What I Did: Joined Toastmasters

I hate public speaking. Just the thought of it makes my heart race, my voice tremble and my body drip with sweat. Most everything I try to say comes out in a hurried, nervous mess of words. This only happens for prepared speeches or presentations, though. I’m totally fine when I’m asked a question randomly and have to speak in front of a group. I’m also really comfortable with job interviews. So I think that means my fear is mostly for planned/prepared talking. Like if I prepare a speech, I know that I want it to go in a certain order and I want to make sure to include certain key points. When I’m giving the speech, I feel this immense pressure to make sure I stick to my planned order and hit all of my key points, and the fear of going out of order or missing something terrifies me. I’ve tried to explain to myself that no one else knows what my speech is supposed to look like, so if I go off track, I’m the only one who will know. But there’s no amount of reason or logic that can calm my nerves.

My fear of public speaking started early. I remember when I was a child – maybe 3 – I had an incredibly small part in my church’s Christmas pageant. All I had to do was knock on the pulpit – which was our prop for a door – and ask, “Is there any room at the inn?” I remember I knocked on the pulpit, then just before it was my time to speak, I started bawling uncontrollably and ran to my parents, who were sitting in what felt like the very last row of pews in the church – it was the longest run ever.

The fear followed me throughout all of school, into college and now into my career. I’ve done everything possible to avoid the chance of public speaking. There have been jobs I’ve decided not to apply for because one of the duties was to present project updates in front of leaders or other colleagues. I’ve requested not to be on some major projects because I knew I’d eventually have to talk about my work’s progress in front of a group. I’ve chosen a ‘behind-the-scenes’ role in meetings, even when the major focus of the meeting was a project I developed and implemented.

After I turned 30, I did what most other people who hit milestones birthdays have done: thought about where I am with my life and how that measures up to my internal expectations about my potential. I have a pretty high level of confidence in myself, and I feel like I could be this extraordinary person who can accomplish a lot. I was disappointed in myself that I’ve let this fear of public speaking potentially hold me back from awesome job opportunities and visibility/credit about the work I’ve done.

Where does this fear come from? Well, I did a Google search (who doesn’t?), trying to find techniques for overcoming my fear of public speaking and pinpoint where it originated. One site I found focused on trying to get to the root of where the fear developed, and then removing that thought process from your thinking. I thought, “Wow, this will be great for me!” I watched the 40-minute video and was let down. It basically told me that my parents had instilled this fear in me – the video kept asking me to remember times in my past where my parents put me down or acted incredibly disappointed in me. Other than times where I dated super disgusting guys, I couldn’t remember a single instance in my childhood where my parents made me feel like I wasn’t good enough or like I had disappointed them. My parents are so awesome. My mom is probably my biggest cheerleader. I’m positive that if I told her I was considering a run for president of the U.S., she’d ask if she could help with my campaign posters or debate outfits. She always makes me feel like if there’s something I want to do, there’s no doubt in her mind that I’ll accomplish it and blow it out of the park.

So my fear of public speaking has nothing to do with my parents’ disappointment in me.

However, I do think my fear of public speaking has to do with my fear of failure. I’m not saying that I’ve been a rockstar at everything I’ve ever done, but I haven’t had a lot of flat-out failures. I know there are plenty of mistakes I’ve made, but I’ve never had a fallen-on-my-face failure. Any mistakes I’ve made have been things that were relatively easy to either cover-up or recover from quickly, saving myself a lot of embarrassment. Part of that is because I’ve avoided any chance of doing something big enough that could have resulted in a huge failure. This goes back to where I spoke about avoiding job opportunities and big projects. Since I’ve always pictured myself as a bit of an overachiever, I’ve always wanted to work on things where I knew I could hit it out of the park. I like knowing that the bar for expectations is set relatively low so I’m guaranteed to succeed. After doing this for almost all of my career, I’m starting to realize that one who always aims for the least amount of risk can never really be extraordinary.

So after years of thinking about joining Toastmasters but being too afraid, I finally did it. For those who don’t know what Toastmasters is, think of it as a group of people who all want to improve their public speaking. Some are terrified of public speaking like I am, but some are just trying to hone their skills, maybe by trying to remove crutch words like “uh” and “um” from their presentations. There are Toastmasters clubs all over the world – it’s a huge organization. When I was in previous jobs and researched Toastmasters clubs near my offices, I usually found that either every company had its own club, or every office building had a club. The company I work for has two clubs, and the suburb I live in has five or six. If you want to know more about Toastmasters, ask me! Or Google it.

Deep down, I feel like I could be an awesome public speaker. I love being the center of attention, hence the reason I started a blog where I get to write about whatever I want and see how many people are reading it and then reaching out to me about what I wrote. I have no problem talking to a small group of people and telling a funny story. I love when people laugh at my sarcastic comments or my weird way of rationalizing a thought process. I think if I could get over this immense fear of failure, I could be a very entertaining public speaker. It would open up so many opportunities in my career, but it would also just be a huge boost of confidence. I can’t imagine anything better than speaking to a large group of people and hearing them laugh at a story I tell.

While I’ve done small speaking roles in Toastmasters already, I’m about to give my first real speech in early December. I’ve already written it, and I’m so happy with the way it turned out on paper. My Toastmaster mentor told me I’ve over-prepared, which I totally understand, but I explained to him that I NEED to have a speech I’m excited about so that it will hopefully help me be excited about presenting it, and that my excitement will be at least slightly higher than my level of fear. I’ll let you know how it goes. Please be thinking positive thoughts, mostly that I don’t hyperventilate or start crying.


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