It has been almost a year since I joined Toastmasters, to grow in my public speaking ability. Joining the organization had been on my list of goals since 2005, it only took me 10 years to actually take the leap!
I thought I had hesitated to join because I never had time when I was working in corporate America, but now I understand that was a lie. There were groups everywhere I could have joined on a lunch break, I simply wasn’t willing to face the fear of it.
I felt called to public speaking, yet it haunted me.
I remember taking a speech class in college and not being able to sleep the night before a speech and physically shaking when I had to give the speech.
“As our fears comes up and are let go, we become aware that we have a desire to do the very thing that we fear.” -David Hawkins
As my career developed, I was called to speak more often and the fear only slightly subsided with more practice in front of colleagues. I still felt that everyone spoke more proficiently than me and had less anxiety while speaking, so they were better able to connect and think on their feet.
The truth was that we all have the capacity to become more skilled and in the process of becoming better, we are able to relax and think on our feet, while speaking in public or 1:1 with others.
After a year of Toastmasters, I now realize how powerful a learning outlet it has been in becoming a better public speaker and overcoming a deep-seated fear.
First, it allows you to make mistakes without feeling like your job performance is on the line.
Think about it, if you were to go play guitar in front of a band to gain entrance into it, wouldn’t you practice a ton before it came time to actually perform?
Why do we just expect ourselves to be amazing at public speaking in work situations, when its go time, without having any practice or proper instruction? (and I’m not talking about that one speech class in college)
Second, you gain experience speaking about things you enjoy talking about, which grows transferable skills to speaking about things that may be less fun to talk about.
In Toastmasters, there are no rules about the topics we can speak about. This means we get to learn about everything from the intricacies of different olive oils to why white water rafting allows you to take more risks. It’s light hearted and entertaining, allowing your brain to go into learning mode much more easily than when you are detailing the financial strategy of your firm to coworkers.
Third, you are able to observe others in their unpolished journey to becoming better public speakers. You can see yourself in their shoes. You can feel the anxiety, but also see the progress.
This was huge for me. Due to the fact that I only tried to learn public speaking in a work environment, I didn’t see the journey—I saw the end product, typically well done. Seeing the journey from absolute fear to budding expert, mentally shifted the learning process for me. I felt connected to humanity in a raw way I could not have earned in reading a book. Seeing people choose to put themselves out there and fail in front of others, ignited a compassion for them that allowed me to slowly disintegrate my own self-consciousness on the stage.
Fourth, you allow yourself a safe outlet to “constantly face the fear and surrender to it, acknowledging that you have the capacity to face your fears and take action to overcome them.” Letting Go by: David Hawkins
No one is born a gifted public speaker. Public speaking in developed through building confidence. Some may be graced with more confidence, earlier in life, but we ALL have the ability to take action and become our best, as individuals.
Building skill in this area, one I feared for so long, has enabled me to see that I can overcome deep-seated fears and build confidence gradually.
Practice in an environment that feels safe, is an incredibly powerful tool. What is one new skill you can practice? What’s holding you back? Identify the barrier and get practicing!