Did you know Public Speaking is one of the most common fears worldwide – it’s more feared than the boogeyman, spiders, sharks, snakes, or even plane travel.
Some years ago I joined my locals Toastmasters club. It wasn’t my idea, friends suggested it as a way to mix with new people and to develop confidence in my speaking abilities. Why not, I had a pretty free social calendar.
I recall feeling somewhat nervous the first meeting, but not to the point of shaking or wanting to run screaming from the room. The only assignment I had to join in with that night was the warm up session, basically speaking about any topic I liked for twenty seconds…
Besides being a tad nervous I completed the task with proficiency. At the second meeting I was asked to join in with the Table Topics – that’s when you have to answer a question – speaking only for a minute. At the end of the night I was approached by the President who said I needed to start challenging myself more, he suggested I take on the – Welcome To The Meeting role the following week. I wasn’t keen… but still that’s why I was there, to improve my public speaking skills, so with a false smile on my face, I agreed to it.
I arrived at the next meeting with my written notes, which I’d practiced a zillion times. I was fairly anxious but because the welcome role was at the beginning of the meeting I didn’t have to wait too long to be put out of my misery. When I heard my name, I stood up, and on shaking legs approached the lectern. For a brief moment I stared at the expectant faces around me, and then I began, ‘Good evening Toastmasters…’
For my efforts I received a hearty applaud, and moderately pleased I returned to my seat. Although my speaking part was done, I still had to be evaluated, a frightening prospect indeed. The good thing about Toastmasters is when you’re a new member you are given a bit of leeway. The Toastmasters don’t want to push too far, too soon in case you head for the door and never come back. So whether my welcome was just mediocre or fantastic, the evaluator gave me positive praise anyway.
After my success I. began putting my hand up for more daring assignments, such as the Evaluation roles, the Toast role, the Table Topics Master role. I even even made two speeches. No worries I was cool, calm and relaxed. And then came the speech that changed it all.
Most people can write a good enough speech – my own speeches up to that point had simply been a bunch of facts put together to fill in the time requirement. They did not evoke my fellow Toastmasters to laugh, cry, sympathise or persuade.
I can’t recall what speech number it was, but I remember the topic – Vocal Variety. The speech requirements revolved around expressing myself using a pleasant, easily heard voice. Other requirements I had to focus on were – volume, pitch and pausing to reflect. I also needed to add meaning and interest to my speech.
After thinking it through a few days, I finally came up with the idea of setting my speech around horror movies and my reaction to them. I picked out four – Picnic at Hanging Rock, Poltergeist, Nightmare on Elm Street and The Sixth Sense. My intention was to give examples of the scenes I found the scariest by vocalising the voice of the actors.
Easy, but did I have the confidence to pull it off. It would mean singing the horrid little jingle from Nightmare on Elm Street, when Nancy’s in the bathtub singing – ‘One two, Freddy’s coming for you, Three, four, Better look your door…’ And I don’t have a good singing voice. Instead of worrying about it, I just wrote the speech.
I finished it Sunday afternoon, practiced reciting it Sunday night. Thankfully I worked all day Monday, giving me no time to self doubt. And then suddenly it was Monday night… the night of the Toastmasters meeting.
Nervous as all hell I sat in my chair, only half listening to the meeting going on around me. Instead, I kept reciting my own speech, going over and over it in my head. And then all too soon the Toastmaster introduced me, and whether I liked it or not, my time was up.
Staring out at the audience all I could think was – quickly just do it, and have it done. So I got started. As most of the audience had at least seen one of those movies, it was a topic they could all relate to. Right from the beginning I held their attention.
As I spoke using the various voices of the actors, repeating the famous lines – ‘They’re here,’ and ‘I see dead people,’ the laughs started coming in.
Forgetting my fear I delivered the rest of my speech with a confidence I didn’t know I possessed. It wasn’t until after I sat down that I realised that I’d actually made people laugh. My words, what I had written, had made people laugh.
And that’s not all – Guess who won the best speech of the evening. Go on, guess, THAT’S RIGHT – ME