By Sharon Hassler—There’s one skill you can develop that will boost your confidence, credibility and career. It’s public speaking. If the very thought makes you queasy, you’re not alone. For some people, only death is more frightening. For others, death is preferable. Are you the latter? Avoiding the spotlight? Suffering not just butterflies but sheer panic? Dry mouth? Shaking hands? Flushed or pale face? If this sounds like you, then consider overcoming—or at least controlling—your fear. You can start by attending a Toastmaster’s meeting and picking up a couple of books for additional help.
Forget any ideas you have that Toastmasters meetings are intimidating. You might think you’ll encounter only eloquent and self-assured speakers which would make you even more self conscious, but that’s not the case. You’ll find a variety of members, ranging from those who recently joined to those who have been members for years. They represent diverse lifestyles and occupations and varying levels of education. What do they have in common? Almost every single one joined because they were afraid of public speaking just like you. This isn’t a place for polished performers to show off; it’s a place to learn and practice. Those members who dazzle with each speech…they’ll be your mentors. And, trust me on this, each fellow member will be rooting for you to succeed.
In a typical meeting, lasting 60 to 90 minutes, the Toastmaster will introduce two to three speakers who will give their prepared 5 to 11 minute talks. Their evaluators will follow with a short, gentle but fair critique. Everyone in the group will also fill out a critique which the speakers take home with them to review. The Table Topics Master will present the meeting’s theme and ask questions of attendees who will reply with one to two minute impromptu answers. Members (who have been given advance notice) will provide the inspirational pledge, word of wisdom, mentor moment or joke, or serve as timer, general evaluator, grammarian, vote counter or “ah” counter. The idea is that everyone will have a chance to speak, no matter how briefly. At the end of the meeting, Best Speaker, Best Table Topics and Best Evaluator are voted on and ribbons are awarded. And surprise! It’s all fun. (Table Topics can be scary but it’s great practice for thinking on your feet!) Membership costs approximately $20-25 for six months including chapter fees; check with your local group for exact costs. You’ll receive several manuals to get you started and a booklet for your evaluators’ critiques. As you accomplish the speaking goals in the manuals, you move up to different levels and receive certification for those achievements.
Do this for yourself…find a local Toastmasters group and commit today to attending one meeting. You might try several groups in your area, meeting at different times of the day, to find the one where you’re most comfortable. Guests are free, so you have nothing to lose. This one simple step right now could make a huge difference in your future. Dave Hershman, a proponent of Toastmasters, says in his book, More Income with Less Stress, “Public speaking is such a great tool because not many people do it well or effectively (if at all). Attend any marketing seminar and they will tell you to market by making yourself look different. People then spend thousands of dollars concocting major schemes to shoot themselves from cannons…Look at me; I am different. In reality, it only takes something everyone already has to look different: your mouth. You should do it and do it well because your competitors can’t.”
For additional help, if you’re truly frightened of public speaking, read Janet Esposito’s In The SpotLight, Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing. The author herself suffered with this fear for years before using her training as a psychologist to study the cause behind the problem and develop a method for overcoming it.
If you’re just a little nervous before speaking and would like to improve your technique, try 10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking“>10 Days to More Confident Public Speakingg published by the Princeton Language Institute and Lenny Laskowski.
How will public speaking boost your career? Every marketing guru tells you to visit any group where you can promote your business. “Speak to the group,” they say. “Hold a seminar.” In your case, the group may be real estate offices, mortgage companies, title/escrow companies, and of course, the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Rotary Club, Leads Club and so on. That’s good advice if you can speak with authority and confidence. You’ll be able to do that with the help of Toastmasters. Maybe not tomorrow or next month, but eventually you’ll receive a big payoff and be proud of conquering your fear. And if you can speak comfortably in front of a group, imagine how easy your one-on-one presentations will be!
Here’s a tip that applies to this and every other idea you consider: If you don’t take some action within the next 24 hours, the odds are you won’t ever act on this idea. So do something now, even if it’s only writing a note on your calendar to find a Toastmasters group. That’s a start.