Speaking up

Column by Hallie Beard, Opinion Editor

Hallie Beard

During Fall Break, I went to Chicago for the Midwest Popular Culture Association conference and presented my first ever conference paper.

I imagined it would be terrifying and more nerve-wracking than anything I’d ever done. But to my surprise, it was completely bearable. Could I be, like, growing up and doing OK at life?

I’m proud of myself for getting through the presentation – and for surviving a Fall Break that wasn’t a break and launching into classes again – but this is not a bragging column. Rather, it’s a life-analysis one.

When I was little, I was painfully shy. I was so shy that, if an adult asked me my name, sometimes I’d just look at mom for her to tell them.

I didn’t like talking to hardly anyone and was incredibly uncomfortable if anyone looked at me. Apparently, I was so shy, my parents feared I’d be mute.

Though I began to adjust my shell after starting dance classes at age 6, I still had a reputation for being extremely quiet until probably age 15 or so. Even now, in certain crowds, people will comment on my subdued state or tell me I need to talk more, be louder, etc.

Thankfully, college has given me so many leadership opportunities that forced me out of the last remains of my rock-hard shell that it’s been ages since anyone has used a word like shy to describe me. Nonetheless, I’m still not the most outspoken person, and giving speeches will never feel natural to me.

If someone had told lil Hallie at age 10, 12 or even 18 years old that I’d have to present an important research paper to a bunch of professors and other academics in a big city, lil Hallie would have run away crying, trying to figure out how to avoid responsibilities of the future.

Even in May, when my paper was accepted to the conference, tinges of anxiety mixed in with the excitement I felt. Even with the presentation months away, I worried about what I’d say, what I’d wear and how the audience would receive me. Would they value my research? Would they think I was just some dumb blonde undergrad yearning for validation from the big kids?

Surprisingly, those worries disappeared when I listened to other presentations on the first day of the conference. Every presenter seemed smart and interesting, sure – but not every presenter impressed me, including the older adults who had tenure professor positions at universities. Again, not to sound incredibly narcissistic, but I realized that I had just as much valuable research to present (and sometimes more) than the people I had been afraid of. After hearing several presentations on topics I knew nothing about, I had a newfound appreciation for the research I’d worked so hard on and saw the value of my findings and writing in a new way.

I ended up actually preparing my presentation the night before, making a nifty visual to accompany my speech and stealing the successful tactics of other presentations I’d enjoyed. In the past, advanced preparation for speeches was seriously necessary, and even then, my nerves before public speaking were nearly unbearable.

But, when it was my turn to speak, I actually felt fairly confident and successful. Somehow, magically, I did just fine.

Looking back, I can’t identify one moment or event that made me stop worrying so much about speaking and performing or at what age I began to notice the change. It’s been a gradual process, but it’s happened. If you’re a fellow worrier, introvert or shy kid, just know it gets better and easier. You learn to conquer and do it well.