Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Toastmasters...So We're Gonna Learn To Toast Bread To Perfection?

A few years ago I had a job that required almost all of my fellow employees to attend Toastmasters as part of their work contract.  Of course it wasn't required of me probably because my position was less technical then the rest, generally helping behind-the-scenes and answering phones.  When I actually found out what Toastmasters was (not a place to learn to toast bread, apparently) I thought I was the luckiest person in the company.
I found out that Toastmasters is a club that helps to enhance your public speaking.  I remember my boss always telling me I should go -- and this was every single week.  I guess it showed that I was definitely not a good speaker even in a conversation between two people...yikes!

Well after about a year of hearing this I finally caught the hint and decided that I'll attend one of those meetings as a guest then decide if its for me.  At the time I actually had no intention what so ever of going back...I just wanted to show that I tried.  Bad me.  Anyway, I did attend that one meeting.  All I remember is that there was no one my age, everyone was so nice I thought they were being fake, and it was really weird when they clapped every single time someone was finished speaking and kept on clapping until someone else took the stage.  I felt like I was the only normal one there.

I came back to the office that day with nothing but complaints telling my boss, "I'm sorry but I don't think it will help me. I can't do it."  And what did he tell me?  Something along the lines of "Well, I'm glad you tried it out. But keep it in mind, I think it'll make you a better person."  And of course, like the sucker that I am, I joined.

The reason I joined was because felt obligated to do it.  That person their took time, even if it was just a minute, to care and make a suggestion of what they believe will actually help me become a better person.  I have a great appreciation for people who care about others and make the time to address it.  When I think about it, it's actually a win win situation no matter what way you look at it.  Unless, of course, if the suggestion is to jump of the cliff. But seriously though, it's totally in your hands.  If you decide to take the advice and it doesn't work than oh well, at least you tried and at least they tried.  Nothings wrong with trying.  But if it does work than the person who suggested it will be proud of you and themselves for steering you in the right direction and you'll reap all the benefits.  It's your choice.

Speaking in front of crowds has been something I've always shied away from.  My first speech was pure hell.  My whole body, from lips to toes trembled and I would keep giggling in hopes that it would make the shaking stop.  I lost my place then tears welled up in my eyes and eventually I started crying to the point where I couldn't even talk.  And that was pretty much my whole speech...I'm sure that's all the audience could make out anyway.

There were so many times I didn't want to go back and even times where I'd make excuses why I couldn't come because it was my day to do a speech or play some other role that required me to get up to the podium and say something.  But, I knew that if I just showed up at our meetings every Tuesday I was bound to learn something and eventually (even if it takes years) I will complete 10 speeches and earn a Competent Communicator Certificate.  So I made it a point to attend every meeting I could even if I didn't speak much.  Individuals in our group as well as myself noticed subtle changes with each speech I performed and eventually my dramatic self calmed down and I got a little more comfortable being up front.  Persistence was the key all along.

It's been 2 and a half years since the day I joined Toastmasters and I finally received my Competent Communicator Certificate.  I say finally because for those at my job who were required to go to Toastmasters they needed to get that certificate within 18 months.  Although it took me an extra year I'm glad I stuck with Toastmasters because it didn't only help me improve my public speaking skills, I was able to meet a variety of people from many walks of life who taught me life skills, stood by me, guided me, and cheered me on no matter what.  When I reflect on the person I was and who I am now there is a major difference.  For the most part, I'm no longer the immature giggling receptionist but I'm not the one person everyone looks up to either.  I'm just a few steps above where I was back then but at least its progress and at least this situation turned into a win.  I can't imagine how unchanged my life would be if my boss hadn't mentioned it ;)

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