Sweat beads form on your forehead and trickle down your brow. Your heart beats rapidly, you’re almost certain the audience can see it pounding through your chest. You clear your throat, approach the microphone, and begin your presentation. Does this sound familiar?
For many students, public speaking elicits feelings of anxiety, vulnerability, and fear. Individuals rank fear of public speaking as the most common phobia, placing it ahead of death, heights, and spiders. Despite his own struggle to combat the butterflies that accompany him on his presentations, Mohammed Maxwel Hasan, a 2015 graduate from the University of Toronto Mississauga, believes that public speaking is similar to exercising. Similar to training a muscle, the skill of public speaking becomes stronger with increased practice.
Hasan first experienced public speaking during his final year of undergrad studies. At a case competition held by the Business Consulting Association, he and his team developed an idea, prepared their presentation, and pitched their product to prospective investors. Among the 20 other groups competing, Hasan and his colleagues received the second-place award. A few months later, Hasan, this time with only a partner, enrolled in another business tournament. In the end, their impressive sales pitch helped them win the competition.
This success sparked a new desire in Hasan to create a club on campus catered towards public speaking. However, after a conversation with a nutritionist at UTM who encouraged him to think of ways to reach a larger audience, Hasan instead began an initiative called Mirror Maps, where he produced online video content to help students with common struggles, such as budgeting and dealing with receiving poor grades.
Hasan’s voyage into the realm of public speaking wasn’t always a smooth sail to success. While presenting a speech at a dinner event, he recognized that, for the first time in his life, the crowd was laughing at him, instead of with him.
“I will not sugar coat it and say everything goes according to plan,” Hasan admits, “[This experience] helped me learn two hard lessons when it comes to speaking. The first thing is that you either talk before or after the food, people can’t digest their food and your thoughts at the same time. The second thing is that sometimes you have to taste failure to really appreciate success.”
These experiences inspired Hasan to self-publish his first book titled Can’t Escape in July 2017. The novella follows protagonist Oliver Masque on his journey to transform his dream of becoming a world-renowned public speaker into reality.
For students struggling with overcoming their presentation fears, Hasan recommends that individuals must recognize that their physical and emotional reactions to public speaking, such as sweating, quickening heart rate, and fidgeting, are normal. Hasan suggests combating this bottled energy with some stretches or exercises.
Second, students should record themselves while preparing their speech. Hasan notes that video recording allows students to catch personal idiosyncrasies, such as physical fidgets or verbal crutches like “um,” “you know,” and “like.”
“When I first started, I never noticed how much I played with my hair. As a nervous habit, I used to constantly touch it. It doesn’t mean it’ll go away entirely, but it’s something you can work on. Recording lets you catch yourself and pause,” Hasan says.
Today, Hasan studies architecture at a college graduate program. Architecture allows him to combine his passions for public speaking, writing, and storytelling. He explains that buildings tell stories because they allow the people who inhabit them to create memories that last a life time.
“[Public speaking] is a very important skill set no matter what program you’re in. Jobs require public speaking. It can be as simple as a one on one conversation with your employer and the same values […] apply,” Hasan explains, “People who are effective communicators will always have opportunities open up for them.”