The following is part of a series of reflections that I felt compelled to write near the end of 2020. This specific post is centered on my experience and perspective on the Toastmasters speech development group.
I am rather comfortable with speaking and leading teams where the members of the group are motivated and invested in realizing a common goal. This has been recurrently evident through many experiences including those with Boy Scouts, the CZ Biohub bioengineering team, and the CLIAHub COVID-19 testing crew. However, this comfort falls by the wayside when I am aware that I am presenting in order to be evaluated. As I described in my Toastmaster ice breaker, paralyzing anxiety courses through my body and I lose the ability to function.
It’s a problem.
I believe that this primal fear will always exist and that finding methods to manage it are far more beneficial than leaving it unmanaged. I joined Toastmasters with the intention of developing these anxiety management skills and it quickly became evident that the platform could help me address the issue given that I would have to give speeches and be evaluated on them by a group of peers. In addition, to foster personal development, the organization provides a set of different paths where different individuals can focus on different aspects of speech including motivational or analytical formats. The ranking up aspects of the platform reminded me of Boy Scouts where you are presented with a set of challenges and how far you go is determined by your will to be better.
In addition to the structure of the organization seemed to be well thought out, the community was also an important factor. The people in the group that I worked with were really quite likable. While everyone there sat at different levels of proficiency, they all understood that each of them could improve their ability to speak. This resulted in a group that was both friendly and supportive while being able to offer thoughtful critique to others on their path to improvement. I had not realized it at the time, but many of the members were just normal people. Having spent many years only facing with academics, scientists and engineers, it was refreshing to interact with others who had different backgrounds and ambitions.
Despite the great environment and people, my membership lapsed and I ultimately did not renew after my brief 6 months to 1 year of membership.
Why did I not renew?
Well, I believe that I was in the midst of my 28 day stint in the CLIAHub boot-up flurry and it was just bad timing.
So, why won’t I renew then?
I am not totally certain, but I believe it comes down to my ability to progress. In Boy Scouts I was able to go at my own pace and achieve rank after rank until I hit Eagle at age 14. With Toastmasters, it took about six months of participation before I could deliver a prepared speech. I did enjoy the opportunity to give short unprepared speeches on occasion and it is clear that I need work in that department as well, but preparing myself and being evaluated is a separate challenge altogether. The reliable member base of the organization was just enough to keep weekly meetings going and it seemed like there weren’t enough resources to share the podium with more members each week. This was complicated by the fact that COVID-19 forced all the meetings to be virtual, which is less interesting to me. Body language is a struggle and it cannot be conveyed as effectively across a computer screen. I may return at a later time, but I’ll be sticking with my “Speak like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln” book for now and practice through my coursework.
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