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  • Writer's pictureRyan Skimmons

Public Speaking as an Introvert (or Giving My Younger Self Advice on Not Being Terrified)

Sometimes I think about how weird it is that I've found myself in this career as a public

speaker and educator. I was a shy kid, long before there was a widespread understanding of what an introvert was. For years I had been the wallflower with occasional bouts of wanting to be the center of attention. I was a goofy kid and can be a motormouth around people that I know and trust. But around new people, I have always felt the pain of social anxiety, even to this day. The voice in my head says things like, "What will I say?" or "I don't have anything interesting to talk about." And so I clam up.

So in retrospect, it's kind of baffling that I decided to go to undergrad at Penn State University Park, a sprawling campus that is packed with over 40,000 students. Maybe I was trying to push my own boundaries. It was with terror in my heart that I learned that in order to graduate, I would need to pass a public speaking course. I can't recall a specific panic attack but I do remember the pit in my stomach that I would get walking to that class every day. Throughout the semester, we were tasked with putting a slide deck together and our final project would be presenting our topic to the class. Not only would the teacher provide a grade, we were being graded by fellow students. As I sit here writing this, I can't for the life of me remember my topic. I was so thoroughly blacked out from anxiety that it's all gone in the ether. What I do remember is stuttering and sweating my way through a barely coherent presentation. I ended the semester with a D (I passed...barely) and a desire to never stand in front of people again.