Stopping Fear Is A Choice
Ever stand in front of a room of captive eyes and feel your breath catch in your throat? As you nervously shuffle through your notes, you strain to recall what the main point of your entire speech was supposed to be. You strive to remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. You struggle to remember your own name.
This is no exaggeration, at least in my case, and I’m sure it comes pretty close to the truth for many of you. For almost three decades, I have struggled with public speaking, to the point where I simply tried to avoid it altogether. However, in recent years it was becoming increasingly difficult to do so while running a business, which included managing contractors and attending networking events, two things that were a stretch for my timid personality. In addition, my recent marriage to a pastor meant that potential situations could arise that could place me in front of a captive congregation at any moment. Every introvert's nightmare! It was for this reason that I made the choice to take steps to overcome this crippling fear and check out the local St. Clair River Toastmasters group, which is dedicated to improving communication and leadership skills in a low-pressure, supportive environment. After hearing about the national organization on a business podcast I was listening to, I headed down to New Baltimore’s MacDonald Public Library on a chilly Monday evening in the spring to see what it was all about, more than a bit apprehensive.
Take A Chance
The last thing I expected was to be so warmly greeted, or to be put so instantly at ease with this group of strangers. As a guest, I was given the luxury of observing the normal proceedings without the pressure of having to take the podium. Spellbound, I watched as the group of a dozen or so diverse adults ran an orderly and entertaining meeting with ease. As I observed the various members rise out of their seats, take their turn at the podium, and serve as functionaries, it became apparent to me how the leadership skills were being taught here. The meeting was not run by one single individual. By having the members lead each session and, for a select few, serve as club officers, it taught them to step up and take charge.
The meeting was divided into several logical segments, and among them, “Table Topics” was one of my favorites: a topic was introduced, and everyone had to come up with a composed, short response on the spot that lasted no more than a couple of minutes. They even offered me the opportunity to give it a shot, and having nothing to lose, I rose out of my seat and added my two cents. To this day, I can't remember what the topic was or what I said, but I do remember the instant surge of unfamiliar confidence I felt when I was finished. They also had a couple of speeches, in which two pre-selected individuals took the podium – at separate times – and delivered a speech that lasted anywhere from 4-7 minutes. It was with some jealousy that I watched their composed delivery, and wondered how I could ever get to their distant, unreachable skill level. It was in that moment that I realized becoming a bona fide member would be the only way to find out.
Expect To Be Changed
That was months ago. Fast forward to now, and I’ve had the privilege of reaping the benefits of becoming a steady member of this organization. While I still have a ways to go, I can honestly say that I have improved confidence when in meetings with clients, and am less rattled at being thrown in front of a classroom or congregation. Mingling with professionals at networking events used to send me into dry heaves, but now I am able to take the first step of introducing myself and initiating a conversation with complete strangers. Even the prospect of sitting at a table full of unfamiliar faces at weddings is far less intimidating than it used to be. With steady improved confidence in myself, the opportunities are endless.
Of course, I encourage you to attend a meeting if you have had similar struggles. Among many things, expect to be endlessly encouraged by individuals in all walks of life who have had similar struggles with public speaking and leadership. There is structure to each hour and a half meeting, and for good reason; each moment is maximized to get everyone at some point or another on their feet and speaking, and also in some type of leadership role. From the very first meeting, you are taught that you are amongst friends, not strangers, and that there’s no reason to feel any fear or apprehension.
Held at the MacDonald Public Library in downtown New Baltimore every second and fourth Monday, you will certainly be welcomed with open arms.
Additional Meeting Info: St. Clair River Toastmasters
* 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the MacDonald Public Library every 2nd and 4th Monday
* Located at 36480 Main Street, New Baltimore
* For questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org