Early one Wednesday morning in 2011, I found myself walking up the stairs of St Andrews church to a Capital Chatterers Toastmasters meeting. I had not long started a very high-touch, customer facing job – one that I had no idea how I landed if I am completely honest! Perhaps driven by a deep rooted fear of failure, combined with stomach churning anxiety, I was led to search for mentoring and training to make at least some of that pressure go away.
I had heard of Toastmasters through the grapevine but assumed it was for highly experienced speakers who could already present well in public and people only went there to show off their skills. I also assumed that it was just for “old people”, whatever that means now!
When Toastmasters was one of Google’s suggested solutions to my problem, I thought it was worth a visit. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Peter Scholtens, one of the most enthusiastic Toastmasters I have ever met! After being made to feel beyond welcome, and after listening to a handful of speeches – some from less experienced Toastmasters than others, I felt like this was something I could do and there was no turning back.
I was surprised to learn that Toastmasters wasn’t all about speaking either. Throughout my time as a member, I have not only sharpened up the way I present, but I have learned how to give and receive constructive feedback, how to run meetings effectively and how to handle public speaking opportunities – unprepared. I have entered speaking contests and facilitated workplace presentation and leadership courses – all under the umbrella of Toastmasters.
I have attended on and off throughout the years since that first meeting, changing clubs that run to different schedules to suit my personal circumstances. Life happens, but the beauty of the programme is that it is self-paced, so I have been able to work through the series of projects in my own time. Finally, after seven years, I completed my first Toastmasters communication qualification – it’s never too late right?!
I now notice the difference within myself when I haven’t attended a meeting in a while, my anxiety before meetings and presentations increases and that all too familiar stomach churning returns. The nerves never really completely go away but they are certainly more manageable when I am practising the skills I get to exercise regularly at Toastmasters meetings.
Have you tried Toastmasters? What did you think?
If you’re interested in visiting a club near you, find a local club that suits your schedule here.