And Now…a Toast

I answered Susan Cain’s call Tuesday night.

On her blog, QUIET: The Power of Introverts, she has the Year of Speaking Dangerously challenge. Week One’s challenge was to find two Toastmasters groups in our area and schedule visits with them. I did my search and found that there are dozens of groups in our area, but only two that meet at a time I can meet with my babysitter-less Mommy Schedule.

Week Two (this week) was to visit one or both.

I visited the closest group tonight.

It was pretty cool. The people were friendly and welcoming, gentle with their criticisms. I found myself really enjoying the speeches and feeling interested in hearing more of them.

The first hour of the meeting was nuts and bolts, then a joke and a word of the day (which everyone was supposed to try to use in their speeches. Today’s was “epitome”) and a poem or inspirational quote, then three speeches, then evaluations of those speeches. The second hour was Table Topics. The Table Topic Master presents a topic and calls on someone to give a 1- to 3-minute speech about it. The speaker also has the option to completely ignore the topic and talk about whatever they want. Ten people spoke tonight. And I was one of them.

They don’t require guests to take a Table Topic, and I considered not doing it. But I wanted to get the fullest experience possible, and these folks seemed like a gentle enough crowd, I decided to go for it.

My topic: How do you network and interact with your coworkers socially without letting it get out of hand and distract you from your work?

As I generally do when I’m nervous, I went for comedy. And to my relief, it worked (although I think this was a pretty easy crowd).

I talked about how my current coworkers are much more demanding than the ones I’ve had in the past. How they’re actually kind of whiney and they nag a lot. They’re always saying, “Mommy, can you wipe my bottom?” and “Mommy, I’m hungry. Can I have a cracker?” and “No, not that cracker! I want a peanut butter cracker!” I concluded by saying that in my line of work, it’s easy to interact with my coworkers and that in order not to, I need to leave them and do things like going to Toastmasters meetings.

It took me 1 minute and 9 seconds.

I was shaking the whole time, which always leads me to gesture more vigorously and speak more loudly. It’s not a conscious choice, but I think it’s practical as it hides the trembling and makes my normally quiet voice more easily heard at the back of the room. And of course, it’s more funny.

My husband asked me if there was anything I didn’t like about the meeting.

Really, the only thing I didn’t like about it was that it was nerve-wracking. I worry that I will jump in and get all enthusiastic, but after a few weeks, the discomfort of being, well, outside my comfort zone every week will lead me to drop the group and never go back. Like I did with Aikido.

They’ve got things set up pretty well to prevent that kind of silent attrition, it seems. Members take on small group jobs for each meeting, like presenting the word of the day or telling the joke or keeping time or tallying each “Ah” and “Um”. And you’re never required to speak. Some members speak at every meeting, others remain silent at meetings for months before they speak.

They also have a set progression of speeches designed to practice specific speaking skills, and a handbook that accompanies the process. This level of organization is comforting to me.

But is it enough to carry me through those terrifying intervening days when not going back is a very real option?

9 Replies to “And Now…a Toast”

  1. Hey I hope you continue Toastmasters and continue to blog about it! I recently joined back in June, and think it’s going to be a great experience for me. It is a little draining knowing that every Wednesday night I have this commitment to go and put myself out of my comfort zone and do table topics or another speech, but I think I just have to keep chugging along. I’ve had some good experiences, and I think blogging about it has definitely helped me keep on track and persevere with it. I think if I allow myself to surrender security for a while that it will eventually become easier and will be something that doesn’t really make me nervous anymore.

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    1. Thanks, Brittany. I like that…”surrender security.” Last night, the General Evaluator commented that no one had ever died from giving a table topic. What’s the risk, right? Well, rejection, people laughing at me rather than with me, people calling me out for being an idiot or something equally unappealing. But why would anyone in this group do that? They’re as dependent on me to improve their speaking as I am on them. I’m glad I’ve hooked into this challenge, though. I’m already finding it helpful to read comments from people who’ve been there.

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      1. Yeah you’re right, even though Table Topics is really nerve-racking, even if you totally make a fool of yourself up there everyone is still going to reassure you that you did fine and they won’t judge you or anything. I try to remind myself that too, because sometimes I just have no idea what I’m going to say up there and have no idea how I’m going to do it. 🙂

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  2. Don’t you think you’ve done the hard part already? You showed up and you spoke at your first meeting — that’s great! From my experience, it does get easier to talk to a group of people that you know. So as you get to know your Toastmasters group, you’ll become more comfortable with public speaking.

    And you blogged about it. Although it hasn’t always worked for me, when I throw something out there to the world through my blog, I kind of feel obligated to follow through on it!

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    1. Thanks, Susan. You’d think that once the initial shock wore off, I’d feel more and more comfortable, like jumping into a cool swimming pool and gradually getting used to the water temperature (I seem to be really into similes today). But the Aikido experience makes me hesitant. I really enjoyed Aikido, but it didn’t get less uncomfortable, and it was easy to think of reasons to stop going. I think that there’s the initial energy barrier and fear that keeps me from trying something new, but that’s actually helpful for me, I think, when I actually make the leap. The terror takes over and I hardly feel like I’m there at all, really. But as I get less scared, the other discomforts show up more strongly, and I don’t have the adrenaline rush to get me through anymore and give me that amnesia. Then the doubts creep in, and that’s no fun at all.

      As far as the blog goes, I just kept mum about Aikido once I stopped going. Having commented about it on Susan’s blog might be more of a push to keep going than just having it on my blog. I guess I’ll see!

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  3. Kudos! You’re a brave woman. I would have loved doing this in my 20s. Now, I’m too curmudgeon-y, I suppose. I know I would probably get into it after awhile, but I don’t think I want to brave the initial discomfort like you did.

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    1. I’ve always been a bruise-poker. I guess I just like to get to the edge of my comfort zone and see how far I can push myself beyond it. But then I get scared and run away, like my one cat when he approaches the doorway of the hotel room. He steps slowly to the threshold and peers out, nose twitching with curiosity. But then he passes some barrier apparent only to himself and rushes back inside and hides under the desk.

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