Finding Help When You Need It (Toastmasters)
While not an experienced public speaker, I led two workshops last month at the annual meeting of the Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network in Nashville.
I began the first with the comment: “I joined Toastmasters two years ago so if I got into situations like this, I wouldn’t be so terrified. . . . It’s only partially working.”
Not only did that prompt hearty laughter, it set the tone for the session.
Although the room was packed, I seemed more at ease than in a later session, with less half as many people attending.
That was a tad ironic, since beforehand I was looking forward to the second workshop more than the first.
Yet in front of a smaller crowd, I was struck by nervousness and a case of dry-mouth that resulted in draining my water glass before the need ran out.
Praise for Help
Since Toastmasters is an international organization that has been around for nearly a century, it’s not like it needs additional publicity.
Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer praise to the Huntington, West Virginia group for the help it gave me prior to my Nashville appearance.
Prior to April, I had faded away from the group for six months.
Not because I didn’t enjoy meetings or interaction with positive people. I simply got overwhelmed with work that left me little time to write speeches or participate in meetings.
Then, the former president (still active) called one afternoon to encourage me to return.
I explained one reason I couldn’t make it that night or the following meeting was my preoccupation with working on the workshops I would be leading in early May.
“Well, we’ll turn over the April 18 meeting to you and you can practice,” she replied.
After hesitating momentarily, I said, “Well, that will force me to get them ready in the next three weeks.”
In addition, she offered to help set up my PowerPoint slides. At first, I told her I would think about it.
Two days later I realized: “Duh! If you’ve got someone offering to help you do something you’re no good at, the wise thing is to accept.”
Good thing I did. I don’t know where I would have found time to design slides since I didn’t put the finishing touches to my outlines until a few days before leaving for Nashville.
I didn’t expect the practice runs to prove so helpful.
Thanks to suggestions during the discussion before the dry-run evening ended, I scrapped one illustration I had planned to use, increased the number of handouts, and refined my speaking tone and body language.
Ironically, one reason I joined Toastmasters goes back to a one-day writers workshop I led near Boston four years ago.
While chatting with one attendee after it ended, she asked how I thought it went.
“Well, I’m not used to being the only speaker on a program,” I said, admitting to being rather nervous.
She asked if I had ever heard of Toastmasters. I had; years earlier, while still single, I had met a woman who belonged and wrote a newspaper story about the group.
Riches of Support
While it took me a long time to follow up and join, I am glad I did.
To me, supportive organizations are a corollary to the church. They illustrate the same principle: we all need the help of others to make it through this life.
While Americans tend to place a premium on money and material goods as THE symbol of prosperity, I wouldn’t trade it for the help I got before speaking in Nashville.
Read more about the Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network’s annual meeting in Nashville here.