How I saw Sai Overcome Speech Anxiety
Have you ever witnessed something so great, that you had a tingle down your spine every time you relived it?
A few times to be honest. And I am sure you fall into the same category as well, my friend.
Every so often in our life, we witness something that we deemed impossible.
Well, not entirely impossible, but pretty damn difficult.
I remember one particular event that comes to mind. This event was like non-other.
I witnessed a transformation of another human being before my very eyes.
‘What?? What happened bro?’
Meek -> Confidence happened.
I want to tell you the tale of Sai.
Although I have given him an imitation name, Sai, if you are reading this, I want you to know something.
Your tale will forever inspire the people who were searching for hope.
Just another Tuesday meeting
At this stage of my life, I was a part of 3 different Toastmaster clubs.
Well, I wanted to cure my speech anxiety and I knew that I needed a shit ton of practice. Joining 3 clubs seemed like a no-brainer at the time.
During the time, I was the External VP for one club, and recruitment chair for the other two clubs.
The best thing about those roles was getting the message of Toastmasters out into the world.
Well, this Tuesday was just like any other Tuesday.
I was waiting at the entrance of the meeting just in case we had any more new members coming in.
It was 6:58 pm.
The meeting begins in 2 minutes. Okay, time to close the door.
Right as I was about to close the door, a leg slides in and opens it back up.
A skinny boy with braids, thick black glasses, and a heavy backpack peaks his head in.
‘Um.. is it too late to enter the meeting?’ the boy asked.
Nah fam, you good, come on in! What is your name?
‘My name is Sai.’
Okay Sai, go ahead and fill out this form. Is this your first meeting?
Perfect, how about you come and sit by me today? I will explain the meeting and the different segments so you don’t feel lost.
‘Why did you offer to sit by him?’
Because I noticed something about Sai.
He reminded me a lot of myself.
During our 2 minute interaction, Sai barely looked me in the eyes.
Sai kept touching his neck. Fidgeting. Displaying uncomfortable body language.
The body language of someone who was nervous, unsure, and full of anxiety.
Very similar to my younger self. But I knew this kid had potential.
Not sure why, but something about my gut liked the kid.
‘Hey, they aren’t going to make me talk today, right? I am just here to observe’ said Sai.
To be honest bro, it depends on the Table Topics master. Sometimes they call on new guys and sometimes they don’t. Even if they do call on you, don’t sweat it. All in good fun.
‘No Arman. I don’t think you understand, but I REALLY do not want to talk, I just want to observe. Please do not let them call on me’ Sai said with terror in his voice.
Okay Sai, how about we cross that bridge when we get there? They may simply overlook you.
He looked a little unsure, but responded with ‘Sounds good bro.’
The meeting was just like any other meeting.
Started off with announcements, around 10 minutes.
Then the 3 pre-planned speeches were delivered, 45 minutes.
Now….. time for table topics.
Table topics is a session in Toastmasters where you get called up to give a 1-2 minute impromptu speech on a topic. This is the part where random people from the audience get called on stage by the table topics master.
And now we await…
Pull the topic out the hat homie!
The table topics master for today’s meeting was a fellow named Greg.
Greg was a grizzled Toastmasters vet. He was one of my early mentors. So had a gut feeling he would call on me.
And he did. I was the first to go up.
My topic was ‘what was your favorite childhood song?’
I got up on stage and gave my speech about how Backstreet Boys were lit back in my time. ‘Larger than Life’ was my song.
What? I got some good laughs on that one.
‘Okay, who is next?’ Greg asked as he was looking around the crowd.
‘Hm… I want one of our visitors to come up on stage, any volunteers?’
Sai looked at me in terror.
‘Arman,no. Please don’t let him pick me.’
But by then, it was too late.
Greg was looking at our direction. His eyes were locked onto Sai. And soon enough, he raises his finger and says ‘New member right next to Arman,come on up!’
