How Toastmasters Helped Me Overcome My Anxiety to Perform Better at Work

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.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash







My new standard of success

Timing and coincidence are funny things. I wonder if I had taken an alternative summer school paper, or left that book behind at the library, how my mindset going into 2018 would be different.

The teamwork and leadership paper I recently completed explores this idea of “critical reflexivity”, the action of reflecting on and coming to an understanding of your reflex responses to situations. I liken it to a small child, full of curiosity and wonder, asking “why, why, why” until finally you reach the root answer.

For me, this experience led to understanding my dependence on external recognition to validate my self-worth (I know, deep). Therefore, my self-confidence is shaken in absence of praise or a pat on the back. Worse still, I actively avoid criticism with what can be perceived as perfectionist tendencies.

The answers I needed were found in Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive”. I picked this up last minute when perusing the library for Ivanka Trump’s “Women who Work”. I had heard of Arianna Huffington as a successful business woman, the founder of Huffington Post, and thought it would be interesting to skim through over the holiday break.

Arianna is wealthy, and powerful, the two metrics that our modern culture define success by. In her book Arianna discusses, through her experiences, the third metric of success critical to happiness, the things less recognised by the success scrutineers.

She talks about the power of well-being, our physical and mental health. She talks about wisdom and wonder, the creativity and gratitude inspired by marvelling at art, nature and the activity going on around us. She talks about giving, not just money, but time, and how deeply satisfying it is to do something for someone else by simply being kind, generous with our time and reserving judgement.

I recorded a quote from the book that struck a chord with me.

“If we are unduly absorbed in improving our lives, we may forget altogether to live them”.

For so long, I have been chasing the next thing, when we were engaged, it was marriage. When we were married, it was a child. Bigger fitness challenges and levelling up in my career.

Arianna’s words and the self-discovery process of practising critical reflexivity were a timely reminder to disconnect from the things that no longer serve my soul.

I was inspired to create a vision board for 2018. A significant theme on this is unplugging, taking time to notice more and being OK with not being on the go all the time. To give up the title of “active relaxer” that I have worn as a badge of honour since the time Dad pointed out I was never able to sit still!

As a start, for the last week I have resisted sleeping with my phone by the bed and made a commitment to only check it in the morning after I have completed the morning home maker routine, settled Everly, had my breakfast followed by a cup of tea and spent some time recording 3 things I am grateful for.

I have experienced a sense of calm and clarity in this process, my day doesn’t begin with reacting to whatever I read on Facebook or responding to messages received late at night. My brain switches off more easily between tending to Everly overnight as my mind isn’t hijacked by social media apps.

I am redefining success by my own standards and it feels bloody good.

Want to learn more about the Third Metric of Success? Check out or have a listen to the Thrive Global podcast. I most recently enjoyed Arianna’s interview with Brandon Stanton, the guy who could be any one of us behind the deeply moving sensation that is Humans of New York.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash