I had to drop out of Toastmasters, not because the people weren’t nice and not because it wasn’t fun. I had to take a leave of absence because I couldn’t get out of the house on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. Things kept coming up and I had to send in so many no RSVPs that I finally gave up.
I knew I was doomed when I couldn’t even make time in my schedule when my Toastmasters group started doing happy hours after the meetings. If a BOGO Chardonnay doesn’t get me there, nothing will.
But I gave it a go, I took a shot at trying to improve my public speaking. If you don’t know anything about Toastmasters or if you think it’s where you learn how to make eloquent toasts at weddings, you’re in good company. A lot of people think that Toastmasters died with non-filter cigarettes in the board room and talking into big black cast-iron telephones. No, Toastmasters is still around and extremely well attended.
The whole point of the organization is to improve your public speaking. You’re supposed to pick up the finer points of public speaking by listening to other people get up and speak, reading the handbook, and getting called on to extemporaneously talk about various subjects. Once you’ve done enough of that, you can get on the schedule to give your own speech. Every speech you give should be you learning to do a different aspect of public speaking. The Using Hand Motions speeches are the most fun to watch.
I suspect that most of the people in Toastmasters are there because of their job. Either their bosses sentenced them to it or they got the drift that in order to rise up in the ranks, they needed to be able to get up at a podium and smoothly lead a discussion at the next planning meeting - a discussion that includes an opening joke, eye contact and a bitchin’ vocabulary.
Well I have no job and no boss. I joined because I wanted to be able to get up and speak about my book without swallowing my tongue.
“Can you hear that?” I am so tempted to say, when I stand up to give my off-the-cuff response to the Table Topics subject: Father’s Day. “That’s my heart pounding. Honestly, I’m sure you can hear that. It’s very distrack-ck-ck-ck -” And I fall to my chair.
It didn’t help that I looked across the table and every single person was smiling broadly and shaking their heads encouragingly. They all said nice things. But I knew they were just being polite in not mentioning how badly I sucked.
I never once managed to slip in the Word of the Day into my talk. I said “UM” so many times the bell ringer got a blister on his finger. I laughed inappropriately. My jokes fell flat.
I did, however, act as The Timer one week and did a nice job of that. If they needed a Cupcake Baker or Newsletter Editor, I would have made a good showing there, too.
Eventually I concluded that messing up again and again was no way to learn how to do something right. It may work for everyone else and it might have worked for me in the past, but jumping into the fire wasn’t making me flame retardant.
I may never regain that skill. For now, when I’m asked to talk about my book I’ll just picture everyone in their underwear.