Learning to Use Your Voice

Posted by Sarah Ryan on 05 April 2019

Have you ever felt like you didn’t have what it takes to make a real difference? Did you feel like there’s a certain type of person meant to make change, and you just weren’t it? If you have, I understand completely. I’ve always been an anxious person and, for the longest time, I felt too shy and too small to speak up. Speaking publicly my face would flush, my hands would tremble, and I’d stumble over every word. I didn’t think that anyone would take me seriously.  

On December 17, 2018, I spoke at the U.S. Surgeon General’s press conference addressing the youth e-cigarette epidemic. I met Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, and of course U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams.  

Not only was I able to meet a few of our country’s leaders, but I also had a national platform to give a young person’s perspective on the youth e-cigarette epidemic. My peers are rapidly becoming addicted to nicotine, and e-cigarettes are now being used by kids at every age, in every social circle. It was important for me to share that perspective with the people who ultimately make the decisions that affect the health of my generation.  

Still, I think it’s important to note that I didn’t magically transform into a confident public speaker. I have been an anti-tobacco advocate for several years, yet my hands were shaking behind podium. Under my jacket, my skin had turned blotchy and red. I was the same nervous teenager that I have always been.  

There’s nothing wrong with being nervous, but experiences like these have shown me how little nerves actually matter. People don’t notice (or at least care) if you’re nervous so long as they can also see how passionate you are. And at the end of the day, I gained a tremendous amount of confidence and experience from taking it head on.  

You don’t have to fly down to Washington or speak to thousands of people to make a difference. You can take action in small ways every day of your life. For example, you can become a trainer at takingdowntobacco.org and have the materials ready to educate your peers and legislators (the Informing Decision Makers course is a great place to get started).  

Learn to use your voice because it will carry further than you can possibly imagine — even if it shakes.