#upfront conversation with Mena Kirmani

I’d like to introduce Mena Kirmani, an Environmental Science and Geography student at the University of Dundee. She is a feminist and one of her favourite things to do is connect with new people. Mena shared my stage at TedX Dundee and here’s what she has to say about her #upfront experience…

My relationship with public speaking has always been difficult. Growing up as a shy kid I naturally avoided doing anything in large groups other than sitting quietly and observing what was happening around me. Fast track to my teenage years I grew into my wacky personality with lots of confidence – making it much easier to have both individual and group conversations. Even to this day I love it!

“Standing up alone and speaking in front of a crowd is a can of worms I have never been able to open. I would dread presentations in school, and when it was compulsory my heart would thump, my palms would sweat, and I would get lost in my own head.

Even now as an adult when it’s my turn to speak up in front of others my heart rate goes up. But I have a dream and fulfilling my dream means I have to get comfortable with the uncomfortableness of public speaking. I want to give a TED talk. I believe it is the perfect platform for me to spread my message to the world; my idea worth sharing. TED speakers vibrate confidence, good storytelling, mixed in with a touch of magic and curiosity. I want to be able to do that. I realised that I was never going to be able to if I continued to avoid speaking in front of others. I made a decision. One year ago I decided to give my all for both individual and group presentations and to say yes to every opportunity I had to speak. I pushed myself to just suck it up and go for it.  I spoke my way through the nerves. That’s why I jumped at the chance to be #upfront.

What scares me is having all the eyes on me – analysing and assessing me. But the more I watch others present, it’s clear that people care so much more about what you have to say and aren’t judging what they see on the surface.

Think about seeing the people around you, your audience, as a mass of individual people. When you speak publicly, you are really telling a story to one person, connecting with one person, but maybe 10, 20, 100 times all at once in one space. If I think about the individual who is listening to me in that moment, suddenly it seems less scary. It helps me relax. And when I’m relaxed, I’m a much better communicator.

“I wanted to be #upfront so that I could become more familiar with being on a stage. With the cameras, lights and eyes all on us – I did get nervous! But as the minutes passed my discomfort seemed to fade.”

 The audience is usually more focused on who is speaking, so there was less focus on us. This experience showed me that what you have to say is more important than anything else – more than how nervous you may feel or the clothes you wear. Because of that, I feel one step closer to my dream.

#upfront is a very simple way for more people to learn how to feel comfortable with the idea of sharing their thoughts, ideas, experiences and stories. Everybody can make a valuable contribution to a bigger conversation – whether that be at conferences, local events or book club meetings! If more of us develop our confidence to speak in public, these conversations will become more diverse.

My advice for someone who wants to be a confident speaker? Get up there and give it a shot. You don’t have to stand up in front of hundreds of people to build your confidence! Start small. Team meetings, family gatherings, university classes – these are all within your means to speak up. And the more you do this, the better it gets. Believe that you have value to add. Believe in the power of what you have to say. Once you build confidence in yourself and your potential to contribute, speaking about your ideas feels more concrete and a little less scary each time you do so. One method I found very helpful is to slow down my breathing – inhale in for 4, hold for 4, and exhale for 4. Easy! My mind always seems to feel less anxious even after 20 seconds of doing this.

I still have a long way to go with speaking confidently in public. #upfront was a big leap forward. For now, I will continue to jump for the right chances to say a few words. If I want to be the magnificent TED speaker that I one day hope to be, well, I better get started.