My earliest memory of being encouraged to speak up was in second grade. My teacher used a card system to track how often we would contribute to class conversation at the end of the day. Getting a green card indicated that you did a great job participating, a yellow card indicated an average contribution, and a red card indicated that you had nothing to contribute or your contributions were merely disruptive. As a kid, I hated the system. However, I’m glad it was there. I was forced to come out of my shell everyday, which has only helped me in the long run.
For those of you who are shy, who are awkward around new people, I feel you. It’s easy to get caught in that position. One missed opportunity, one small decision to stay silent can make all the difference in relationship dynamics. And once we miss that opportunity, it’s just so much harder to speak up afterwards. Just a few months ago, we had elections for class representative at my school. I was interested, but I opted not to say anything. Now that I look back at the situation, all I have to say is, “What if?” What if I had mentioned that I wanted to be class representative? Could I have gotten it?
The reason why people prefer to live life on the edge is they want to avoid those nagging “What if?” questions that come with missed opportunities. In order for you to be successful in preventing those questions, there’s only one thing you can do: let your voice be heard.
Now you might be thinking, “Well, that’s all nice and easy for you to say. I already know all these things, but how does it help me?” Luckily, I attended a public speaking workshop over the summer, and I would like to impart some words of wisdom to you all.
First of all, be confident and assertive. For example, when you’re meeting someone new, your introduction should be strong and bold. One thing that I’ve noticed is it’s easy to trail off by the time you say your last name. Make sure you follow through and speak loudly and clearly throughout your introduction. Also, always have something to talk about. In order for people to listen to your opinions, you’ll need to be able to make small talk and keep them interested.
Another thing that inhibits people from speaking up is fear of failure. Whenever we try to do something, we are afraid of being rejected, being laughed at, speaking inarticulately. However, at the risk of being corny and cliche, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Don’t be afraid to take those shots. After all, as Wayne Gretzky (or Michael Scott, if you’re a fan of The Office) so eloquently put it, the only opportunities that surely fail are the ones that you don’t go for.
However, some of you have coasted through life without having to speak up. You may say, “But Ben, I’ve never had to step out of my comfort zone and speak up. I’m still a straight-A student, though. What do you have to say about that?” While you may be at the top of your class, you need to start thinking about the future. For example, seniors have already asked or are asking their previous teachers for recommendations. If you were that one student who never spoke up and never had your opinion out there, what is your teacher going to write? “X was a studious person, and X was always very diligent.” In order to avoid something that generic, you need to have a voice in the classroom, which can only be accomplished by speaking up.
In another real-world example, jobs and internships are getting harder to come by, given the amount of people who are looking for work. Being able to speak up is a major plus, since it shows you’re able to get your voice heard in a team setting. If you want these opportunities, you need to demonstrate your ability to have your opinion respected.
Speaking up is a major component of life, and it can distinguish the best from the best. Although it may seem uncomfortable at first, you have to be bold and take those shots. After all, what do you have to lose? Speak up!