World Speech Day: Turning me into we

Public speaking is, for many people, something that they feel can never be achieved. As an anxious, agoraphobic woman, I was certainly one of those people. Yet, when my name was announced, I had been sitting in the dark, palms sweating, heart pumping. It was my turn to give a speech. I held my nerves, walked into the spotlight, smiled and started telling my story.

On 14 March, I was privileged to be one of 13 speakers contributing to World Speech Day by presenting a talk on the theme Turning me into we. It took place at Epic Studios, a fully equipped broadcasting venue in the centre of Norwich.

We started our journey with a public speaking course as part of Do something different week led by Beth Derks-van Damme, a remarkable woman who has a gift for enabling others to find their speaking power. She does this by helping individuals find the message that is on their heart and expressing it in a strong and articulate way. In her own words Beth helps people ‘get their inner voice out’. As I spoke I could see Beth’s smile and sparkling eyes, I could see her pleasure in my achievement and that gave me all the confidence I needed.

My speech was about including older adults into the community, focusing on the work of Friend in Deed, a charity which brings children into old people’s homes to share wonderful activities like music, magic shows and poetry writing. In this way, kindness is shown, friendships are created and the curse of loneliness is reduced.

My jokes hit home, the pictures of the children and older adults had the desired impact and my speech was met with a huge round of applause.

Indeed, I will remember the applause and the laughter, and I will treasure my certificate but the most important thing was not the ‘me’ but the ‘we’. It was a team event which had been organised and promoted by Max Sharpe and Jamie Rhodes, wonderful, kind and patient human beings.

There is much that can be said about all the speakers: how Jessica Firman’s strength in her speech took me by surprise; how Mufaro Chishie’s soft eloquent style made me reevaluate my stereotypes about Africa and how Rishad Ali challenged how I think about refugees. The highlight of the evening for me was, Qiyu Qiao, known as Olivia. When she spoke, I found myself shaking with excitement and pride. Olivia had a story and a passion on her heart to talk about how tourism can be both harmful or helpful. As a group we met several times for practice, to give each other support and feedback. To watch how Olivia gained structure and confidence in her story, and being part of that journey was indeed a blessing! On the night, her delivery was so bold, her narrative so relatable and her story shone through. I felt her victory and accomplishment.

The winner of the night was Callum Dineen. His speech about social media was delivered in a natural and charismatic style. In a very moving moment, Callum asked the audience to observe a minute’s silence for Theo Brennan Hulme, a first year UEA student who was found dead in his room the previous week. Callum was not only a wonderful speaker, but he transformed the evening from ‘me’ to ‘we’ with his kind, encouraging and supportive approach towards other speakers.

Events like this have helped to transform my identity from an anxious, agoraphobic to a bold, brave, articulate woman who enjoys the power of being heard. The real joy was in the sheer courage, intelligence and brilliance of standing in front of an audience and daring to share our stories. The real magic of the evening for me was the ‘we’. The kindness, encouragement and support that enabled each and every one of us to shine and deliver an amazing speech.

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Vicky Bristow

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September 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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