I Say, I Say!

photo by CameliaTWU via PhotoRee

It’s often said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In my case, the journey began with a single Facebook post.

In September 2010, I half-jokingly (well, mostly jokingly) sent out the following query to my friends: “Anyone here know anything about Toastmasters?”

A few people responded that they’d heard of it; my coworker Chris, who, unbeknownst to me at that time was a budding entrepreneur, was interested in checking it out.

Earlier that day, I had spoken up in our weekly department meeting. I work in an IT department of around sixteen people, and at that time, I’d been with the company for almost two years. Once a week we have these brief (only 55 minutes long) meetings called huddles, and I’d been asked a question about a project I had been working on with.

I stared into the eyes of the fifteen men and women, most of whom I’d known for 21 months, and I panicked. As I spoke, I could feel my esophagus tightening and could hear my vocal pitch rising. My pulse raced, and I shook a little as I spoke. It made little sense to me and was humiliating.

I suspect – and have for a long time – that I probably have a little bit of social anxiety. Some of it is probably genetic and some probably is due to my upbringing. I took drama classes and appeared in several plays and musicals from 7th grade all through high school, did a bit of community theater afterward, have performed in a number of choirs and choruses and even did a tiny bit of runway modeling, but none of this has ever helped my self-confidence.

So I put out the query about Toastmasters to my friends and Chris and I made plans to check out some clubs. We settled on joining club number two, which fit in well with work schedules. In October, we officially joined.

What happened over the course of the next 11 months was nearly miraculous. I won’t speak for my colleague; he is more than capable of doing so himself. But my transformation while preparing and delivering ten speeches – nine from the Competent Communicator Manual and one given to a group of teenagers at the California Conservation Corps – has escaped few who know me.

I am preparing to give my final speech for the Competent Communicator and simultaneously producing a series of training videos at work. I am also in the midst of redesigning the club’s website as part of my duties as VP of PR this term.

Thanks to Toastmasters, I can write and deliver a solid speech. I can command the attention of a room of people and make an audience laugh. I can give an evaluation and can almost speak off the cuff. Almost. Most importantly, I now know that I can act in a leadership capacity, assisting my fellow club members, colleagues, whomever.

I would recommend the organization to anyone. Our club is diverse, fun and über-supportive. I learn something new literally every week. It’s not free, but the benefits of joining cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents.