Monday, May 7, 2007

Toastmasaters Speech #1: Introduction

Here is the text of that first (and so far, only!) speech I made at Toastmasters:

Hello. My name is Carolyn and I am speech-phobic.

I would rather eat glass than speak in public.

I have gone to silly and extraordinary extremes to avoid having to speak in front of crowds in all but the most pressing and urgent cases. I know I'm not alone.

Imagine me, along with three other accomplished, intelligent, active and involved parents (two of whom are wives of the principals of the school) at the end of year children's performances. After the enthusiastic applause from the audience - entirely composed of families of the children who performed - it is time for us to give the teachers gifts and bunches of flowers. These were purchased from funds collected from almost everyone in the room.

What do we do?

We pass the microphone around and around to each other (have you ever seen the game "hot potato?") and eventually it lands back in my hands. This “negotiation” happened on stage, at the front of an auditorium full of people.

With the bucket of flower bouquets and box of gift certificates at my feet, I had to think quickly. Grabbing the three closest children, I whispered in their ears what they should say, and made THEM take the microphone. After all, I'm bigger than they are.

The children did a fine job.

While I have made peace with expressing ideas in print, something happens when I am asked to share the same thoughts aloud at a podium. It’s not that I have no opinions. I can assure you that I have a supply of firmly held opinions and ideas sufficient to warrant a regular soapbox at London’s Speakers' Corner.

Why then do I duck and shrink at the opportunity to express myself formally, in front of people?

I can't tell you. I don't know what it is about a podium. Get me at a conference or dinner table, and I'll say what I need to say, contemporaneously and without reserve. Stick a podium - or G-d forbid! - A microphone in front of me, and I turn into a quivering, stammering mess.

I must be allergic to microphones. Put a microphone before my face, and I spend the whole time looking cross eyed at it, breathing heavily and rustling papers. Every nervous fidget makes a sound louder than anything I'm speeding through saying. This is particularly frustrating because I realize, intellectually, that this is not only required of me, but it is the BEST opportunity to encourage, inspire and persuade people.

As [volunteer organization position], my audiences are usually attentive, benevolent, and captive. While my letters and e-mails can easily be ignored, recycled, or deleted, this would not be so with live speech, if only I could maintain eye-contact and not feel like a frightened rabbit dancing before a gallery of owls.

I have tried to talk myself out of this nervousness. I say to myself, “All this obsessing and worrying is such a waste of time!” But then, my inner coward responds, how much better not to waste the audience’s time then.

One aspect of my apprehension is imagining each person in the room having a unique, reasonable and well-supported objection to each utterance, whether ideological, grammatical, or simply that they've heard it all before.

Recently, I was asked to make the speech at an annual dinner, presenting my best friend with a much deserved, prestigious community service award, recognizing her outstanding work with myriad organizations. I poured my heart into my speech about Miriam. Not only did I believe every word, every word I wrote was something I wanted very much to communicate to every individual in the room. I cared about everything I had to say, and I cared deeply that everyone in that room heard it. I was proud of what I had written; believing that what I wrote about Miriam was a true expression of what everyone needed to know about her work.

What I really wanted was, to catch the flu, and make my husband deliver it.

As is turned out, I was healthy as an ox that night. During the mingling and hors d'ourves before dinner, my mouth was filled with thistles. I went to the bar, and ordered, "something clear and non-alcoholic" (I didn't want to stain my outfit, as my hands were shaking).

My husband came up behind me, and told the bartender, "She'll have a glass of wine".

"No, I won't"

"Yes, she will", he told the bartender forcefully.

I was handed a wine glass. As I sipped the wine, I thought in despair, "How am I going to speak effectively if I can't even get a bartender to listen to me?"

By the time I stood to speak, I had had a second glass of wine. I was comfortable, able to speak from the heart, modulate my speed, pause for laughs and applause at the appropriate moments.

It was great. Miriam and I hugged, and I was free to sit, grateful for the opportunity to have honored my friend, marvel at my relief that it was over, and ponder the wonders of alcohol.

Clearly, drinking is a sub-optimal long-term solution to my fear of speaking. While it worked this time, another time, it could be a disaster. What worked about the wine was that I was less inhibited, and therefore less nervous. If only I can find a way to clear the clutter of nervousness, perhaps the message and passion of what I want to say will show through.

In this hope, and with this intention, I humbly come to Toastmasters. I'd like to order a glass of the same cocktail of confidence and competence I see all of the accomplished and polished speakers at these meetings have clearly imbibed. A shot or two of this will have no calories, and I'll even be able to drive home afterwards.

In the past, I told myself that I have given every member of the audience the gift of NOT having to hear me. Increasingly, however, I find I am obligated to “say a few words” before an audience. I am looking to Toastmasters, therefore, to help me make the delivery of my words into more of a gift than the withholding them has been.

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Anonymous said...

Carolyn, congrats on taking the first step with Toastmasters. This organization can change your life. I've been a member for many years and have followed the program all the way to DTM. It hasn't always been easy and many times I felt like quitting, but my TM mentors always propped me back up. Good luck with your blog and thanks for the link!

John Richardson

Juggling Frogs said...

Thank you very much, John. DTM is quite the accomplishment. It is such a worthwhile organization. I hope to get back to meetings again, once my schedule changes.

Success Begins Today is a great blog. I'm a subscriber.

All the best,

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