How overcoming my nerves is growing my business

How overcoming my nerves is helping me grow my business

By Club Member Marie Wright

After setting up my own coaching business, I soon realised that to gain credibility and to get myself known, it would be a good idea to do some public speaking. There was one problem with this, I had to overcome my nerves. I had never before in my life had to give any speeches in public and I was absolutely terrified at the thought. Apparently, most people list public speaking as their number one fear in life – above the fear of death. And I could understand why.

Discovering Tunbridge Wells Speakers

As I love learning, and had recently moved to Tunbridge Wells, I decided to check out the Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club, which is affiliated to Toastmaster International. To be completely honest, I had an image in my mind of what it would be like. I had a preconceived idea that it would be weird people and be a bit stale and dull. However, my desire to learn a new skill and banish my nerves, would be valuable to me in my work, and not wanting to be close-minded, I decided to try it.

Dispelling preconceptions

I could not have been more wrong. I received such a friendly welcome. The club was thriving with a full of a huge variety of interesting, kind and friendly people of all ages, and from all walks of life. There was an energy in the room that gave me a buzz. I was completely blown away by the courage of everyone standing up in front of a room full of people and doing their best to learn and grow. I was totally hooked.

Taking that first step

It took me several meetings to be able to even utter one word in front of everyone. When I did so, I was shaking all over and felt completely terrified, despite everyone being so kind, friendly and encouraging. However, I challenged myself and eventually started taking on small roles, and finally managed to pluck up the courage to do my first speech, which, to my surprise, I loved.

Learning from others

I have learnt so much since that first meeting. Not only how to improve my own speaking, but also life lessons from hearing other members’ speeches. Looking back over the past 18 months, I realise that there are so many other skills I have learnt too, such as better listening, leadership and teamwork as well as gaining greater confidence and ways to manage the nerves.

One of the things that works so well, is that there is a good combination of experience within the club. Members range from people like me, who have had no speaking experience whatsoever, through to members who are highly competent and speak with years of experience and training, some of them even being actors. This variety of competency ensures that everyone can benefit from joining the club, no matter what level you are at. There is always room to improve, learn and grow, and you help other people to do so simultaneously.

Build your skills at your own pace

There are many opportunities to become more involved if you want to. I have enjoyed several external speaking competitions where I have had the opportunity to hear the best of the best speaking. In addition, I have grown in my own understanding of what makes a good speech and speaker.

The benefit to my business

The benefit of this to my business has been enormous. I now give presentations and speeches on a regular basis. Although I do still feel nervous, I actually enjoy the experience and now feel confident in my ability – even though I know I have a lot more to learn and have plenty more potential to improve.

Recently, I was asked by a company that I coach for, to do a few workshops for their senior management team. I know for sure that if I hadn’t joined the club, I wouldn’t have had the confidence, skills or ability to say yes. I ran my second workshop last week, and it was a huge success and as a result, I have taken another booking for a different workshop with another company. I am excited that I am now able to grow this new avenue within my business.

Networking Opportunities

One of the added benefits of joining the Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club is that it has been a great networking opportunity. This hadn’t occurred to me when I joined. It has provided me with a number of referrals for new clients, which has been an added bonus.

One of the best decisions

Joining the Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club was one of the best decisions I have made. I love the people, the structure, the atmosphere, the learning, and because it finishes at 9.30 pm, I can be home and tucked up in bed at a reasonable hour, ready for the next day’s work.

Grammarian Gambles

False safety

It was months ago I had signed up for this role. It seemed so far away. It seemed so safe. But my first time as Grammarian had crept up on me whilst I was looking the other way. And now I was so busy at work I hadn’t had the time to prepare. To make things worse, I had just had the following conversation with my manager.

“I’m going to be in China next week, would you be able to attend a meeting for me on Wednesday?”

“Yes, no problem.”

“Excellent, I’ll forward the invite, I’ll send you the slide deck you’ll be presenting.” I looked at the meeting invite as it slipped into my inbox. It was a one-day workshop.

