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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org and give it a go