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Fake It Till You Make It
Emmanuel Lindsay
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I once heard a quote that made a lot of sense to me: “It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.”

I came across this quote soon after participating in my first national speech competition four years ago, where I learned a valuable lesson about confidence and how negative thinking can affect you.

My speech team arrived at Western Kentucky University, which was hosting the National Forensic League Competition that year. The National Forensic League is an organization of high school speech teams from schools all over the country.

Speech can mean both debating and acting, but my partner Danyel and I were competing only in the acting part, in which participants memorized and acted out part of a play or novel. This was our first year in speech, and our first national tournament too, so we wanted to show the world how great we could be as actors. We had worked hard to get to this point.

Defeatist Attitude

Before this tournament, when I encountered a difficult challenge I didn’t even try to push through it. I took a pessimistic view, and always thought that even my best wouldn’t be good enough. In the past, this had held me back. Now, I was consciously trying to change my defeatist attitude.

Our speech team waited in a huge room with about 500 contestants. The other contestants looked so coordinated and spoke so eloquently as they practiced. Some even had matching clothing. This told us they were better-funded, and probably more prepared, than us.

My teammates stared blankly at the other contestants. Nobody said a word. This wasn’t good; normally, we talk to each other and show more energy. Our excitement about the competition was overwhelmed by nervousness.

Ms. Rosie and Mr. C, our speech coaches, gave us a run-down of how the rest of the day was going to go. Mr. C said to us, “Here are your schedules, now go practice until it is time to go to your tournament room.” As we walked away, both coaches yelled, “Good luck!”

Now we were on our own. Danyel and I were pretty shaky, since we had no previous experience at a national tournament and we were already intimidated by the other contestants. I asked Danyel, “You’re nervous, right?”

“Yes! This is my first tournament,” he yelled.

“All right, calm down. I’m nervous too,” I said calmly.

image by Percy Tejeda

“I don’t think we are going to win against these people.”

“Me neither,” I said.

Moment of Truth

We practiced for about 10 minutes trying to keep our self-esteem up, and then the tournament began. The students in the first performance were loud, clear, enthusiastic, and always smiling. The two partners were in sync and knew their parts perfectly; they stood up straight, made eye contact with everybody, and were consistent all the way through.

Then it was our turn. The room was completely silent; this was the moment of truth. Danyel and I said loudly, directing our voices to the audience, “The Secret Knowledge of Grownups,” which was the title of our piece. It was about two kids trying to imitate grownups.

“Drink your milk!” Danyel shouted. “Eat your vegetables,” I said. People were laughing and having a good time, even the judges. We thought nobody would like it, but instead, it was going great.

At the same time, there was a lot to remember. We had been coached to make eye contact with the audience, and speak loudly with clarity. We tried to keep those rules in mind because if we broke one, we would lose points.

Once the audience started to laugh, I felt way more comfortable and the nervousness just disappeared. When our performance finished, we could do nothing but smile. After that round was over another contestant came over to us and said, “I liked your performance; it was so funny.” We were ecstatic and relieved.

Round Two

We went to the cafeteria to wait for the next round to start, and mingled with some of the other contestants. When we met them we felt less intimidated: They were friendly and just wanted to try their best; they were not looking for enemies as we had feared.

The second round was held in a room that wasn’t as packed as the first one. The vibe was a bit calmer, and Danyel and I were blessed with the second-to-last spot. This was good because we were able to observe most of the other contestants before we went up. Though they were all good, Danyel and I kept our confidence and decided that we were going to do better. We were going to speak louder and more clearly, and try to add some humor.

When it was our turn to perform, the judge said, “Good luck, guys.” We didn’t really know how to take that—did he mean we were going to need it against the other contestants because they were so good? But as we progressed through our performance, the reaction from the audience was even better than in the first round.

image by Percy Tejeda

It was the same piece, but we performed it with more confidence. We were more enthusiastic and loose. The audience, including the judge, were laughing, practically falling out of their seats.

We finally finished and we gave out smiles to everyone. Afterward, as we walked through the campus, we were shocked at how many contestants told us, “Great piece! I loved your performance. You guys are so funny.”

Could We Win?

That really hit us because we’d doubted ourselves so much. As we walked back to the cafeteria soaking it in, Mr. C approached us and said, “You guys made it to the final round! Congratulations!” Danyel and I were astounded. We’d come into the tournament thinking we weren’t even good enough to perform, and now we were in the final round.

When we got to the room with the other finalists, we saw that there were only a few contestants in the room. The first performance was so good I thought the actors were professionals.

They followed all the rules, and they were funny on top of that. They were energetic, and the way it flowed made it seem like they had a lot of experience. Then it was our turn again. Danyel gave me this look—a slight nod with half a smile—that told me that he was going to stay confident. I followed him to the stage.

Everything was going great, until Danyel dropped change out of his pockets while performing. There is a rule that your pockets are supposed to be empty so that nothing will fall out and distract from the performance. I suspected we’d come in last just for breaking that rule, but I wasn’t mad.

There were six different acts, and then we went to the auditorium to hear the results. It was as I’d thought: We ended up in last place, but we got a trophy anyway for being finalists. Last place was disappointing, but it wasn’t a defeat because we made it to the finals our first time competing in this major tournament. Most importantly, we tried our best.

Positive Thinking

After this competition, Danyel and I started practicing more and going to more tournaments. We didn’t get intimidated by other contestants’ performances and stayed confident in ours. The only way we could show all our talent was if we believed in ourselves and didn’t let others affect our performance.

The experience of our first tournament has helped me in other challenging situations. At my school basketball games, for example, there are a lot of people watching and I used to be scared that the audience would judge my abilities. Now I am able to play and be myself despite what the audience might think about me.

At the start of that speech competition, Danyel and I thought we weren’t good enough to handle it, and that held us back. But we learned that even acting confident when you don’t really feel it helps boost your confidence level sometimes. We stayed confident and ended up bringing home a trophy. I try to remember that each time I face a new challenge and feel my confidence start to slip.

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(NYC-2012-03-15)

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