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?