When you join a Toastmasters club, you start working through the “Competent Communication” manual, a series of 10 speeches, each with a different focus (organization, vocal variety, gestures, etc.), culminating in a big “inspirational” speech to wrap it all together. After two years of procrastination, I finally wrapped up my 10th speech yesterday. And you know what? I was OK!
I roll my eyes at the name of this particular Toastmasters award – Competent Communicator, or CC. I’d like to think I’ve been “competent” for quite some time—after all I’ve been in the business world for (cough) a few years, I’ve run a few meetings, facilitated a few strategy sessions. Sit with me one-on-one and I’d say I’m even better than “competent”—at least “decent” if not “pretty good.”
But public speaking—giving a formal presentation—has always made me nervous. (I am not alone—depending on what list you read, fear of public speaking ranks right up there with fear of dying.) So I figured when I started my own business, I’d better spend a little time getting over that particular fear—or at least learning to hide it better. Thus, Toastmasters.
A few observations about the journey to competence…
- Early on, I took a presentation skills class from a really good speech coach. I’ve taken public speaking classes before, but somehow in this class the messages came through differently and resonated differently. Perhaps a case of “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
- Recently I had a chance to watch this speech coach rehearse for an hour-long keynote address. Something about the process shifted my thinking from “presentation” to “performance.” Hard to even describe what happened, but I recall a similar experience watching Olympic downhill skiers many years ago when I was still learning to ski—“Oh, that’s the rhythm/motion/flow I’m supposed to have.” The next day on the hill—way more better!
- I’ve written about affirmations on this blog. One of my affirmations this year has been “I have a voice that others need to hear.” That shift in my mindset has helped me stop worrying about what other people think and simply focus on what I need to say—after all, they “need to hear” me. How could I refuse them? 🙂
- I took the opportunity to read a few of my poems aloud for the vocal variety speech, which really was my first foray into “performance” rather than “presentation.”
- I practiced this last speech a LOT. I’ll be the first to admit, most of my speeches got nowhere near this level of preparation. Our club has a tradition of giving a standing ovation for the 10th speech—so I figured I’d better earn it. And, go figure, practice made a difference!
- Finally, the “performance” of the speech became much easier because I had some passion for the topic. Since I liked what I was talking about, my facial expressions and gestures and movements more easily reflected that. No stilted feeling of “Oh, I need to put a gesture HERE.” I was in the “flow.”
Yesterday’s poem was written a couple months back, but was part of the process to reach speech #10. Yesterday I did intone my “first true words” in a manner of speaking. I’ll try to repurpose some of those words in an upcoming blog entry. I mean, really, who would not want to read “All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Science Fiction”??
Here’s to Toastmasters—to competence and beyond!