Back in control

Two days before my Grammarian duty I wondered what I had to do, I’d never done it before and I had little idea. I reached for the one thing I knew would help me. The Handbook!* and skimmed the following regarding the grammarian:

  • Report on interesting, unusual or effective uses of speech and any grammatical errors or ‘inappropriate’ uses.
  • To set a ‘word of the day’ and report on its use.
  • To report on filler words and hesitations (Ums and Ahs) where they distract from the speaker’s message

 I read on and it said exactly what I had to prepare, little did I know, where the handbook hadn’t let me down, my own memory soon would. But for now, I was in control again. One problem, I was already two days late in setting the Word of the Day. I quickly messaged the VP Education and logged into Easyspeak (our meeting management system) to set it up where everyone could see. I had chosen “Pandemonium” a word invented by John Milton for his poem “Paradise Lost.” It reflected the chaotic nature in which I had prepared for the role.

A dilemma 

Tuesday morning and I still hadn’t prepared what I was going to say, another busy day at work and the slide deck I was presenting the next day came through just as I was leaving to go home. I could stay to read it and let down everyone at Toastmasters, or I could get into work early the next day.

I left for Toastmasters.

Practice makes perfect.

My one-hour drive home is enough time to create my one-minute speech which would explain the role of Grammarian to the club. In my head, I constructed and practised the words. I started feeling more confident.

But then disaster struck. I had five minutes at home before heading out again. I checked the handbook one last time, just in case I’d missed something. Turns out I had. The speech I had just prepared was almost entirely wrong. I had focussed all my attention explaining the role and nothing on explaining the word of the day. On my 15-minute drive to the Toastmaster venue, I created a new speech and repeated it as many times as I could in my head.

Preparation is everything

I arrived early enough to pin-up printouts of the ‘Word of the Day’ on the wall, I took a banana from the snack table and sat down. Little did I know how pivotal that banana was going to be later on in my ‘Table topic’, but that’s another story. My hands were shaking a little, I was definitely nervous, tripping over the words I had prepared in my head. Then was my moment, I grabbed my banana, stood up and started speaking. Whoever would have guessed the pandemonium that had led to that moment.

Next Day

I got home late and had an early start to get to work with enough time to go over the slide deck before I had to present it. But there was an accident on my route and I got stuck in traffic. My safety buffer eroded away and I arrived 1 minute late to the workshop. I was presenting first, and as I plugged my laptop into the room’s display equipment (as it was still booting), a load of words came up in ‘my’ presentation that I had never seen before. Just like Table Topics (a section in the meeting where we practice spontaneous speaking). So, I started speaking. It’s amazing how transferable the skills I practice at Toastmasters are, I’m glad I gave it a go.

*The Handbook is a guide to meeting format, roles and responsibilities written for the club by VP Education Chris Murphy 2019

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What is Toastmasters?

What is Toastmasters? And why should I become one?

Are two questions I get asked a lot.

What is Toastmasters?

Toastmasters is a worldwide organisation of speaking clubs run by members to help themselves and others to become better public speakers. But it is not just that.  Ralph C. Smedley started Toastmasters in 1905 because he saw that people needed interpersonal skills in communicating, management and leadership in the community. Build better people skills, build a better community is the basic principle.

Being memorable for the right reasons

Anybody can shout and scream to make themselves heard. Do they get the message over? Probably not, because all you hear is Blah-Blah-Blah!  If you think for one moment about a great speech you have heard, it may have been from history such a Winston Churchill’s “we will fight them on the beaches,” radio broadcast, an actor on stage perhaps even a TED talk.  They have a presence; they have a voice that can be heard, and Toastmasters can give that to you.

More than giving speeches

Toastmasters is not just about giving speeches.  It is about helping people to give great speeches.  First and foremost, it is a Club; individuals share experience and roles to get better at their communication skill sets.  Members give a speech and receive feedback on what they did well and how they can improve, and members get better because of this.  If, as a member, you get that good, you can even compete in speech contests at local, regional, national and international levels.

Learning at your own pace

Because it is a club, you’re learning at your pace, developing what you feel comfortable with. There are many public speaking courses out there that cost hundreds of pounds for a 1- or 2-day course, where information and participation are forced on you. Smedley realised that the ordinary person could not afford such expenses or pressurised experiences, so he developed the club system, where people participate and learn at the same time.  An entire year of your Club membership at Toastmasters, in Tunbridge Wells costs just over £100.  It is a friendly, cost-effective learning experience.

