My stomach turned to liquid as I stood up to speak…

Was I really the girl who enjoyed making speeches at school?

Thursday was a milestone: it was the opening night of my art college graduation exhibition, with over 300 works going on display – including mine.

But that wasn’t the milestone. The milestone was that I was the Master of Ceremonies.

A gallery curator came to find me afterwards to compliment me. She was the first of many (at least four).

“You’re a natural,” they said, and I glowed, even more so because there was a time when I was scared of public speaking.

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By scared, I mean vomit-inducing terrified! I once read that more women are scared of public speaking than of dying, and I understood entirely.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not commissioned this study of 2 000 women a decade ago.

They thought women would quake at Ripley’s shrunken heads and torture tools but no: we freaked out at public speaking.

It’s ranked up there as greatest fear number three, right behind losing a family member and being buried alive; it’s considered worse than snakes, spiders, fire and mice.

For me this fear reached its peak about seven years ago. Standing up to speak in front of strangers, my stomach turned to liquid.

I stuttered, I blushed, my brain ceased up. Was I really the girl who enjoyed making speeches at school?

Yes, but I was also the girl who, age 12, entered a talent contest, belting out a favourite song alone on stage to be met with horrified silence.

I still squirm in humiliation; I still hear my lonely footfalls as I left the stage.

Slowly, my phobia grew. So what changed? Me. Fed up, I signed on for a weekend course in radio presenting.

Our mock broadcasts went out to nobody, but still fear twisted my guts.

“Pretend you’re talking to one person, maybe your granny,” they said. It helped.

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I also re-learned the thing the long-ago speech-making girl knew: be prepared.

In radio, the trick is to make hours of scripting sound off-the-cuff.

You might stay up all night honing your “spontaneous” remarks. Ditto public speaking: do your research, practise aloud.

As the radio folk I now work with taught me, the moment you stop feeling that pre-performance quiver is the moment you stop caring. And you should care.

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