Sai looked back at me again.
I tried to wave Greg off indicating that Sai was not ready. But Greg was not having it.
‘Come on up young man. We won’t bite.’
At this point, all the eyes were on Sai.
Sai did not want to punk out.
So he got up, and went on the longest walk of his life.
The walk to the stage.
How did he do?
The moment was here.
Sai was up on stage.
I could sense discomfort.
But Toastmasters was an understanding environment. You could go up and choke a speech away, and they would still come and lift you back up. I knew that.
But Sai did not know that.
I could tell he was overthinking each and every last thing. Time had slowed down for him.
All he could hear now was his heart beating at a million miles per second.
All he could feel now, was his body-gripping, tensing and heating up.
All he could think now, was what words to start off with.
Sai looked blankly on the stage.
Oh no.. he’s choking. Not saying one word.
The crowd waited.
‘Hey there young man. How about you go ahead and sit back down. Next meeting my friend you can try again!’ said Greg.
Sai walked back with his head hanging low.
Yup, Sai had choked.
By now, I had seen this a million times from different new members. No biggie whatsoever.
Kind of like falling off your bicycle for the first time.
I just hoped that Sai was not overthinking this moment.
Sai sat back down in shame. You could tell that he regretted coming to this meeting in the first place.
I wanted to talk to him afterwards, just hoping he wasn’t thinking about giving up.
‘I’ll be honest Arman. This was cool and all. But I don’t think I am coming back’ said Sai.
‘Because I humiliated myself. And before you go off saying that it happens to everyone, don’t bother. This is the third speech I choked away this month. I have been trying my best to change because I feel crippled. I just wanted to break out of my shyness by challenging myself. But this isn’t for me. It just is not for me…’
And his voice began to shake.
Sai began to tear up a little.
I wanted to tear up a little as well. I could see the true pain in Sai’s eyes and hear it in his voice. The kid was hurting badly.
It hurt because everything he was feeling was the same exact feelings that I felt after my first humiliating choke job.
Sai was not going to go out like this. I made the mistake of quitting for months after my defeat. I was NOT going to allow Sai to make the same mistake.
I grabbed him by the shoulders and looked at him in the eyes.
Look at me Sai. You will not give up. From here on out, I am your mentor. I am going to work with you. We will get thru this together. You just need to promise me one thing.
‘Sure Arman, what is it?’
You just need to show me heart. No matter how tough it gets, we will get thru this. Just show up and show me you want it bad enough. Then I guarantee you that your wildest dreams will come true. Promise?
‘I promise Arman.
The beginning of a new journey
Sai and I went from a mentor/mentee relationship into a legitimate friendship real quick.
What? We had a lot of similarities.
He immigrated from Africa. I immigrated from Asia.
Both of us had to learn the language by teaching ourselves.
We both battled heavy accents growing up.
We were both socially awkward, bullied, mocked.
We dealt with culture shock firsthand.
The list goes on.
I spent weeks warming him up to take the stage again.
We would have sessions where he would just give speeches in front of me.
His speech anxiety was so bad that he was terrified to even utter words when I was the ONLY one in the crowd. But we practiced anyways.
It was sort of like teaching him how to drive. You know… learn in the park and work his way into the roads.
Teaching Sai was not easy.
I was very tough on him.
Would critique his errors, let him know when he was not working hard enough, and gave him a lot of other psychological testing.
‘Why were you being so mean?’
To see if he would break.
Level 1: Pass or Fail?
I tested Sai like none other. This is stuff that would weed out the bums real quick. I valued my time and wanted to make sure he was not wasting it.
I had to see if the kid had heart.
Sai passed with flying colors.
No matter how much critiques I threw his way, he went home, did the work, and came back more fine tuned than ever.
He fixed his filler words, body language, speech content, and much more.
We went on a one on one boot camp.
But there was a grand plan to all of this. I was not just seeing if he had heart.