Personal development and education

Learning pathways:  As part of your membership, you get access to online tutorials on a number of personal development programmes. These can be done at your own pace without any pressure or not at all.  It is your Pathway.

Toastmasters builds confidence

Because you want to make a difference in your life and your first step is having the confidence to do so.

For me what Toastmasters does is build confidence, both in me and in others. We all need confidence in our lives today.  The confidence to take on the challenges we face every day.

Confidence is something you are born with. A new-born baby is confident. It may not know it, but it is. It is then something that is taken away from us by circumstance and people around us.  It is something you must take back!

Everybody has had their confidence damaged; life is full of trials and tribulations. If you come along to a club, be reassured that it is a friendly, welcoming place for you to develop. When you do get up and speak, you can do so without fear, you can be loud and proud and that builds your confidence.

Taking the first step

The club meets twice a month on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday evenings. The meetings have a format and roles, because everyone gets involved. But do not worry, you do not get thrown up in front everybody on your first visit. It is your club, your pace. You can take small steps to build your confidence, knowing that other members are all there cheering you on every step of the way.

Every journey starts with a first step. Take your first step with Toastmasters.


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The difference two months can make

I sat down in a blue fabric covered chair at the side of the room in a position reserved for people who weren’t participating. The event had been running for 2 hours already and in front of me, I peered at the audience. I made myself comfortable and settled down, ready to enjoy the next talk – a presentation from one of my colleagues in the Research and Development group.

I attributed the overtly nervous behaviour of the woman sitting next to me, to the fact that it was the first run-through of this new one-day conference-style corporate training event. She had arranged the whole day and clearly wanted it to be a success. It was then she leant over to whisper in my ear.

“Are you from R&D? Thank you so much for covering at such short notice. What’s your name?”

And with that, she stood up to hand over from the previous speaker, gave a brief explanation of how the scheduled speaker had been unavoidably delayed and proceeded to introduce me onto the stage. In front of all those people, I’m afraid to say I was too much of a coward not to stand up.

There was a slight problem

I had simply gone to the event to hear my colleague speak. I didn’t even know how many slides there were, let alone what the content was. If it were two months earlier this is precisely the sort of thing that would have got my heart rate through the roof and so much adrenaline pumping, I would have felt physically ill. I would have made some feeble apology at not being prepared, read the words off the slides as they appeared, and afterwards escaped the room as quickly as possible.

This time it was different

The thoughts that were running through my head as I looked out at my audience were different. What were they like? How shall I start? A story or a question? What type of presentation, informative, persuasive, entertaining? And as I took my position, I looked across the audience, making as much eye contact as possible and took a deep breath to start.

But what had caused such a transformation in the past two months?

What caused this transformation?

Eight weeks earlier, I had turned up for my first session of Toastmasters as a guest. I had come across the concept while browsing the internet for something entirely different and it struck me as an amazing idea. One email later I was popping along on a Tuesday evening. The real challenge came in the second half of the evening with something innocently named “Table Topics”. In our refreshment break, I was asked if I would like to sign up and as the name seemed so innocent, I said yes. And then my name was called, and I walked up to the front where I was handed a single word on a piece of paper – “Hobbyhorse”. I had 2 minutes and 30 seconds to deliver a speech on a hobbyhorse. It didn’t matter that I had no idea what it was, in fact, it’s better practice that way. I thought for a moment and started talking.

Embracing the applause

I’m certain it was rubbish, but it was a whole lot better than my fear had me imagining and everyone clapped afterwards. With such a warm and friendly bunch of people encouraging me, I found it impossible to feel embarrassed.

And with every subsequent session, my confidence grew and although my ability to technically put a good speech together got no better in those first weeks, my ability to deliver bad speeches well increased exponentially and the barrier of fear (mostly) went away.

And now…

Although my adrenal gland still stirs when I stand up to speak, you’d never know it. I am very aware that people never get good at anything by not doing it. So, I tried, I did it, and I am making progress that continues to amaze me.

