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Local Editorials

Don’t’ be afraid of public speaking

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74 percent of people suffer from “speech anxiety” i.e. the fear of public speaking. My big question is “why?”

I’ve always found it funny that more people fear public speaking than they do death, I mean think about how preposterous that is. People literally fear messing up their words and talking to a crowd more than they do the Grim Reaper.

Death is permanent, flubbing a word or two is not, and you can easily backtrack or even turn the moment into a joke on the fly. With death, there is no coming back and there is no “funny haha moment,” you are done for.

The reason this topic has run across my mind is because of the amount of public speaking I’m doing and will continue to do here in Newton. Just last week I got to give a presentation to Aktion Club at Progress Industries, the week before I spoke at the Special Olympics Torch Run and in recent weeks I’ve held impromptu Q&A session in classrooms across Newton while covering school events.

Personally, I love public speaking and revel in every opportunity to do so that I’m given. It’s fun, it’s exhilarating and it’s your chance to inform and captivate an audience on a topic of your choosing.

How can you not love that?

I guess it’s different for me; I caught the public speaking bug at an early age. It all started when my family realized that I wasn’t exactly a shy kid. So, whenever we had some sort of family event where an MC was needed, there I was ready to step up and present.

This soon spread to church, where as a child, I would read speeches, participate in plays and I have even lead a few discussions in youth Sunday school. However, church and family functions didn’t prove enough to help quench my thirst for engaging with an audience and I soon began doing it at school as well.

My shortly lived political career may have been my first time speaking at one of my schools — all my relatives who can verify an earlier moment I may have forgotten have passed away. In the fourth-grade, I decided to run for vice-president of the student council for Melcher Elementary School.

I had big ambitions, but I was being wise about the situation. As a fourth grader, in a school that was only fourth and fifth graders, I knew running for president of student council was a long shot, but VP seemed like a safe bet.

My best friend at the time, Marvin Childs, and I put up posters all over the school and I made plenty of campaign appearances on the playground, in the lunchroom and the school library, sorry librarians, but you couldn’t “shhhh” my message.

Finally, the big election happened and I gave one of my most powerful speeches, that I wrote unassisted I might add, to the entire student body and I received a standing ovation. Not to toot my own horn, but I was a pretty good writer in the fourth-grade and I have the certificates to prove it.

This speech was right up there with some of the best that my then political idols — Emanuel Cleaver, current Congressman and the first black mayor of Kansas City, Mo., and Bob Dole, legendary former U.S. Senator from Kansas — had given, according to my nine-year-old logic.

I presented facts, I had charisma, I made eye contact and most of all I showed the people that “I” was the best candidate for the job of getting the Melcher student council back inline. (If you can’t tell, I was a pretty serious kid at times.)

I lost, pretty badly to a cute and popular fifth-grade girl named Ivy. They announced the results over the intercom and upon hearing I didn’t win, I cried right there at my desk in the middle of class.

Politics is hard stuff people.

Despite not winning the election — and giving the best speech of all time according to my fourth-grade classmate Justin Tatum — I didn’t let that negative moment deter me from continuing to be a public speaker.

I delivered the “I Have a Dream Speech” to the entire school in both fifth and eighth grade, I participated in speech and debate in high school and I’ve even delivered eulogies or read condolences at funerals. Here in Newton, I’ve spoken to schools, classrooms, clubs and organizations and I’m always open to speaking if my schedule permits.

So don’t be afraid to give public speaking a shot. It’s nowhere near as bad as death or worse — crying in front of your entire classroom.

Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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