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Overcome Your Public Speaking Fears

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public speaking fears

I know. You think you can’t speak in public. But you can — you just don’t know how yet! Around twenty years ago, I was afraid of all forms of public speaking. I needed a week to work up the courage to call for a hair appointment. (I wish I were kidding!)

My best friend dragged me to a Toastmasters club, and now, decades later, I’m a different person. Toastmasters teaches public speaking and leadership skills. I have more confidence now than I could have ever imagined! I now speak in public almost every day as an instructor at Frederick County Workforce Services. It’s my favorite thing. Quite literally, I am who I am largely thanks to this organization.

At some point, you’ll probably have to speak in public. You’ll be called on to do a eulogy, or a wedding toast. You’ll need to get your point across in an important meeting. A job interview may be the scariest speech you’ll ever give. Almost everybody has to do some form of public speaking sometime. Wouldn’t you like to make the most of it, without your nerves getting in the way?

With Toastmasters, you learn by doing, which is the way adult learners usually learn best. You won’t be asked to speak at your first meeting, beyond introducing yourself. You’ll get to watch excellent speakers do their thing, and learn from them. When you join Toastmasters, you get a manual of speaking projects. It doesn’t tell you what to say; it helps you build skills, such as speaking from the heart and vocal variety. Your first speech will introduce you to the group, giving them whatever information you want to share.

While you’re waiting to get on the agenda (or working up your courage), you can fill smaller roles. You can be the Grammarian, who listens for grammar errors and nice turns of phrase; the Toastmaster of the Day (sort of like the ringmaster in the circus); or the Wizard of Ahhs, who counts the filler words we all tend to use. They report out at the end of the meeting, so we know how we did.

Every speech is evaluated by another Toastmaster. The evaluator will tell you all the things you did well, and there are always many, even the first time out. They’ll also give you a few ideas to do better next time. The atmosphere is helpful and supportive; they want you to do well and improve your skills.

Part of every meeting is devoted to impromptu speaking, which is the scariest part for many speakers. A Toastmaster is appointed to think of moderately challenging questions; she chooses someone from the crowd, and that person has to answer the question in two minutes or less.

As difficult as it may be, we all need impromptu speaking. We all have to do job interviews; field challenging questions from a friend or colleague; speak in a work meeting on a surprise topic; chat with an important person in an elevator; or come up with an answer for our three-year-old about where babies come from. We do it on the fly, as best we can, with our hearts in our throats. We can’t get rid of the element of surprise. But with practice, we can minimize the jitters, and meet those challenges without the additional distraction.

The benefits are many. You’ll have a network of supportive friends. You’ll develop not only public speaking skills, but leadership skills as well; there are opportunities to lead at all levels of Toastmasters. Job interviews and meetings with your boss will be easier and more effective. Your colleagues will see you in a new light. Toastmasters may lead you to a promotion or a whole new job. You’ll have a new skill that you can use anywhere.

The best part is that Toastmasters builds confidence, and that confidence spills over into everything you do. The cost is minimal; it varies from club to club, and is in the neighborhood of $50 for six months. It’s the best $50 you’ll ever spend.

Everything Toastmasters did for me, it can do for you too. Isn’t it worth a try? Go to Toastmasters.org and find a club! There are several in the Frederick area, most of them open to anyone who wants to join. There is an early-morning club, an evening club, and several noontime ones as well. Drop in to the next meeting — you’ll be warmly welcomed!

 

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