I’ve seen statistics that show people fear speaking in public more than they do death. I used to be one of these people. I learned this lesson first hand several years ago, when I was the best man and had to give a few words and toast at a wedding in front of a few hundred people. This was the first time I was ever in front of that large of an audience, with the attention solely on me (even if it were for only a few moments.)
While preparing I felt pretty confident, I knew the material, most of the audience and wasn’t really too nervous about it, that is until 30 seconds before I was handed the microphone. My heart sunk, my hands trembled and I eecked out a horrible display of public speaking, full of filler words and disorganized thoughts. In hindsight, there was a clear lack of appreciation for true “preparation.” That was a valuable lesson for me, as I sat down and tried to calm my nerves, trembling, trying to drink some water, I vowed to never embarrass myself like that again.
From there, I went on to read several books about public speaking, I even took a class at a community college in the evenings to learn about the discipline of public speaking, preparation, research, outlines, etc. Needless to say, I’ve improved. My confidence in speaking publicly has also improved. That’s not to say I’m a polished speaker, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve overcome the first of many barriers – I no longer fear it more than death.
Speaking, communication, negotiation, whatever you want to call it is a fundamental skill in today’s society. Being an effective communicator is crucial to your own success, credibility and influence you have with your peers, friends and even family. In my role, (and active community involvement) I get asked from time to time to do talks on various subjects, inside and out of my organization – each of which I draw from my experience; sure I still get nervous, but after each I gain in experience and confidence making each future talk more manageable and in some cases I even look forward to them. One day, I may even hope to give a talk at a TED conference! Shoot for the stars – right!?
I, like you, have probably heard of Toastmasters, but until recently didn’t know all that much about them. A good friend of mine, Danielle (@ddelonge) of Davenport University – helped to motivate me to check out a local Toastmasters here in Troy, MI. The Troy Toastmasters, Club #2357 (Area 23, Division E, District 28) – meets weekly at 11:45 each Thursday at Dupont Automotive (950 Stephenson Hwy, Troy, MI, 48083.) This group (to me) was the exact venue to help keep me engaged, further developing my speaking skills, as large gaps (and busy schedules) can prevent me from practicing and the TM group (along with Danielle) provides a positive support system – much like a workout friend.
Not having had exposure to other Toastmaster clubs, I can only assume they all as well run as the Troy group is. If you’re looking for an outlet to increase your confidence speaking publicly, increasing your verbal (and non-verbal) communication skills, confidence and all the benefits that come along with it, I HIGHLY recommend you check them out. The group has well balanced experience, with very polished, experienced speakers, as well as total beginners, starting at step 1. The group is highly organized, with distinct roles & responsibilities to ensure each and every meeting is good use of your time, getting everyone involved, and most importantly introducing you to the benefits of becoming a good speaker – both through positive reinforcement as well as constructive criticism.
The Troy group also has access to excellent facilities, from a large auditorium stage with stadium-style seating (for large, formal speaking engagements) to conference rooms (where most presentations occur.) Formats include several timed, structured speeches, to one-minute intros and table topics, as well as debates – getting you full exposure to all different types of communication formats and environments – which will surely help you increase your confidence while preparing for you next big presentation – hopefully I’ll see you there!
“The mission of a Toastmasters Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth. We have fun in the process.”