Getting Stuck Into Toastmasters

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.

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Venturing into the world of public speaking

As some of you may know, I’ve been wanting to start writing my own blog for a while, so here it is!  The catalyst for me doing this now is probably Toastmasters, a public speaking club I’ve recently joined which has given me the space and confidence to speak about things I’m passionate about.

Toastmasters is a fantastic organisation that has clubs all over the world where people can improve their public speaking skills. Anyone can join regardless of their skills and confidence in public speaking – if you have the desire to improve you are welcomed with open arms. This is what I loved after going to my first meeting, and what’s more there was no pressure to speak or to join. I could even have been a guest for as long as I wanted.

I surprised myself at my first meeting back in November, which was different to the normal format as everyone had five minutes to prepare a speech and then those who wanted to could deliver it (normally people prepare speeches beforehand). As I wrote mine I wasn’t quite sure whether I wanted to go up to the front or not. When five minutes were up everyone gave their speeches and each time a speech ended I almost volunteered to speak next but waited long enough to see if anybody else would first.

Eventually, I was the only one who hadn’t spoken. If I wanted to speak this was my chance. So I stuck my hand up before I could stop myself! Now I had to deliver. As I started my speech, giving a brief insight into my life, I realised I had plenty to talk about (something my family realised a long time ago!) but in the back of my mind I was very aware of how I sounded to other people. Although I have a speech impairment I can’t hear it myself but I become far more aware of it when I’m consciously trying to speak as clearly as possible.

Suddenly, I realised I’d been speaking for over five minutes. I couldn’t believe I’d been able to find enough to talk about for that length of time. In Toastmasters every speech is evaluated and I was surprised to find that when it came to my evaluation I had come across as calm and confident. Even more surprising to me was that I had definitely been understood well enough for the evaluator to comment on the content of my speech.

At the end of the night, as in every Toastmasters meeting, there was a vote for best speaker. This was a night full of surprises for me as my name and the words ‘best speaker’ were then announced in the same sentence. I went to the front for the second time that night to receive a ribbon. I was slightly worried at first that I’d got the sympathy vote and that people were unintentionally being patronising towards me because of my physical disability and speech impairment. However, I realised that people didn’t have to vote for me and therefore felt that their votes were genuine.

I went home with a great sense of achievement and feeling very enthusiastic. I realised that there was nothing stopping me from joining Toastmasters and exploring the possibilities of public speaking for me.