“Don’t let fear hold you back from doing what you love…”

It is difficult to put into words the true exhilaration you feel when you first walk on stage. Your name is called to an anticipating audience; an introductory remark is made, and before you know it, blaring music and the clapping of hands echoes across the whole arena, welcoming you to  the lectern. What follows is silence – and a true realisation that there are over 650 pairs of eyes and ears, hanging on to your every word.

My name is Anna McGovern, and I am a National Ambassador and campaigner for various charities across the UK, including the NSPCC and Childline. I publicly speak at youth organisations, charities, publicised conferences, arenas and more on a variety of different topics to inspire and initiate change. I have been very fortunate to be nationally recognised by Prime Minister Theresa May as the 1050th Point of Light for services to volunteering, and to be the recipient of the UK Childhood Champion Award for Outstanding Young Volunteer in London and the South East. I do my volunteering work because I love it – and I hope that I can inspire other young people to take action towards issues they care about by doing something about it.

But I didn’t go on stage straight off the bat and campaign on issues to vast audiences. On the contrary, I know that a few years ago, I would have never felt capable or confident enough to do this.

When I had just turned  fourteen, I remember having to do a dramatised public speaking competition on a historical figure of our choice. I decided to be Anne Bonny, one of the most infamous female pirates of all time. I had rehearsed my speech every spare second I  had, memorised it thoroughly, and was more than prepared when I walked onto that stage.

Or so I thought.

It started off exactly as I had planned. The audience were laughing along with me, the judges looked pleasantly amused, and everything was going impeccably.

This was until I completely blanked on stage.

I remember everyone staring solely at me, anticipating what I would do next. But there was nothing I could do. I was shaking, head to toe, from extreme fear – and I suddenly felt so overwhelmed with stage fright. After freezing on stage for what felt like a lifetime, I ran off stage, unable to carry on. All those years ago, I didn’t have the confidence to pull through. I beat myself up over it for far too long; I had worked so hard on my performance, and I felt like such a failure for letting everyone down.

Now, I am grateful for this experience.

Each and every one of us learns from experience. When something happens in our lives, either within or out of our control, we learn from experience and carry it forth in our lives. If this  fourteen-year-old self was to be told what she would feel capable of doing in the future, she wouldn’t have believed you. But by having had this negative experience, it has made me stronger as an individual in the future.

Public speaking was not something that initially came easily to me. It looks so easy when you watch somebody else doing it, but in reality, there is so much more to it than simply just talking to an audience! Yet I knew, regardless of how nervous I felt, that I loved speaking to audiences and creating a connection with them. The more I did it, the more confidence I felt in myself to do it – and now I publicly speak to audiences on a regular basis.

If I could offer a single piece of advice, it would be to never let fear hold you back from doing what you love. Put yourself out there, whether it be in your local community, on social media, or on a national scale. If you have been offered an opportunity to do something you love – grab it with both hands!

You have a voice. Let it be heard. Never let fear hold you back.

Anna McGovern, 17, is an #iwill Ambassador from Kent. Anna joined the #iwill campaign in 2018, and you can read her ambassador profile here. You can watch Anna’s speech at the NSPCC’s White Hat Ball here. Anna tweets at @annaxmcgovern.