A Toast To Toastmasters

Standing naked, before people…

nekkidQuite often, that’s how people dream of public speaking, or rather, the nightmare that people have about it. Toastmasters is the tonic for that problem. I’ve been a member of Toastmasters since November, 2010. My life, at that point, wasn’t going in the greatest direction. I took up with Toastmasters, almost on a lark. I saw an ad on Craigslist that said, “Would you like to learn to speak? Come to us, we’re Toastmasters.” Since my life was in a shambles and I didn’t have a lot going on at the time I thought I’d go on over and check things out. Now, here I am, starting on my fifth year of being a Toastmaster.

Every year, Toastmasters has what is called its International Speech Contest. It’s where people from all over the world compete. Literally tens of thousands of people compete. The field, ultimately, gets narrowed down to just one person, who is crowned the World Champion of Public Speaking. It is a great and wonderful accomplishment in one’s life — to have this award. I am not so sure that the reward comes with the award, or with the fact that one must look inward, throughout the entire process of the competition. Ok, ok… at least I look inward, during the competition. I’ve competed in two of the competitions over the last three years, making it to the district level, each time. I’ve never done anything more nerve-wracking than to compete in these.

Why does one compete? Is it simply to win? Does one have something that one must tell to the world, and the competition is one way of doing it? How truthful, how honest are the words that one speaks in these things?

This all came to me this morning as I was practicing my latest contest entry that I will be presenting for the first time, at the club level, on Friday, Jan. 30th. There is a line toward the end of the talk where I tell the audience that one of the things that I have gotten from standing up before an audience is the ability to face the fear of… self (Not the fear of public speaking, as some might guess).

For me, every talk that I give comes from somewhere deep inside of me. Often, it is a soul-searching process with what I want to share with my audience. It actually makes giving the speech quite a bit easier. I’ve been told that it takes some good amount of courage to say the things that I’ve said. I don’t know, though, as what I have to say is very important for me, so that seems to lessen the need for courage to put the speech together. This soul-searching is what I wanted to write about in this article.

A Toast!

For those about to talk, we salute you!

Often, if you find someone who is a member of Toastmasters and ask them why they get up in front of crowds to share their thoughts, they might tell you that to do so is a form of therapy that they really can’t get anyplace else. I can speak to this firsthand. It’s a chance to share with a “captive” audience. It’s also a chance to have great evaluations take place of your presentation skills. I get a chance to grow at both ends of that thought, but the greatest growth for me comes from my time alone, as I’m stringing thoughts together. The general idea of the speech comes. The speech gets broken down into supporting ideas. These supporting ideas are broken down into individual sentences. Specific words have to be used. All of this is where the soul searching comes in at. What is the general idea I want to share? How do I break it down into digestible parts for my audience? How do I highlight the finer points of the sentences I use with specific words? It’s kind of funny, because at each level, along the way, I’ll change my mind a great number of times, bringing the speech more into line with exactly what it is that I want to share. At the word level, sometimes the spirit of the word simply doesn’t match. I’ll switch out the words, several times, in order for the thought to be shaped exactly as I want it. The effects of all of this can be very powerful… very dramatic… in the end. The more important thought that I have come to see, though, is not how the speech will have an impact with my audience, but what is the presentation saying about my own soul? Is it something I want to share? How deeply do I care to go?

I might ask that same thing of you. If you were put into a situation of crafting your own speech, how would knowing your mind benefit you? Do you know your mind as well as you think you do? You might be surprised if you haven’t ever put a speech together and stand before a crowd to deliver it. Getting this gift is one of many things that a person can get from joining and taking part in a Toastmasters club. There’s networking to be done, friends to be made, hearts to be seen, obstacles to overcome, and things to understand. The environment of Toastmasters is unique, and it has been developed to help bring out the best in people. I’ve seen its work on countless occasions. I’ve felt and seen the improvement in my own life, as well. The introspection that I’ve done has helped me to see things about myself that I would not have otherwise known or understood. If you were to join a club, I am most sure that you would see some sort of similar occurrence in your life as well. I’m not selling Toastmasters. I am simply stating a fact.

So, with all of this said, I raise my glass (thermal cup of coffee) to all of the Toastmasters who are going to be competing in this year’s International Speech Contest. It is my hope that through the presentation of their own speeches, and listening to those of others, that they will come to understand themselves and their environment a bit better. This type of understanding makes their own worlds a little bit better, and there will, most undoubtedly, be some collateral splatter that will affect those around them.

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