by Cori Arnold, PM2, Mount Vernon Club
I officially joined Toastmasters one year ago. Although I was comfortable talking to colleagues at work and in meetings, I didn’t give talks very often. For me, giving a speech was much scarier than speaking up in a meeting. Speaking up in a meeting usually means voicing an opinion or discussing a topic with familiar colleagues. It’s a two-way dialogue with people I know.
Giving a speech, however, is one-sided. I am speaking, and the audience is listening (hopefully!). For me, this was uncharted territory. Sometimes the audience is familiar, but in many cases, the audience contains people I don’t know. I knew I needed to join Toastmasters years ago, but my fear always held me back. I’ve learned so much over the past year. Here are just three examples of what I’ve gained.
I didn’t realize how uncomfortable I was giving speeches.
When I gave my first ice breaker speech last June, I wasn’t sure how to prepare. I asked myself, do I memorize it or do I have bullets to speak from? I ended up trying to memorize it.
- I forgot a few vital sentences
- I had weird pauses
- I apologized to the audience
- I spoke quickly
This was not a great speech. This didn’t deter me though. This actually provided more motivation to push myself and give one speech each month.
My next speech was slightly easier. I was still nervous and still apologized when I forgot my words, but I could see how I improved just a little bit. This was the pattern for the next four speeches. There were small improvements, which motivated me to keep going.
December was the beginning of the International Speech competition. I had watched the speeches from the prior years and wanted to participate. For this competition, I wrote a speech which I ended up giving to different audiences about six to eight times. This was a different opportunity. With this competition, I was able to refine this one speech over and over again, which is something I hadn’t done on prior speeches. At the final round where I delivered this speech, I finally felt the comfort in speaking. In every other speech, my nerves were the primary feeling, but in this speech, I finally found some comfort.
Evaluations and feedback are vital for improvement.
I was lucky to join a club that has a wealth of experienced Toastmasters. These individuals have given great evaluations of my speeches. Understanding which points I needed to work on drove my growth and confidence in speaking. These experienced members also give speeches, which allows me to see and apply some of their techniques to my speeches. Seeing expert speakers has given me an advantage. They share tips and illustrate different strategies they use to keep the audience engaged.
Feedback is important in all aspects of life. If we don’t know what we’re doing wrong, we likely won’t change. My club meetings are a safe place to try out new things and give speeches in different styles. It’s a place for practice and making mistakes. Because of this atmosphere, I’m more apt to participate in other parts of the meeting as well, which adds to my speaking and leadership practice.
I’ve met amazing people.
My club is small, but mighty. There are only a handful of regular attendees, but I’ve been able to make great connections. Because we are small, we have the advantage of being able to get to know each other better. This builds trust and reinforces the feeling of a safe place, which allows me to jump outside of my comfort zone more.
Our meetings feel like a team effort. We are there to support each other as we each grow. We take turns playing various roles and improving in different areas. We each have different aspirations for being part of this club, and each individual’s aspiration is addressed.
I can’t believe it’s been a year already. When I think about where I started and where I am today, I’m speechless. I’ve experienced so much growth with the help of my Toastmasters club. I’ve grown in my speaking ability, but also in my leadership ability. Toastmasters has given me many skills which can be applied in many areas of my life, and for that I am grateful.