I can’t remember the first speech I made at Toastmasters. It’s called the “Ice-Breaker” and all new Toastmasters have to give one. It’s all of five minutes in length.
It’s supposed to shed some light on who you are, but I know my shell was far too thick to reveal much of my inner soul. I believe I talked about my career and how I got to where I was before my “big crash” – before I lost my company.
I had been a member of Toastmasters when I was “mentally healthy” in the ’80s – I was in my early 30s. I had a television show at the time, was a very successful commercial writer/producer at the leading local television station, and was full of confidence. Toastmasters was just plain fun. I was there for about a year and a half before the business I’d started was just taking too much of my time.
This time when I joined, it was decidedly different. I physically shook when I got up to the lectern. But I made the decision to do it; I knew it was absolutely the best thing for me; I was determined to get back to where I’d been emotionally.
If you want to get your confidence as a speaker in business, Toastmasters is an absolute must. There are chapters all over the world. My city of just over one million has about 70 clubs. There are breakfast, lunch, and dinner clubs. There are businesspeople-only clubs and ones like ours that have a diversity of members. It is the MOST SUPPORTIVE environment you’re ever going to find because each of those members has been where you are when you first join. They all “get it.”
My sixth speech was somewhat of a turning point for me. I remember it very clearly. It was written; I read if from behind the lectern. It was about a prescription drug dependency that I’d just left behind a few months earlier. I had weaned myself off an extraordinary physical addiction on my own because I couldn’t get help to do it otherwise. Talking about this was a part of my healing process.
One of our members was a pharmacist who, after the meeting, thanked me for telling the story – for opening up about the lack of responsibility that from time to time reared its ugly head in the medical profession. That was a huge vote of confidence for me and I began my journey back in earnest.
In Toastmaster, you give ten speeches that are evaluated by your peers before you move on to the next level, which is the bronze level. Then you go on to silver and gold. By the end, you’ve done 40 speeches, each one focussed on a different aspect of speaking before an audience.
Our club is the oldest in the city of Calgary and has a number of members who have been coming to meetings for over 20 years. It’s important when you select a club that’s an established one, with competent, experienced speakers you can learn from.
Learn I did. Each speech I gave made me a better speaker and gave me more confidence. I still attend meetings when I’m in town – it’s my place to “play.” After 40 speeches, I graduated to professional speaking and am moving up through the ranks of this noble profession.
When I was ready to take on a career in speaking, I contracted with the largest public seminar company in the world, National Seminars, out of Kansas City, Missouri, in the U.S. Let me tell you, six hours on stage a day, five days a week, a different city every day, makes you a very good speaker – the evaluations tell me that.
It took a bit of confidence in myself to submit the videotape of the speech that got me hired. But, it was well worth. And now I’ve graduated to my own speaking business. Constantly moving outside your comfort zone is the only way to get better at speaking in public.
Speaking always provides challenges. The better you get, the more you realize there is to learn. I’ve risen through a number of levels, each one more exciting and rewarding than the last. And the people in every facet of the business are the warmest, most supportive people I’ve ever met.
My point in all of this is that becoming is good speaker is the same as playing the piano. You need to put in your 10,000 hours (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell) to become an expert at it. You need to “do it.” Over and over again. There is no short cut.
So get started as soon as you can.
You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
One of those things is something you absolutely cannot buy: Confidence.