So if you want to get better at public speaking, there is no better way than to give it a go, and no better place than with a safe, supportive, friendly audience.

So my advice is to send an email, and give it a go


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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Communicating ideas clearly, presenting them openly with confidence in a public forum is a crucial component of success across a number of life domains. At work and in business, being a good public speaker can help you advance your career, demonstrate your authority in your chosen topic domain, grow your business, and help form strong relationships and collaborations.

I could have sat on my laurels and been happy with my current speaking practice. But where’s the fun in sitting back and coasting, especially when those around you will be upping their game? Don’t you want to be the best version of you that you can be?

The Case for Learning New Tricks

One of the things that working within and leading a small business in the service sector has taught me is that there is little if any difference between your personal and business brands.

As a futurist, I speak nationally and internationally about the emerging future by

  • Informing clients and event delegates about the drivers of future change
  • Inspiring them to explore plausible futures to help them develop flexible and resilient responses to exponential change
  • Persuading them that whilst technology may be a critical driver of change, it’s mindset and leadership that they need to address to be successful in a radically different future, and entertaining …. well, you’d better ask my audiences!

So how I come across, how I articulate propositions, explore new technologies, and explain plausible scenarios plays into my personal and business brand equally.

Now, I don’t see much benefit in hanging around, so having enjoyed two taster sessions in October, I joined the Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club on 1st November and dived right in. (With a surname like mine, I really couldn’t go to any other club!)

What are my Observations about Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club?

Clubs are social spaces and the nature of the interaction between the members is as valuable – if not more so – than the learning content itself. I have found this club the friendliest and most supportive learning environment I have experienced. But why is that? It may be different for different people of course, but for me it’s:

  • Social Aspect – the opportunity to get together with a group of people with a shared interest, in this case public speaking and a desire to learn.
  • Support and Guidance – this is a safe place to experiment and try things out, to openly seek to improve and to be given valuable enabling feedback through evaluations.
  • Meeting Structure – having the same structure for each meeting provides a wonderful container within which members are able to try, experiment, participate, and improve their speaking, particularly through the Toastmaster’s development programme.
  • Process – Facilitation and organisation of each meeting is crucial and at Tunbridge Wells it is managed brilliantly by a small team of dedicated members.
  • Feedback and Evaluation – The feedback and evaluation is built on a structured process of commendations and recommendations; a very subtle but welcome difference to common corporate positive and developmental feedback approaches.
  • Roles and Speaking Opportunities – Each meeting includes various roles that enable members to get involved, from speaking, evaluating, timekeeping, to preparing the room.

 So has it Made a Difference to Me?

The short answer is, “Youbetcha!”

While everyone’s journey will be different, my own reflection and feedback from colleagues and club members suggest I have already made progress in:

  • Preparation – taking more time to consider the presentation and what I am seeking to achieve
  • Structure – considering the structure of my presentations and how it will inform and reinforce key messages
  • Purpose – being clear in my mind about the reason for the presentation; informing, inspiring, persuading, or entertaining …. see above for disclaimer!
  • Clarity – consider the audience and be clear about my message and more technical details included in the talk
  • Pace – use changes in pace to emphasise some points but be conscious of ‘slowing down to speed up’ (a notion given to me by a previous boss)
  • Less is more – sometimes it’s not about quantity.


If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. But that’s just standing still while the world passes you by. My mind-set was to learn, to improve, and it’s already paying off.

Tunbridge Wells is a friendly, welcoming environment. If you have a role – especially at work or in your own business – where communication through speeches, presentations, and even in one-to-one situations is crucial, if you feel you need to increase your confidence in speaking in front of other people, I would encourage you to come and try us out. After all, what have you got to lose?


If you are fearful of public speaking what is the nature of your anxiety?

What might be the value to you / your business of improving your speaking?

What skills, capabilities, insights, and experiences have you got that you’d like to share with other people?

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Come on “Fear”, let’s go to the meeting…

By Club member, Dr Krishna Naineni

I and most people who attend or are thinking of attending Toastmasters feared public speaking. It is not my strength. I joined the club to get better at public speaking. In this blog, I’ll share with you how the Toastmasters has helped me to make “Fear” my friend, and how “Fear” and I, are living happily ever after.

