I told you in my last blog how I got involved with Toastmasters, but that was only the beginning of the story…
After attending a few meetings I joined and eventually plucked up the courage to do my first speech. In Toastmasters you work through manuals, each of which has a set of projects to complete to write and deliver a speech. These projects help you work on different public speaking skills in a step-by-step manner.
The first speech is about introducing yourself. As I started to plan it I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about myself. How do you figure out how to explain who you are in five minutes? You either have a mental block and can’t think of anything to say about yourself or you realise there is just too much you could talk about. I wrote down a few words that I felt summed up who I am and what I’m interested in (yes, for those of you who are wondering I did write down chocolate). When trying to link these things together to form a speech that wasn’t all over the place with too many different topics I realised that two words stood out from the rest: disability and determination. So I started writing my speech about how my disability has never stopped me from doing anything I want to do.
Before I knew it, it was time to deliver my speech and I was nervously excited. I had practised it a few times so was confident with the content and being within the time limit (it’s amazing how much you can cut out without losing any content when you practise it a few times and realise how much isn’t needed) but I was still nervous about actually going up and speaking, especially as not many of the people there had heard me speak before because there were only a few people at my first meeting. Excitement, however, was not a feeling I had previously associated with public speaking. I’d been up in front of classmates a number of times during my degree and had been terrified by the thought of having to deliver a presentation to them.
I can’t tell you now exactly why I was excited about giving my first official speech – maybe it was because I was talking about something that I was passionate about, or because I was delivering it to a group of people who were only there to support me and therefore there was no pressure. I realised how good this lack of pressure felt the night before – for once, I wasn’t being tested or marked on how well I did. At the end of the day it didn’t matter if I missed something out or if I somehow messed up during my speech. The whole point of Toastmasters is to provide a safe space where you can work on your public speaking skills, so if my first speech went slightly wrong I could do better next time.
I walked to the front, sat down clutching my iPad and began to speak. As I got into it I became more relaxed, although I still looked at my notes regularly, more as an excuse to not look at the audience than because I couldn’t remember what to say next. I soon came to the end and felt good about what I’d done. I was eager to hear my evaluation – how had I come across? Had I been understood? Had people enjoyed it? I needn’t have worried, though. While my evaluator hadn’t understood every single word he had still understood the vast majority of what I’d said and therefore my message had come across clearly. Other people came up to me during the break to say how much they’d enjoyed it too.
For the second time I won best speaker and went home with more confidence in myself than I’d had in a long time. I had managed to deliver a speech on something I was passionate about and felt held a message for others that people had understood and enjoyed. My speech had reminded one of the guests that night of a motivational speaker called Nick Vujicic who he had seen on TED. He has no arms and no legs but, like me, does not see his disability as a barrier. I looked him up a couple of weeks later (I strongly suggest you type his name into YouTube too!) and was inspired by what he had achieved and by his message to others to live a life without limits as he has done. It was at this point that I began to realise that public speaking could be more than just a hobby for me, it could be part of my career.