I was putting him through simulations of real-world scenarios.
The practice sessions were SO TOUGH that this kid should be able to walk into any Toastmasters meeting and DOMINATE.
At least, that was the plan.
Now the real question was could he do this in front of an audience? Only one way to find out.
Sai and I became the Toastmasters crashers. Decided the best way we can have him overcome this fear was by turning it into a game.
Every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday, we would go to a Toastmaster meeting.
Sai struggled in his first few talks.
‘Was he embarrassed?’
Ya…But this time, something was different.
He felt more at ease.
Because anytime he would choke, or fumble, I would just crack jokes in a funny way.
Like…’haha ey boii. If Eminem can choke in 8 mile, you don’t think your bumass can choke in a Toastmaster speech?’
And he would laugh. He realized that a choke job was not the final result.
It was simply a part of the process. The fact that he was making this mentality shift was POWERFUL.
Meeting after meeting, we both got a chance to go on stage.
We started having so much fun with our speech exercises that we would volunteer each other as a prank to the Table Topics master.
As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, something amazing was happening.
Melting of the nerves
Sai was changing before my very eyes.
‘You mean he was becoming a better speaker?’
Better speaker, of course.
But something else was happening.
His new found confidence in public speaking was spilling over to his real life. His confidence didn’t just end on the stage. But it radiated off the stage as well.
It was beautiful to witness.
This kid could not even look me in the eyes the first time we met. He was so squirmy, fidgety, had a soft voice, stuttered.
He had strong eye contact. Great posture. A Powerful voice. Had the courage to go up to random people and spark up a conversation. And most importantly?
The IMPOSSIBLE seemed to become possible.
He was leveling up and he did not even know it.
The most beautiful part?
The world got to finally see his amazing personality. He was a funny, happy go lucky kid, whose heart was pure gold.
Public speaking did not just make him a better speaker.
Public speaking made him a better human.
Where is Sai now?
Sai is a Physician by day.
But by night, he helps people overcome their fear of speech anxiety. After he was able to conquer his crippling fear, he realized that he needed to give back.
Since Sai’s first ever Toastmaster meeting, he has given dozens of speeches to audiences ranging from 10s-100s of people.
He has served as a mentor to many students.
He has picked up leadership positions in the Toastmasters club.
Sai is no longer that shy, squirmy, unsure kid.
But that part of him is still sealed away in his heart.
He uses those memories to empathize with the other kids who are terrified of taking the stage.
He uses his heart to let the fearful person know that no matter how tough the journey gets, they WILL figure it out.
That is what true fucking inspiration is about.
How can you benefit?
You can benefit by getting your ass to a Toastmasters.
Seriously, what do you have to lose?
Public speaking gave me the keys back to my life. And I want you to get the keys back to your life.
‘I already have the keys. I don’t need to learn public speaking.’
Of course, you don’t NEED to.
But why don’t you do it anyways? Doesn’t it intrigue you that you can tackle the NUMBER ONE fear on the planet?
While the every day average clown is sitting on their ass watching Netflix, doesn’t it sound more fun to learn how to speak in front of an audience?
You get such a fucking exhilarating feeling. And the feeling lasts with you for LIFE.
You are strengthening your internal world like non-other!
Don’t let Armani down
Don’t let me down level up tribe.
You guys are all very special people.
You are the ones trying to level up in life, which in itself, is very noble.
You want something more. You don’t want to settle for mediocrity.
And I respect that.
So keep challenging yourself. More and more and more.
Take some time today to research local Toastmasters clubs around you.
Instead of treating it like a job, treat it like a fun hobby.
Make it a game like Sai and I did.
Soon enough, you will notice yourself separating from the herd.
Once you do that, you and I will be off to our next challenge.
The grind will never end.
And we would not want it any other way.
For more stories regarding the wonderful world of public speaking, sign up to my free daily newsletter:
– ArmaniTalks 🎙️🔥