Over-coming my fears: Joining Toastmasters


In a previous post I urged people to practice what they preach.  I realize doing so is not always easy and may take some commitment. So I decided its time to do just that.  Everybody that knows me would know that I have many things to say about presentations, especially about people that cause “Death by Powerpoint”. Yet everybody that has ever listened to me would probably debate whether I have the right to talk about presentations… OK, I don’t think I am the worst speaker that exists, but I am certainly not the world’s leading practitioner as far as speaking is concerned. So the question is how to get better?

Enter Toastmasters. The tagline of Toastmasters spells it goals out very clearly: “Become the Speaker & Leader You Want to Be”.  So some weeks ago, in reading a bit about Toastmasters, I found a brand new blog of the Algoa Toastmasters Club in Port Elizabeth and decided that I’ll take up their offer of visiting the club.  Cold calling on anything is not really my thing, but I overcame that fear, and went. This turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. The club members certainly were friendly and did their best to make the visitors feel comfortable and welcome – they succeeded with flying colors. I was impressed with the speeches, the feedback, the general atmosphere, but I was terrified of the Table Topics.  Table Topics involves the “Topicmaster” giving a general topic, each member drawing a specific sub-topic and then deliver a one-minute impromptu speech. You are only allowed one minute to prepare, i.e. you can only open your drawn sub-topic when the person before you speak.

Now I am all big mouth about overcoming your fears, and I indeed managed it a couple of times in the past, but I certainly do not make a habit of it.  Turns out that I am scared of talking in front of non-IT people.  I feel very comfortable speaking to other IT people, doing IT-related lectures, but small talk and non-IT topics have never been my forte. So I am thinking, no maybe this is not for me…

However, I enjoyed the atmosphere, the talks, the company and decided I will attend the next meeting.  Again same thing: enjoyed it tremendously, but did not think Table Topics and me would quite gel. I started thinking, however, that maybe learning from the prepared speeches may help, and maybe its still worth the effort. So I commit to going again to the next meeting…

Between meeting two and three (which had their AGM and my holiday in between) I’ve been thinking a lot, and I’ve been contemplating life in general quite a lot (see some of my posts: “Having a clear vision?“, “A professor’s job“, “Investing time“) and realized that comfort zones are there to be challenged, not enjoyed. Passivity seldom, if ever, is better and more rewarding than activity. So I made a conscious decision to address my fears, go to Toastmasters and try out the Table Topics.

So at my third meeting (and I was already starting to feel like family) I decided to Table Topics a bash. Turns out that I have to motivate why kite flying should become an Olympic Sport, especially if South Africa gets the 2010 bid. OMG! I fail to remember exactly what I said, but I do remember that I became rather picturesque in my description of South African skies and that I used my rather non-athletic physique somewhere in there, but the rest were suitably dissolved by angst… Big was my surprise when I was voted best Table topics speech of the night… I immediate learned something of myself: maybe I can after all make small talk… So value already gained, I promptly joined Toastmasters.

Last night I was officially inducted as a member of the Algoa Toastmasters Club.  The meeting itself was as enjoyable as the others and I am looking forward to many more.  But the meeting was not without its surprises. Colleen awarded me the Top Toastie Award for the evening, claiming my courageous handling of Table Topics the reason. Colleen, you have no idea… So how did Table Topics go. Well, I had to explain why I took knitting needles as my preferred “take-with” when jumping off a sinking ship… I tried making a convincing argument: firstly, it is spear-like, so I could kill some animals for food; secondly, I could then use it to make some sosaties (kebabs), while, thirdly, if everything else fail I would demonstrate my feminine side to the ladies (who apparently like men with a feminine side) and possibly at least guarantee me a good time 🙂 Turns out I was very convincing, or entertaining at least, and yet again I was awarded top honor for Table Topics.

Now there you have it, turns out my biggest fear can possible be turned into a strong point. Who could have tell.

However, Toastmasters seem to be reading my fears exactly as they convinced me to partake in a humorous speaking contest.  Now there’s a challenge for a serious bloke like me… But in the true spirit of confronting one’s fears, I will take up the challenge…  How do they say: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread…

But how about you? What fears do you have to overcome…

If that’s public speaking, why not join me in joining Toastmasters?

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2 Responses to Over-coming my fears: Joining Toastmasters

  1. Tom Horne says:

    Reinhardt. This is amazing – I didn’t know you had a blog, much less that you had described Toastmasters at the Algoa Club so well and with obvious enthusiasm. As a fellow member of yours in the club, I can tell your readers that you indeed accepted many challenges , including completing the 10 project training manual in the 10 meetings you were able to attend during the 10 months you had been a member.
    We were also priviledged to have you delivering an Educational speech on Effective Presentations to a NON – IT uadience on the Speechcraft programme
    Well done and we llok forwrd to hearing more from you as you accept the challenge of the Advanced Communicators traing manual
    Tom Horne July 2011

    • rabotha says:

      Tom, thanks for stopping by. I thoroughly enjoy the Toastmasters experience. I find Algoa Toastmasters extremely friendly, welcoming and supportive. Doing something at Speechcraft is but one of the ways I can plough back some of the value I get from Toastmasters. Looking forward to many future meetings – both as speaker and in the other roles; time, however, seems to be problematic with some out-of-town commitments interfering with my availability. R

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