How fear affects my work

As a medical educator, I’m expected to deliver lectures, present at conferences and facilitate small group educational seminars. Fear was the root, at least that is what I thought, of all the negative thoughts that were floating in my mind whenever I thought of public speaking. For example, whilst preparing for a morning lecture, I fear that I may not express clearly, students may not get what I have to say, and may not be able to answer their questions. Whenever I have these thoughts I become upset, anxious and frustrated. Being anxious, I rush through the material, be rigid in my body language and later annoyed at my poor delivery. This, as you can imagine, was putting a lot of stress on me.

Time to stop blaming fear and do something about it

Blaming everything on “Fear”, not surprisingly I wanted to get rid of it. I thought fear was making me think, feel and behave negatively.  I came across Toastmasters when I was doing an online course. The speaker highly recommended Toastmasters and suggested to find the nearest Toastmaster Club and join to improve public speaking. That’s exactly what I did.

What did I learn?

Speaking with Toastmasters and watching them speak at the club meetings gave me confidence. It is when I realized that “Fear” is not the problem, it’s my reaction to it. I have learnt that I cannot get rid of “Fear”, however, I can get rid of my reactions to it. This shift in my thinking process is helping me understand and manage it better.  I’m now friends with “Fear”. It likes hanging out with me and I let it. I am thankful to “fear” because it has led me to Toastmasters.

How is Toastmasters helping me:

  • I’m acknowledging the presence of “Fear” and not thinking about overcoming fear.
  • I’m no longer reacting to it.
  • I’m taking the “Fear” along with me to Table Topics (an impromptu speaking challenge)
  • I let “Fear” hang out with me when I’m preparing, practising and delivering speeches.
  • By not reacting to “Fear”, I’m saving energy and using that energy to listen attentively when others are speaking.

I have made “Fear” my friend. We hang out together. Will you?”

Look, Listen ‘n’ Respect the “Other”

Dr Krishna Naineni is a GP, Associate Tutor, Brighton And Sussex Medical School, Medical Educator International Listening Association (Ila) Member and Echo Certified Listening Practitioner

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Here we go

By Club Member, Nigel Tansley

It’s November 2019 and I am about to join Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club. I am looking forward to enjoyable evenings with a great bunch of people, between us honing our public speaking skills.

Warm welcome

On 26th November, I went along to my second meeting and again received a warm welcome.  Throughout the evening, I enjoyed watching everyone supporting each other as they overcame their stage nerves to have a go at prepared or impromptu speeches.

Taking the first step

To make the most of my time there as a guest, I put myself forward for a Table Topic speech, where the Table Topics Master for the night suggests a random topic – for which the time to prepare is the time it takes to reach the ‘stage’!

I suspect the audience wondered what on earth I was talking about, even if they could actually hear my mumbling but, nevertheless, they were, of course, very supportive and laughed at the right places.

My short speech was evaluated, very kindly, and I know that in due course as the weeks progress, and my confidence and ability to speak in these impromptu sessions increases, the evaluations will become more finely honed, with constructive criticism for me to work on and praise for the improvements I hope to make.

What are my goals?

I am joining Tunbridge Wells Speakers primarily to prepare for my lovely daughter’s wedding in June – and her handsome fiancé’s of course – where I will be required to present the ‘Father of the Bride’ speech.

However, in addition to this, I fear I may have to make presentations to more critical audiences, due to my opposition to proposals to concrete over large areas of Tunbridge Wells’ part of the Garden of England.

My next steps?

I am sure that my confidence will grow at Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club. Clearly, they go to a lot of trouble and take a great deal of pride in operating to professional standards, indeed, even being awarded the status of ‘Distinguished Club’ by Toastmasters International, with whom I understand they are affiliated.

One aspect I hope to work on is how to finish off a speech. May I practice now by saying to you: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention and I do hope you will join myself and the other members of the Tunbridge Wells Speakers at their conveniently situated and rather splendid venue in the centre of, not surprisingly, Tunbridge Wells.

(This is where I now trip over, as I scurry off the stage…)

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Why I joined a speakers club

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.

First meeting

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.

Warm greeting

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 –

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

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