Archive for March 2006

First Meeting at Maidenhead Toastmasters

March 28, 2006

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Yesterday was the first time I went to a meeting at the Maidenhead Speakers Toastmasters Club.

Toastmasters, in case you don’t know, is an organisation dedicated to promoting public speaking. There are clubs all over the world, each one with its own group of characters who speak to one another, and encourage the other members to improve their skills.

You should try to find a club near you – it’s fun. And it’s probably not as scary as you’d imagine.

One of the speakers last night, David, had a speech called “And death came third”. This, apparently, is also the title of a new book which is about to appear in our shops. The story goes that, in a New York Times survey on people’s biggest fears, death came third. The number one fear was walking into a room full of strangers, and number two was speaking in public.

If that’s true, people are more afraid of other people – than they are of dying. Which makes you think a bit.

The people at the Maidenhead club were incredibly welcoming. Magdalena, my lovely wife, and I went along as guests, this being the first time. Over the course of the evening, several of the members came over to chat with us, tell us stories and generally make us feel welcome. They asked us what we thought of it all, and assured us how much support they’d give.

And they did give a lot of support. Each speaker greeted the next with a handshake. Everyone clapped and smiled or laughed at all the right points. When commenting afterwards, evaluators were careful to emphasise each speaker’s strengths – as well as the points which could be improved.

To accompany her talk on “The perfect cake”, one of last night’s main speakers, Gay, had even baked a cake for all of us, and brought that along. So we supported her by appreciating it. I was lucky and got the last piece.

Well now, no matter how supportive everyone is, I’m still pretty scared of talking in public, I can tell you. I’ve had cause to do it a couple of times over the years, and it turned my knees wobbly. And not that I’m really the shy, retiring type either. I love nothing more than to be the center of attention. I’ll play any silly prank. But when it comes to standing up in front of people to educate or inform – well, I’m just a bag of jelly.

So when the president of the club asked if I would like to give a short, impromptu talk at the start of the meeting, I politely declined. But Magdalena, my normally cautious wife, agreed. She was up for it. Along with 5 regular members of the club, when called up by the evening’s “Toastmaster” Magdalena went up in front of the audience, chose a hat and gave a 2 minute speech on “where I got this hat”.

Which I found pretty impressive.

She held eye contact with the crowd, was calm and controlled, and spoke sweetly about how she’d bought the hat on our honeymoon. Pretty inventive really – we didn’t know anyone else in the room. And it wasn’t even her hat!

Magdalena really gave a charming little speech. She really showed me something and gave me inspiration. I vowed on the spot to give it a shot. When the toastmaster asks again, I’ll be there – charging ahead to discuss my headgear. Or whatever else they want me to talk about.

And I thought it might be fun to write it down here, afterwards. It won’t be a comprehensive account of each evening. It won’t be objective. It might not even be very well informed. But it will be heartfelt. And I hope I’ll be able to show how I overcome my fear of public speaking.

The next meeting is in two weeks’ time. I hope to be there – and I hope you’ll come back here to see how it went.

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