A week ago, I gave my Toastmasters Icebreaker speech; my first prepared speech after almost a year of being part of Doncaster Speakers.
I’ve mentioned before that joining Toastmasters – an international speaking and leadership organisation – was perhaps an odd choice of hobby for me.
I have huge anxieties about public speaking. I’m fine at reading aloud. I used to be alright at acting and hiding behind a character. On lazy Sunday mornings, I can happily imagine that I could be a great orator. Even in my pyjamas.
But in front of anyone else, I worry that I’ll go to pieces.
I’m not alone. Apparently, fear of public speaking ranks higher than fear of death.
I guess that there are three main ways that people will deal with that fear; avoidance tactics and delegation (so one never has to do it at all), pushing through and doing it anyway (and I’m guessing that pretty often means doing it badly), or somehow working through it properly.
That’s what Toastmasters helps us to do – to work through the components of speaking and develop a whole range of skills. Of course, it’s not just for people who arrive with a fear – some of the people in our club have been great speakers all the time I’ve been going and they seem to be totally at ease. But even they’ve made great strides forward in really honing their skills and being better every time.
I spent about two weeks practicing my Icebreaker.
I wrote it first just as I’d write a blog post. That was a little revelation to me; I’d thought that my blogging was quite conversational, but writing to speak is totally different.
The first time I did it as a speech – three Sundays ago – was just to Mike. I was awful. It took me about four attempts to get beyond a minute in because I was so anxious about it.
I practiced a few times on Mike over the two weeks, kept my script with me for any spare moments and had learned it by heart a couple of days before the session.
For my final run, I was just exactly as I’d be dressed at the session – even down to wearing my outdoor shoes on the lounge carpet. I think that was really important for me because most of my run-throughs had been disrupted by me fiddling with something I was either carrying or wearing.
I felt the kind of nervous theatrical thing I used to feel before being in a show – something I’ve not felt for years and years – and by the time it came to my turn to speak, I was really just wanting it over with.
But it was fine. I’d go so far as to say that I quite enjoyed it. I got loads of lovely feedback from other members, and I was given the Best Speaker ribbon at the end of the night.
I actually feel that now I’ve got started and done one speech, the others are bound to be a little easier. We have ten speeches to work though in our first section – the Competent Communicator. Each builds in a new skill.
I can’t emphasise enough how this kind of system is better than any one-day seminar or practice course could ever be. This is twice a month for as long as I’m a member, with almost every session offering a chance to join in with either speaking or evaluation in some way. The group is fairly small and very committed to each other – so we’re all growing together.
There are so many of us who have something we want to say or share. Possibly some of us are already doing that but could use some help and some genuine constructive feedback. It’s so sad that so many of us have this horrible fear – but I’m so glad I’ve found somewhere to work on it.
If you’d like to join your local branch of Toastmasters International – there are groups all across the world – click here to use the Club Finder. Most groups seem to offer the first session free to guests. I promise you that it’s well worth spending a couple of hours of your time to find out whether it might be for you.