I want to break free! — The journey to the Ice Breaker speech of shy and introvert person who thought he will never be able to face a public audience

A group of people raises their hands for an opportinutity to speek
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The speaker has just shared his experience in a nicely presented and structured speech. The audience soaks in the silence of being speechless for several seconds. Then once everyone finish gathering their thoughts, they rush for questions. I sits among them. My mind is filled with so many questions about the wonderful speech which just concluded. When so many hands are raising all around me, I try to gain confidence so that my hand is also raised.

But seeing all the people around me, I start hearing rattling noises. I know where they come from, as they did always in situations like this. Those are the three chains of my prison.

These chains are strong. I have been keeping them for so long, and that time has made them stronger. There is no escape for me.

My hand stays on my lap, and the crowd goes on with their questions. Many of my questions gets asked by other people, and get praised for the cleverness of the question. I still sits at the same place.

As usual, I go home with nothing but regret.

Several months back, I took a courageous decision to join a toastmasters club to become better at public speaking. I am an introvert, and always tries to avoid facing an audience. I wanted to challenge myself and see how far it would take me.

Recently I had the opportunity to do my very first speech in-front of the club members. Being the very first, it is called the ‘Ice Breaker’ speech. It was pretty challenging, but a wonderful experience.

At this point, you may already wonder how the hell I developed the courage to escape from three chains in my prison. Gladly, my speech was all about the answer to that question, and I’m sharing it now. I hope anyone else out there having the similar challenges would find their courage from it. Go for it guys, it cannot get worse!

Thank you very much Toastmaster! Good evening fellow toastmasters!

When I was offered a chance to speak, the hardest part that I went through is finding a speech title. I had a rough idea about what I was going to talk about but the title, oh my god, it took some effort. Later that day I had a shower and I was singing to myself. It was then it hit me. This song is the perfect title, “I want to break free”. But why? that’s what I’m going to tell you about in the next several minutes.

My name is Tharindu. I am a doctoral student in computer science. I am also a prisoner of my own terms, which actually is the reason for me to join the toastmasters club. Strange, right? But to explain it better, I’m going to tell you a three fold story.

This story goes back in time as far as me being an school boy. I was really good at studying the night before but still get good grades. Apart from this, I never really liked in activities that would put myself participating in front of an audience. I think there were three factors behind it.

Firstly, there is the question of whether I am qualified enough to doing this?

Secondly, Will my content be accepted?

Finally, Would the audience judge me?

I knew these would freak me out so I kept skipping such activities as much as I can. I identified these as the three chains which ties me to a prison of my own. Overtime they grew stronger without me even noticing.

Let’s fast forward to 12 years. Now I’m studying as an undergraduate but still having all three chains tying me up. As usual, I went through numorous exams, courceworks, etc through the years to reach the final year of the degree. We had an important project to complete in this year, and given my academic results I needed an extremely good mark for this. There was four of us to do this project. But all of us were tech enthusiasts and no one wanted to do the presentation part. So we kept delaying it. One day, our supervisor called all of us into his room to discuss about the project progress. The meeting went fine for the first half but at the end of it he turned to me.

“Tharindu, you can do the presentation part. Why don’t you try it?”

This is the most terrifying question a one could ask for me. I stood there for a minute or two. In my mind I was arguing whether to politely reject this or not. But sadly, I knew this man holds the key to my important marks so I took the task.

Over the next couple of months I worked hard and practiced. I went through videos of facing a public audience, overcoming the anxiety, etc. And when it came to the final presentation, I did an OK job which gave us our most wanted marks. But for me, suddenly marks was not important. This task made me to realize about the three chains tying me up from being a good public speaker, or even a good communicator. I realised if I challenge myself enough, the chains would shake. And If I challenge harder, one day they may even break.

This idea kept growing in the back of my mind when I started working as a graduate student. Although the chains took a pretty massive hit at the final year evaluation, they are still there. Then I thought, to challenge myself, I need to put myself through forceful challenges. Then only these chains would truly break free. That’s when I joined the toastmasters club. So far, it has been nothing but fun and enjoyable challenges.

Looking back, I think I went through an interesting journey. As a kid, I started tying me up with three chains, so that I would never face a public audience without even realising what I was doing. During the undergraduate period, I was forcefully made to challenge myself on the same thing, and it made me to self-discover myself. I believe that I have taken the correct approach since then and doing the right things to keep on challenging myself. I wish if I keep on doing this, one day, it would allow me to truly break free.

Thank you all for listening to my story! You have been nothing but an amazing audience!

Back to you Toastmaster.

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Cloud and AI Researcher | Ex-Senior Full-Stack Engineer@WSO2 | IAM Specialist | Ph.D. Student@ University of Melbourne

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Tharindu Bandara

Cloud and AI Researcher | Ex-Senior Full-Stack Engineer@WSO2 | IAM Specialist | Ph.D. Student@ University of Melbourne