Come back to 1986 and meet my good friend: Shy Wallflower. Wallflower was so terrified of public speaking, he couldn't even stand before 2-3 people and lead a silent prayer! He noticed a poster advertising something called a "Speechcraft" - an 8 week public speaking class taught by a Toastmasters Club. The poster claimed that even Wallflower could overcome his fears and become a competent speaker. Yeah, right, like that could ever happen! Still, public speaking was an important part of the future Wallflower craved. Could this help? Wallflower took a deep breath, took a big step forward, and signed up for the course.
The first week was orientation, the very next week Wallflower had to give a speech - something called an "Icebreaker". Were these people nuts?? You should have been there! Wallflower was the "poster boy for public embarassment", he was pitiful! He sweat buckets, every muscle trembled, he spoke so fast nobody could understand him. But, Wallflower did survive the experience. This being a Toastmasters function, Wallflower had been assigned an evaluator. Later that meeting, much to Wallflowers surprise and disbelief, his evaluator actually pointed out some things that Wallflower already did quite well. And, as expected, some areas for improvement -- like slowing down, so the rest of us could understand him.
This being a Speechcraft, Wallflower had to give a speech the very next week, and the next, and the next. Every single week Wallflower had to give a speech! There wasn't time to get scared, Wallflower had to scramble to come up with material. With each speech it got a little bit easier, Wallflower's skills grew just a little bit stronger. Because of that, his fears diminished ever so slightly. By the end of the course Wallflower had progressed so far that when the hosting Toastmasters invited the Speechcrafters to join their club, Wallflower eagerly seized the opportunity! Wallflower wanted more.
About a month later Wallflower's club was asked to present a demonstration meeting to a group of National Guardsmen who thought they might want their own Toastmasters Club. Wallflower was invited to present his Icebreaker again. I wish you could have been there. Wallflower spoke first. The second speaker was distinguished Toastmaster, accredited speaker, past International Director of Toastmasters International Frank Slane, DTM - one of the best speakers I've ever heard. As best we could tell it was intended to be a study in contrasts -- Wallflower the "before", Frank the "after" -- from such humble beginnings look how far you can progress!
Wallflower stayed with that group, helping them start their club, and eventually joining. So, now Wallflower was in two Toastmasters clubs, having to do two things every week. Double your progress, and double your fun.
Later that year Wallflower's club announced they would conduct a speech contest. He knew he had no chance of winning but, it did sound like fun. Lord knows, Wallflower had plenty of challenges over the past few months; what's one more? Wallflower signed up. Imagine his horror when he learned he would be competing against his mentor – an advanced Toastmaster with YEARS of experience. No way could Wallflower EVER be as good as him!!
Wallflower wrote the best speech he could come up with, practiced it relentlessly. On the day of the contest a funny thing happened: He WON!! He beat his mentor. He went on to win the Area Contest, beating experienced speakers from other clubs. Can you imagine what that must have done to his confidence? Within a year Wallflower was routinely winning contests at the club and Area levels of competition and placing second at Division.
Somewhere along the way Wallflower caught the attention of an experienced Toastmaster from an advanced club named "Challenge". Challenge membership was by invitation only. Members were professional speakers and those who wanted to be, also past and present district officers, past International Directors, and other dignitaries. Challenge members gave 45-60 minute presentations and were evaluated by the entire club membership. A typical Challenge speech evaluation lasted 20-40 minutes and these were the "best of the best" evaluating the very best, they didn't "pull their punches". Members used to jokingly call those sessions the "bloodlettings". There was no way Wallflower could "hang with that crowd"!! But, they did invite Wallflower to audition. Why not; with Toastmasters, challenges had become the norm, what's one more? Wallflower auditioned and to his utter amazement he was invited to join!! The chance to learn from the masters, he couldn't pass up that opportunity!
Around that time Wallflower also joined another specialty club that focused on humor - what it is, how it works, how to create it, how to perform it. So, now Wallflower was in four Toastmasters clubs!!
One of the presentations Wallflower gave at the Challenge club caught the attention of somebody important because Wallflower was invited to present it again at the 1989 Toastmasters Region III conference, to an audience of about 150 people from 9 states. He was absolutely comfortable doing so, he and they had a blast! Written feedback Wallflower received said it was, by far, the best presentation most had ever seen on that subject. This from someone who just three short years before couldn't even lead a silent prayer! My god how far he'd come!!
If you haven't guessed by now, ... I am Shy Wallflower. At least, I was. Toastmasters membrship changed that forever! By nature I'm still a shy and private kind of guy but, put me in front of an audience and you'd never know it. Toastmasters ignited in me a passion for public speaking and helped me hone the requisite skills to do it well. For that I owe a debt of gratitude I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to repay - by coaching, mentoring, and helping others as was done for me. As is STILL done for me.
It's been said by many that if you put into Toastmasters what you get out of Toastmasters, you'll never get out of Toastmasters.
You've just heard a little bit of my journey. In the days and weeks ahead I'd can't wait to share yours!
Why not leave a comment sharing some of your speaking experiences esp. through Toastmasters?
Rick Sharon, DTM, your ToastCoach