By Dominic Rogers
I’ve been asked why I joined Tunbridge Wells Speakers’ Club. There are a few answers to that. And not one of those answers was, “Because I want to stand, feeling slightly sweaty, with a lead weight in my stomach, in front of a group of people with the sound of my own heartbeat shushing in my ears, resisting the urge to panic”. Which is surprising, as I suspect a lot of people would jump at the chance.
Senior roles often require you to speak in front of an audience
I heard of Toastmasters through a friend, who recommended it to people in his team who struggled with public speaking. I then managed to ignore what he’d told me and avoid mentally committing for two years until it became clear it was something I had to do. Having a senior role at work, my excuses for avoiding public-speaking were wearing thin and getting in the way of my ability to work as effectively as I should.
My next world tour
Another reason is that I felt that, should I put my mind to it and get over the crippling nerves, I could be quite good at it. It might be something I would enjoy, rather than fear. Never one to get carried away, I was visualising the multi-millions I could earn on my next world tour, until I remembered my last meeting, where I sat with my heart thumping, ahead of my monthly update to a group of eight senior managers.
Finding a club
I ‘Googled’ my nearest Toastmaster club and found Tunbridge Wells Speaker’s Club within a matter of minutes. I had no excuse, as Tunbridge Wells is only fifteen minutes up the road. I then got up from my desk and made a cup of tea, purposely forgetting about it for a while.
Taking the plunge….
Two months later, when I had mentally regrouped and summoned the courage, I decided to contact the club. Within half-an-hour, I received a very friendly reply from Chris, one of the organising committee, with details of the next meeting. He also reassured me that the meetings should help with my fear of public speaking. He stopped short of guaranteeing me a world tour, but I guess he wouldn’t know. This was it, I had a firm date on the calendar. I’d have to go. I was sent details and put the next Tuesday meeting on my calendar.
I turned up on my first night and, following the signs, walked tentatively up the stairs of the Bridge Club; a prominently-placed and atmospheric Victorian building opposite Tunbridge Wells Common where the meetings are held. With my stomach involuntarily clenched, and a metallic taste in my mouth, I sidled into the room.
I was met by Chris; whose greeting was so warm it put me a little more at ease. He introduced me to another guest and I soon realised there were others in the same boat as me. In fact, it was quite a busy boat. Everyone I spoke to confessed to some nerves, whether those starting on their (boat) journey or those with more experience. I felt that this could be the right place.
Public speaking’s answer to Usain Bolt
Three-quarters of a year later and I’m still going and, whilst I can’t pretend that when I get a chance to speak I stride forward with the confidence of Usain Bolt, it gets a little better each time. The first time I stepped up to the front was during the Table Topics*. Thirty seconds seemed to last at least two minutes (the maximum allotted time) and I sat down having literally no idea what I had said. But…. I tried again the following week and even managed to say a joke or two, went beyond the minimum sixty seconds and felt quite good about it.
Where am I now?
I’m still learning, I’m still nervous, and I still rely on notes too much. But I don’t dread it in the same way. I’ve also managed to use the speeches I’ve prepared (three so far) to kick-start some things I’ve always been meaning to do. One of my talks was about whether I should start a blog, and so many people have asked me how it’s going that I felt compelled to start. And I’m glad I did. It’s early stages but the free advice I received from those at the club was to just start and work on improving it later. It’s here if you fancy having a look – foodliving.co.uk.
Would I recommend?
For a multitude of reasons, I would recommend Tunbridge Wells Speakers’ Club and Toastmasters in general. My confidence is definitely improving. People’s reasons for going aren’t all based on overcoming anxiety either, others use it to help them to prepare for public talks, for occasions like conferences, weddings or the delivery of training, for example. They attend to become better, more confident, speakers and to learn from the great evaluation and feedback you always receive at Toastmasters.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to browse the internet for some international speakers’ venues. Though, I might just grab myself a cup of tea first.
*Table Topics is spontaneous speaking for over 1 minute