Three years ago, I was more toast than Toastmaster.
Completely burned out and a prisoner to anxiety and panic attacks, a chance meeting at Camosun College led to an unexpected lifeline, as though someone was saying: hang in there and we’ll show you how to open up your life and let some light in. But talk about your stage fright: ‘Hello, my name is Nervous Nelly, and I am Toast.’
We don’t get to a state of misery by accident. When I was nine, my mother entered me in a singing contest. Contest day arrived and there I was on a large stage, facing an auditorium filled to capacity. I looked out at the crowd and opened my mouth — nothing happened. All I could do was stand there, eyes blinking, feet planted on the ground. I saw one judge shake her head and bend to write something down. The next memory I have is of mom offering me ice cream. Two things came out of that miserable day: ice cream remains my favourite comfort food, and I can’t sing a note. Luckily, confidence comes in more ways than one.
My first meeting at Toastmasters was pivotal. There is a standing item on a Toastmasters agenda called Table Topics, where you get two minutes to talk on a subject without preparing ahead of time. When the meeting topics were announced, my hand shot up and I was up at the front in a flash. My body shook so hard I had to grip the podium to keep my knees from buckling. I opened my mouth and, to my horror, nothing came out. There I was again, eyes blinking, feet planted. This time, no one shifted or looked down to mark an “F” on a piece of paper. They just waited, and one or two nodded in encouragement. Then, something in me fired to life, the words flowed from me and I filled up my two minutes, then some.
It hit me: there was a formula for public speaking and all I had to do was learn it. I’ve been hooked on the pursuit of confidence ever since.
Whether you are facing a lack of confidence, an in-class presentation or have ever wanted to hold your ground through conflict, get to a Toastmasters meeting. Those zingers you always think of later will be on the tip of your talented tongue from now on.
The take home message is this: you cannot fail as a Toastmaster — you can only progress.
All you have to lose is a load of anxiety and low self-esteem. M