Written by Lizzie Macaulay
If you ask most people what their worst fear is, a decent proportion of the answers you’d get back would be public speaking. As a member of my high school debating and public speaking teams, I seem to remember being OK standing up in front of a crowd and delivering my address.
But memory is a tricky thing.
It can mislead you into imagining yourself to be one thing when your current reality is something entirely different.
So when this month I was kindly invited to come along to the Maryborough Toastmasters’ Speechcraft workshop, I had the opportunity to challenge my reality.
I’d been aware of Toastmasters for a while, so the call up to join in was actually really exciting. Especially with my delusions of being a confident speaker 20 years ago dancing in my head.
The day of the workshop arrived and I walked in quite confidently, my brain still assuring me I’ve done this all before, I’ll be great!
Denial, it would appear, is a useful way to get your foot in the door.
I found my spot and chatted to my fellow attendees, who were there to develop their public speaking skills for all sorts of reasons – to improve their confidence, their leadership skills, their ability to simply stand in front of a room full of people and not melt into a puddle.
Speaking confidently is such an important skill, and as the Toastmasters members in attendance introduced themselves, you could tell they’d been in training – some as long as 30+ years.
Our first activity was to find a partner, discover some key facts about them, then introduce them to the group.
Sounded simple enough.
I met the wonderful Kathryn and got the 2-minute version of her life to share with the group.
Introductions started at the far side of the room, and I was feeling good.
But of course, the closer it came to being my turn, the hotter the room seemed to become. The more fidgety, and less sure of myself I became.
Where was that confidence now I actually needed it?!
It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that, of course, I’m not 15 anymore, and the confidence to ‘stand and deliver’ was nowhere to be found when called upon.
I remembered in that moment, that this nervousness I was experiencing was a common occurrence throughout my adult life.
In any given moment when I’m the one in the room who’s supposed to speak, when everyone’s eyes are on me, I turn scarlet, tongue-tied and desperate to run, and run fast!
How had I forgotten that tiny, but fairly important detail?!
The beauty of the Toastmasters group was that I knew we were all in the same boat, and that I was in a totally supportive space.
Part of the day was listening to current members deliver their own wonderful speeches on how to tackle the art of public speaking.
My favourite line of the day went to Dawn, who spoke about controlling your fear.
When discussing the experience of the nervous energy that courses through you in advance of speaking publicly Dawn’s advice was this:
“Get the butterflies flying in formation.”
Such a beautiful image, and something that I’ll be calling upon every time I need to speak from now on!
Our next task was to write and deliver our own 5-minute address on a topic we’d at least know a little about… ourselves.
As a writer, the creating of the speech flowed easily, aside from the wobbles of inexperience – had I written enough? Too much? Would anyone be interested to hear what I’d written?
Somehow, I got volunteered to go first, and while there was a part of me jumping out of my skin at the idea, I was also aware that once I’d spoken, I’d be able to sit back and enjoy everyone else’s presentations.
After a quiet moment to compose myself and revisit my notes, it was time to approach the lectern – something I’d actually never done before.
It quickly became a choice between remembering what I was supposed to say, and what I was supposed to do while saying it – where do my hands go again? Am I even looking up from my notes at all?!
Delivering this short speech was as close to an outer body experience as I can imagine, my brain firing in a hundred different directions simultaneously.
Then of course, it was over as quickly as it had begun and I got to return to my seat, a bundle of relief and maybe even a touch of pride that I’d managed it at all.
I can see how beneficial a program like Toastmasters is.
It’s not just about ‘delivering a speech’. It’s about understanding the artform of connecting with people. About developing the confidence to proudly stand where you are and speak your truth, no matter the context. About coming together as a group and supporting one another to progress and extend your capabilities.
I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to join in.
It was a fabulous group of people to be amongst, from all walks of life, there for their own unique reasons.
If you’ve ever considered it, I’d urge you to pop along to your nearest meeting and get involved.
What have you got to lose?
With many thanks to Darlene, April and the entire Maryborough Toastmasters Club
for welcoming us and sharing their passion, dedication and skill.
Maryborough Toastmasters meet on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at the MADCOTA Community Centre.
Find out more here: maryborough.toastmastersclubs.org