Public speaking is something that scares me. It scares a lot of people. But I knew that if I was to have the career that I fully intend on having, I would need to get over my fear of speaking in public. Recently the word “toastmasters” has been coming up in conversations a lot (even here on the blog), and so I decided to take the Universes advice and look into it. Today I attended my first Toastmasters meeting.
It was quite a long drive to my nearest meeting and so lots of time to reconsider my decision and potentially back out. Especially after being hit with several road works blocks and even one bout of getting lost. But I persevered none the less. And I am so glad that I did.
The first thing that struck me about the meeting was the sheer amount of structure involved. Now I am not the kind of person who deals well with structure, preferring to live my life on a more “go with the flow” basis. Not that I am easy going by any means, I just struggle with authority and having to do things a certain way and to a certain timetable. And Toastmasters is extremely structured. There is a very definite agenda which is followed to the letter and everything… and I do mean Everything is timed. This made me very nervous.
When the meeting began and all the pomp and ceremony was laid out in front of me, I considered that this was a huge mistake and I was definitely in the wrong place. When people started to speak and formally address each other by title, I was convinced that this was something I was never going to be able to do.
Then the “tabletop talks” began. This is where members of the group are randomly called upon to give a short presentation, off the cuff, on a subject that is announced only moments before the individual is to speak. I was politely asked if I wanted to be included, or if I was happy to just observe. Naturally I said I would just observe.
The first person spoke, and as they did, I had to use every bit of strength I had to bite my tongue and not contribute my thoughts on the subject. Then the second person got up and spoke, and once again I found myself struggling to hold back my own opinions. Then the third. And the fourth. By the 5th person it was getting really difficult for me to sit there and just keep my big mouth shut. So when the sixth and final topic was announced, I found to my surprise that my hand was in the air volunteering to be the next speaker.
I instantly broke out in a sweat. So much so that I had to remove my jacket for fear of over heating. My heart was pounding and my hands were visibly shaking. I made my way to the front of the room and began my brief talk. As I mentioned the talks are timed and there are little green, yellow and red lights to let you know how much time you have left. To my surprise, my time went very quickly and before I knew it the light was red and I had to quickly wind up my presentation.
Still shaking, I returned to my seat and the whole thing was really a bit of a blur, but I was so proud of myself for getting up in front of these strangers and speaking at all. No one really expected me to, including myself. But I did it anyway.
Figuring that it was better to dive straight in the deep end and get it over and done with, rather than carry the weight of an impending first talk on my shoulders for the entire course of this next week. At the end of the meeting I was asked if I wanted to tell everyone what I thought about the meeting and once again I found myself in front of the room speaking to a group of virtual strangers. This time I was no longer sweating. There was still an audible shake in my voice, but I carried on regardless.
I did it.
I did the thing that I feared most…. and survived.
The key for me, was to watch each person in the room when it was not my turn to speak, and to see them as just people. Not big scary monsters. Not judgemental individuals who had the power to embarrass and berate me. They were just people. Nice people. Friendly people. All who had at one time or another stood in my shoes. They understood that I was nervous. They knew that I was scared. They were there to help me overcome my fears and to be loving and kind and supportive along the way. It was a really wonderful experience.
Now, I hold no misconceptions as to my abilities as a speaker. I know I have a very VERY long way to go, before I am proficient at public speaking. But today I took the first tentative steps in that direction… and I am very glad I did.