MY SKILLS at public speaking were evident at an early age.
At my high school, the teacher asked each student to tell the class what they wanted to become when they grew up.
When my turn came, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
But as I stood in front of my classmates, my mind became my master.
It said: "What if you sound stupid? What would your friends and teacher think?"
I stood scared stiff and silent.
Nevertheless, I learnt three lessons that day.
One, the meaning of the word petrified.
Two, what butterflies in tummy feels like.
Three, never try this again.
Lack of public speaking skills didn't bother me much.
Sometimes, it was surprising to see how people who have little to say can speak loudly for so long.
Most of them prospered well and some of them became my bosses.
I have heard peers commending my bosses by saying "boss, you speak well!"... which was another way of saying that they were good for little else.
Public speaking is for people who do not know how to speak quietly in private; smart people listen, think and act... these self-serving thoughts were always handy.
Fortunately, the mind has the amazing power to provide plenty of reasons to prove that you are right, under all possible circumstances.
But, why is it that most people are afraid of public speaking?
It did intrigue me; but that was nothing to lose sleep over.
Things started to change after my son was born.
To start with, I was no longer the most important man in my wife's life.
It suits me to believe I had that honour before.
The arrival of our daughter 1 1/2 years later changed things even more.
I was not important anymore.
Whoever said "child is the father of man" might have been a father.
Just that it really means children control fathers' destiny.
When our son was four, we trained him for days for a "show-n-tell" session.
After persistent practice through pushy pedantic procedures, he could deliver every line with energy and enthusiasm in his cosy home.
On "show-n-tell" day, daddy and mummy accompanies him with Handycam in tow.
I am convinced that my children will be famous one day.
In the distant future, when the media throngs our home, we should be ready with their childhood videos.
See, I am a practical parent with significant foresight.
Lights ON, camera rolls, my prodigious son walks up on stage.
He freezes up on seeing the audience.
Oops! This was not his cosy home anymore.
He repeats everything vividly and accurately, but it was only in his mind!
What bliss of silence!
What a brutal assault on parental ego!
At that instant, I clearly understood my parents' past predicaments involving me.
Lights OFF, plight ON.
On our drive home, there was lots to express and discuss.
Emotions varied from anger, sadness, frustration, sympathy, contemplation and fault-allocation to the appropriate parental genes.
A series of similar episodes prompted me to be a positive example for my children to look up to.
I took up public speaking and got associated with Toastmasters.
While I learned the ropes, I fumbled and faltered, but persisted.
Public speaking soon became a solemn diversion for engagement and expression.
That also improved my communication with my wife - yes dear, I learnt that eye-contact and listening is also an essential facet of communication.
I felt tempted to volunteer for every opportunity to speak, whether it was to deliver a talk, be an emcee, do stand-up comedy or speech contests.
It was never easy, neither was it as difficult as it once seemed.
As Madame Curie once said: "Nothing in this world is to be feared... only understood."
The cynical among us may add "except for marriage".
Public speaking is not about speaking, it is about communicating.
It is the ability to communicate our thoughts, clearly, concisely and convincingly.
Needless to say, folks who are able to clearly and convincingly communicate their ideas get noticed and listened to.
They progress faster in their careers and life.
Some become bosses.
It does not make them smarter, but it just makes them more self-assured and acceptable.
When I speak in public, I still have butterflies in my tummy.
But the more I speak, the more the butterflies fly in formation.
But when people tell me "boss, you speak well", I scratch my clear head and think... are they making fun of me?