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An Open Letter To The 21st Century Society

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An Open Letter To The 21st Century Society

Dear society,

Today I would like to talk to you – the craftsman who are providing the pioneers of tomorrow with the tools to take this world on headstrong and make it better for the generations to follow. How far do you really think we have come in the 21st century?

It has been for a while now that I have seen what we are truly capable of, what we have always been capable of: War, genocide, animal cruelty, child abuse, inequality due to gender and race and many other atrocities that, in order to list them it would take me until the next Olympics – that is, if I am lucky enough. It seems as if William Golding had it right when he wrote Lord of the Flies with the intention of making it clear that mankind is and will always be torn between two opposing forces: Savagery vs Civilization.

Many, including myself have hoped that with light carriers such as Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama; and the warriors such as Gloria Steinmann, Marian Wright Edelman, Harry Hay and Roy Wilkins – that we have learned to move past all that has divided us, all that has chained and oppressed us. However, with the latest look at the shocking statistics of bullying, I see this is not the case.

Bullying is the root of our problems

In comparison to all the other problems humanity face, bullying might seem small and insignificant, when in fact, it is the core of it all.

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The Free Dictionary defines bullying as: “A person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people.”

Stopbullying defines it as: “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

Yet, the notion that it is only the small, weak and young who are bullied has long since been demolished and it has spread to wider waters where anyone out there swimming against the stream with individualism or liberation, anyone who defies the societal rules that mankind has used to bar others in, are threatened and abused.

When did we sink so low?

My frustration of this stems from a recent incident that has happened in South Africa, where a lady (married I might add) felt the need to spice up her sex life and send her husband a picture of her genitals. Unfortunately she sent it to her child’s Sports Moms group message – and some “lady”, who most likely likes attention and wanted to have the approval in the form of laughter from her husband and friends, – deemed it fit to publish it on social media for all the world to see.

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An honest mistake from her part – and no, I am not talking about the spicy selfie – ends up ruining the life of a family who no longer can show their faces anywhere. All of this because one person felt the need to feel empowered and accepted by humiliating another.

When did we sink this low? When did the downgrading of someone start bringing us the pleasure of being in a superior position to others and in on the latest scandal with no thought as to how this can drastically change the life of the person that we are bullying?

Don’t give in to being someone you’re not

Have we stopped a moment to consider the lethal ripple effect of our actions? The ripple effect of choosing to stomp someone down in the ground for being a liberated individual – something we wish we could be, but are too cemented in the system of trying to impress those around us with our looks, possessions and wit to even try and become our true selves.

Why do we find it so easy to contribute to the low self-esteem of others, to their depression, their suicide thoughts and attempts, their fears and anxieties, their disorders and their rage? No wonder we are in one of the worst global situation that mankind has ever seen. We are filled with hate and prejudice; with selfish desires and no thought as to what I could do to help my fellow brother or sister.

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To you who read this and have experienced the persecution, oppression, torment and abuse of another. I apologize on behalf of all those who deemed it fit to break you down because your power of individuality scared them. My advice to you is to stay strong, do not let the world break you, tame you and shape you into something you were never born to be. I urge you to look at all the other individuals who refused to succumb to society and became successful and inspirational individuals.

Individuals such as David Bowie, who Billboard deemed the “Rebel who changed the face of music,” and Lady Gaga a unique and visionary girl that was bullied, rejected and made feel like a “freak” in school, later considered one of Time Magazines 100 most influential People in the World. There is a wonderful article on Lady Gaga’s triumph by Esperanza magazine I would encourage you to read.

Change is near

Did you know you have the ability to help and inspire people? That you have the ability to be a blessing? Do not sacrifice that opportunity by allowing those who do not understand you, to change you. I apologize that we have become a society that feeds on the defeat of others and that we have become to self-involved to even notice it or care.

To those who have been partakers in the ongoing battle of the bullies, or even just those who have merely been the straight-laced observers of the injustices that take place: Your time of abuse, ignorance and of being nonchalant is coming to an end. It might not be today, nor tomorrow – but it is coming.

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There will be a generation that will stand up like all the other freedom fighters mentioned above and fight for the oppressed and afflicted, a generation that chooses acceptance over prejudice, and a generation that chooses love above hate. It won’t start off as something big – it will be the small refreshing breeze that makes you aware of its presence and you will feel it gently, yet deliberately change into something bigger, stronger – a gale that brings about a tropical storm.

As Marjane Satrapi says in her Vogue interview with Emma Watson: “The only thing that can change the world is the slow evolution of culture.”

This evolution is approaching – it starts with those willing to stand up, change themselves for the better and fight for the abused.

I leave you with more words from the inspirational Marjane Satrapi: “From now on I’m going to change myself, and if I change myself, I have changed a little bit of this world. I will try to be a better person.”

I hope and pray that we all will start being better people, people whose intrinsic nature stem out of love – it is the only way we will be able to build a better tomorrow for ourselves and the generation to follow.

Featured photo credit: Rachal Baran via inspirationde.com

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Bianca Gouws

Freelance Writer, Director and Actress

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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