I was embarrassed. Actually, I was mortified.
About 15 years ago, one of my dearest friends got married. As her maid of honor, she asked me to give the first toast after the ceremony—a speech. Frankly, I had no idea where to begin. I certainly cared about her and her new partner, so of course, I said that I’d do it. Then I frantically searched online for some good quotes to use. It sounds silly to say this now, but I had no idea that this was a skill that could be practiced. I just thought some people were naturally good with words and presentations. And then there was me. My strengths are in other areas. Though my toast was certainly heartfelt, it was not very good. As I said, it was all so very embarrassing! Many years later, I learned about Toastmasters.
I joined Toastmasters around the start of this pandemic. My first speeches took months to write. First, I would search for weeks for a good topic. Then I’d work for a month determining what to say about it. I regularly struggled with reaching five minutes. I am not at all a “natural” speaker. Then I had to come up with a catchy intro. Oy! And ending a speech? That was my Achilles heel. It was always my least graceful moment. Then I would practice and practice, and practice. Finally, I’d sweat and feel very nervous when it was time to present. Sometimes my voice would shake. It was so challenging and so awkward.
Check this out, though! Compare that nightmare experience to what I’m doing now. I started this little speech around 24 hours ago. I thought about it for a couple of hours, letting it roll around in the back of my mind while doing other things. Without actually focusing on it, I trusted that it would form, and the content came to me. Then I sat down and wrote it, top to bottom. Look at how far I have come!
Toastmasters gave this to me. It has provided me with structure, programs, many opportunities, and a place to practice. I even received valuable (and sometimes not so-useful) feedback. I wish I had had Toastmasters when I was asked to give that wedding toast!
I know some of you, like me, have already begun to experience rewards from your time with Toastmasters. I have seen and heard club members work on projects from heartfelt eulogies to improving their work presentations, as well as developing friendships and finding personal support during challenges. From your wedding toasts, which I know were much better than mine, to career enhancement and advancement, you have felt the benefits.
My Toastmasters club happens to be on the smaller side. A small club can be beneficial because we have more openings available to give speeches and can try our hand at all of the roles. If we take advantage of it, a small club means more opportunities for practice which results in rapid improvement.
Each of us also brings something unique and delightful to our clubs. You may have a humorous way of presenting things or have a knack for coming up with the quirky and unexpected. Perhaps you offer consistent bubbly cheerfulness or sometimes burst into an impromptu song. I am on the lookout for what others do that appeals to me so I can try it for myself. As a friend of mine says, “I want a scoop of that!” I value the time and commitment of club members showing up each week to learn and practice!
For our clubs to continue, we all need to step up. To keep your club going, outside of your Pathways projects, three things are required from each of you:
- Timely and regular communication with your club members. Aim to respond within around 24 hours.
- Regular attendance & participation at club meetings. This includes giving lots of speeches – take advantage of opportunities to practice!
- Pay your club dues on time. It happens every six months.
We all get back what we put into our club. We are all in this together.
Toastmasters is such a fantastic opportunity. Challenge yourself! Where else can you safely practice and learn:
- evaluation skills
- impromptu speaking
- even patience!
And with such friendly and kindhearted people!
If I’ve come this far in two years, I am excited about how much more I’ll learn in the years to come. Let’s all continue learning and growing together.
Renew your commitment to improving your communication and leadership skills. And, like me, next time you’re asked to give a speech or a wedding toast, you will be ready! I hope that you’ll join me in continuing on this adventure.
Written by Cathy Sewell, Redwood Ramblers