will flow like water.
When you start to write your speech, or plan what your 90-seconds will entail, do your research. Look into what other student union elected officers have said or done. I spent much of my time researching into welfare or inclusive campaigns from across the world to understand what makes a campaign successful. Look on YouTube for what elected youth directors have said in the past. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, your passions will be shared. The stress to write something that will change the world is too much for you to handle. This is your moment to make your mark and it can be done from the heart, but also make sure you know what you’re talking about. Research will enable you to feel confident about your topic regardless of where or who you are speaking to.
With your mind in a strong place and your knowledge now to a level you are happy with, your strength on that stage will be unstoppable. You can walk onto your platform with confidence, you can relax and feel like this is your time to shine and make your mark. If you give it your all, then you can never look back and feel regretful. Being a director at age 21 of a multi-million-pound charity is a role that will provide you skills that will shape your whole professional life. You deserve that.
For me, it changed my life, and it gave me the greatest opportunity to change the lives of students around me forever. Your greatest tactic will be your passion, but don’t forget you need to be mentally clear and knowledgeable to allow that passion to flourish.
You can do it.