This past weekend I got out of my normal routing and attended a 3 hour meeting on Sunday night. I want to improve my public speaking skills and Toastmasters seems like a good way to get the practice and feedback I need. I’ve been thinking about going to a meeting for quite a while, I have it blocked on my calendar, it is in La Grange Park very close to Oasis, but I have a lot of excuses.
The meeting was great but before I talk about what made the meeting so good, a little background. I first heard about Toastmasters when I was working for McDonald’s. I was a project manager in the IT group and needed to give both formal and informal talks and updates to all levels of the organization. Public speaking was not something I was comfortable with and someone, probably my manager, suggested I try Toastmasters.
The meetings were at the McDonald’s campus during lunch so it seemed perfect. Convenient and the time worked. I attended my first meeting and it was okay. At the meeting I was asked to introduce myself and talk for about 5 minutes. I wasn’t prepared and the feedback was painful.
I had many excuses not to attend future meetings. Looking back on that first encounter, I think the main reason I didn’t go back to the meeting was the way the feedback was given and received. I wanted to improve my public speaking skills in a safe environment but the environment didn’t provide that for me.
These were the people I worked with and they were critiquing me on my speaking skills. Every time I spoke in a meeting would they be listening to my message or would they be evaluating my delivery and word choices?
Earlier this year I was talking to one of my colleagues in fitness and he mentioned that he was looking for a Toastmasters meeting. That night I went to a Chamber of Commerce event and met the president of the La Grange Park Toastmaster chapter. That should have been the impetus for me to check out the local Toastmaster. But I didn’t go.
Months have passed, the bi-weekly date and time are on my calendar and yet I still can’t make the meeting. So I went to the Toastmasters International web site and found a meeting in Oak Brook at a time I could attend with no excuses. I sent an e-mail to the club asking about the meeting and any specifics.
To my surprise, they were not as welcoming as I expected. Not wanting this to be the next excuse I needed, I decided to attend a meeting. Even though the club is exclusively for professional speakers and in order to be a member I’ll need to audition and be approved, I still mustered the courage to go.
I’m glad I went.
I met some accomplished speakers, some good speakers, and some newbies like me. They didn’t make me get up and speak but they did ask me to introduce myself. I gave feedback to the speakers for the evening and I chatted with others who were guests at the meeting.
Getting out of the house for a 3 hour meeting seems daunting but I’m so glad I had the energy and courage to take the first step of attending. I’m still not a member but I will at least get up in front of the group over the next few months and audition. This group had the level of professionalism, expertise, and compassion that can help me become a better speaker.