When I was on my second Co-op work term, one of my bosses had suggested to me that I join Toastmasters. What is Toastmasters? It is an organization which was formed to help people to work on their public speaking skills. This past year when writing up my personal goals, I finally decided that it was time to take this advice.
I started visiting a club near my house back in January, and man was I impressed. Not only at the professionalism of the group, but at how friendly and warm everyone around you was. This was truly a safe place for people to go who lack confidence in the speaking. That night, I heard speeches from three different club members of varying levels. Man these were impressive. Some of the speakers I swore were professionals. Along with that, I got to partake in the Table Topics which is essentially a way to get you to start talking off the top of your head on a topic that is just presented to you. I was incredibly nervous.
I still remember it. I had to talk for 30 seconds to a minute about pasta (the topic for the day was nutrition). What am I to say?
Three weeks later, I became a member. Shortly after that, I started taking on roles at the meeting in order to increase my speaking time a bit.
My first role was the Timer. Sitting and listening to the timer’s little blurb at the beginning, each and every week I thought to myself that I could easily do it. And then it was my time to speak, and I froze. I felt like a babblering fool not able to formulate my thoughts properly despite the fact that I had said it to myself several times before that.
I went on to do a few more roles in the weeks to come in order to help raise my confidence and get used to the nervous feeling a little more and more each week. It was working. People around me had started noticing slight improvements in my speaking.
This week was my Ice Breaker. I spoke about my dog and how having him influenced what I eventually saw as my career path. When did I actually write the Ice Breaker? Saturday. Was I 100% ready for it? Probably not, but I still decided despite the fact that I didn’t feel 100% prepared (i.e. I didn’t have the entire speech memorized), I still felt I needed to get up and do it, otherwise I would just keep putting it off. So, I took the plunge.
Man it felt weird! The minute I got up there in front of everyone, my mind went blank. I had practiced my speech several times both in front of my family and by myself, but the fact that I was saying it in front of 30 unfamiliar faces felt completely different. First thing that I noticed was that time flew. The speech that I had timed to be 5 minutes and 40 seconds turned into a 6 minute and 29 second speech, 29 seconds over the time limit. Mentally I knew that I knew the contents of the speech because I lived it and I had practiced my wording of it. But then as soon as I got up there, everything changed. I tried not to use my notes but every once in a while I needed that little cue. Not only that, but as soon as I started talking, my mind felt like it was 2 paragraphs ahead of what my mouth was actually saying. I was so confused. In the end, I think I got my daily exercise from the amount of nervous walking that I did, and I hope that I wasn’t just muttering words which I felt that I was at time (everything felt so disjointed in my head, but that could just be my interpretation).
The group was entirely understanding of the feat that I just went through. No matter how badly I felt I screwed it up, the rest of the club seemed to cheer me on which felt good. I know it wasn’t the best speech anyone had ever heard, but what the heck, it was my first one.
I look forward to writing and practicing my second speech hoping that the next time I go up maybe my mind will be a little more clear.
I encourage anyone who feels that they lack the confidence in their verbal communication skills to try a Toastmasters club near you. I’ve been a member since February and no two meetings are the same, and I actually feel kind of sad when I am not actually able to make it to the Wednesday night meeting.
I would strongly encourage anyone to find one in your area to try it out. You won’t regret it!
Thanks for reading
Speech 1 – Ice Breaker