Nothing without us – how to speak up

28 November 2018

Do you have something to say, but are too scared to speak up? Alanna Julian knows how that feels. But Alanna beat her fears, and she has tips for how you can beat yours.

A lot of people are scared about speaking up at meetings and events.

It is not easy. I still get nervous when I speak in public. But I have learnt ways to stay calm.

I would like to share some tips with you, but first let me tell you about how I became a public speaker.

My story might give you ideas about how you can build your own confidence and skills.

My journey to public speaking

From the age of five years old I was diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability. At school I was very quiet. But my teacher Mr Rand saw something in me as well as other teachers. Even though I was struggling in the classroom, they wanted me to find my voice.

My teacher Mr Rand said he would like me to have a go at public speaking. So he got me involved in public speaking at school assemblies and events. With practice, I started getting a bit of confidence.

In my early twenties I discovered a program called Don’t Dis My Ability, which encouraged people with disability to share their stories in high schools, and especially to talk about the bullying of people with intellectual disability.

A few years after that I did work experience at my local community centre. I taught dancing and arts and crafts for people with disabilities.

The person who was in charge of that program nominated me for the Living Life My Way disability ambassadorship. In that role I would share my story, talk about advocating for people with disability, and help people get ready for the NDIS.

Through the Living Life My Way program I met another Ambassador, Carolyn Campbell-McLean, who introduced me to  Council for Intellectual Disability (CID) and their program called Become a Leader.

So I did the Become a Leader program. After I graduated, CID invited me to do guest talks at their workshops and other events.

It has been a long journey from being encouraged by my teachers to where I am today. I started out speaking to two or three people, which was good practice. Then I worked up to thirty people, and years later, I have presented to over 300 people.

It was a journey of building up confidence and getting a lot of support, being encouraged, and listening to feedback.

You do not have to imagine the audience in their underwear!

Control those nerves!

When I first started speaking in public, I loved it, but nerves got the better of me.

I would get up in front of a group of people and my papers would shake, I was so nervous.

I had people coming up and say, “Alanna, you are talking really fast.” So I had to learn to slow down and talk at a normal pace.

When my mum first saw me do a Living Life My Way presentation she said, “Oh my gosh, how is my kid going to get through this?” when she saw how nervous I got. Of course she no longer worries now that I handle my nerves better.

Learn how to speak up

My three key tips to public speaking and controlling your nerves are

  • good preparation
  • good participation support
  • believe in yourself

Read more about these tips below.

We like to say ‘nothing without us’. But if we are too scared to speak up, people will speak for us.

If we all get the skills and tools to speak up in public, and beat our nerves, then there really will be nothing at all without us.

Alanna’s tips for presenters

1. Good preparation

Know what you are talking about

  • Make sure you know what you want to say
  • Ask the organisers what they would like you to talk about
  • Prepare speech notes
  • Practice your speech

Know about the room or venue by asking organisers

  • How big is the room?
  • Will there be a microphone?
  • Where will you be standing/sitting?
  • Where will your participation support person be?

Know your audience

  • Who will you be talking to?
  • What do they need to know?
  • How many people will be there?
  • Make your speech notes accessible

2. Good participation support

  • A good support person can really help
  • Before the event, meet with your support person to talk about the event and make a plan
  • During the event, keep checking that everything is going OK
  • After the event, talk about what happened and what you can do at future meetings

3. Believe in yourself

  • The people watching you are on your side
  • They want you to do well
  • They want to hear what you have to say
  • They want to learn from you
  • You do not have to imagine the audience in their underwear!A good support person can really help


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