Toastmaster Success Story: My First Unplanned “Toast”

Today, I attended a retirement lunch for a colleague who has helped me tremendously over the last five years. After the initial formalities and awards, the host opened the floor to comments from the11717619ad12dc4901d44f979c82023b--faces.jpg audience. 

After the fifth person spoke, I mustered up enough courage to participate. I power walked to the front of the room so as not to change my mind, told a story about how we met and how much he helped me over the years. 

In true Toastmasters style, I managed to avoid all ahs, ums and filler words. I even had the room laughing at one point, I made eye contact with everyone in the room, and used gestures. My Toastmasters club would be so proud!

I was thrilled that I found the confidence to publicly explain how much someone meant to me, instead of hiding in the corner wishing I had said something.

This was a huge confidence booster for me! Never in a million years would I have given a “toast” before joining Toastmasters two months ago. If I had, it would have been thoroughly rehearsed and I would have stressed about it for days or weeks beforehand. The table topics sessions are clearly working! 

I share this small success story as proof that Toastmasters does in fact work. If Toastmasters can help a person like me, who has avoided public speaking for the better part of 30 years, it can do the same for you.

I challenge you to visit your local Toastmasters Club and consider joining. You won’t regret it! You might even discover a new and improved YOU!

Once you visit a club, let me know what you thought. I would love to know!

Cheers!

Five Tips for New and Aspiring Toastmasters

The last few weeks have been exceptionally busy with the kids going back to school and sports/dance starting up again. Finding the time to blog has been a challenge. The one thing I have not stopped is my weekly Toastmasters meeting. Since I last wrote on 22 August 2018, I have given my Ice Breaker speech and served as the Toastmaster, or lead for the overall meeting.

I learned five valuable lessons since becoming an official Toastmaster that I hope will help new or aspiring Toastmasters.

  1. Be prepared. Prepare for your Toastmaster’s role several days in advance of the meeting. There is no shortage of resources to help you. Start by asking your club’s officers for guidance. They are more than willing to help point you in the right direction, answer questions and explain the club’s protocol. In addition, there are plenty of videos, tutorials, and sample scripts you can reference from various clubs on YouTube and the Toastmasters site.
  2. Volunteer for all of your club’s roles. Our Vice President of Education assigns us roles with increasing responsibility. New members start with the Ah-Counter role and then progressively fill more challenging roles like the Timer, Grammarian, Table Topics Master, and Toastmaster, in that order. Once you have given 3 speeches, you can serve as a speech evaluator for someone else. If your club does not assign roles and simply takes volunteers, consider following the same path. Before you know it, you will be comfortable filling all roles which will help when a person is absent and the Toastmaster of the Day needs to call on you to fill a role.
  3. Participate in every table topics session. Our club is small so we all participate in the table topic session no matter what role we are filling or if we gave a speech that day. This portion of the meeting is led by the Table Topics Master who gives you a topic, quote, question or image after which you talk about it for up to 2 minutes with no preparation. This portion of the meeting helps you think on your feet and forces you to share your ideas or argument in a logical manner. To give you an idea, my table topic question for today was, “Why should we celebrate green lights?” I used to be so nervous for table topics yet the more I do them, the easier they get. If you want to quickly improve your public speaking skills, always participate in table topics.
  4. Prioritize your speeches. Talk to your Vice President of Education about prescheduling your future speeches so that you are forced to stay on track. I pre-scheduled mine every four weeks which gives me one to two weeks to research and write the speech and another two weeks to practice it.
  5. Attend every meeting. If you allow yourself to miss a meeting, especially when you first start out, you will be even more nervous when you go back. Set yourself up for success and show up.

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When I leave my weekly Toastmasters meeting, I find that I am more confident. I have begun starting conversations with people I don’t know and have assumed roles outside of the club that I would have shied away from previously. This change is after 5 weeks of being an official member. Imagine the difference six months or a year of toastmaster meetings will make!

I have been so inspired by Toastmasters that I established some new goals. I plan to become a club officer, give a speech every four weeks, and participate in a Toastmasters competition. I can’t say enough good things about Toastmasters! I feel like I am finally breaking out of my introverted shell. If I can do it, you can too!

Don’t let the fear of public speaking hold you back from what you were meant to do in life. Take control of that fear and shape it into something meaningful.

If you have a dream, start now! Carpe diem!

If you have a dream, start now.

If you can’t start now, start tomorrow.

Don’t put off your dreams any longer. Time will pass anyway. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish in one month.

Since my last blog post, I have attended four Toastmaster meetings as an official Toastmaster and two additional meetings as a guest. I filled the role of Ah-Counter, Grammarian, Timer, Table Topics master and volunteered to do several table topics. I am giving my Ice Breaker speech next week and scheduled my second speech at the end of September.

I also completed the Toastmaster’s questionnaire to see which path is most closely aligned with my interests, strengths, and weaknesses. It recommended the leadership path so that is the one I chose.

In four weeks, I have already noticed a difference. My fear of public speaking seems to be subsiding. I no longer feel overwhelmingly nervous, get headaches, or race to the restroom before Toastmaster meetings.

Every week, I look forward to Toastmasters! The club’s members are incredibly amusing, witty and creative. I am continually in awe of their public speaking skills and look forward to speaking more like them in the future.

In addition, I finished reading two books on success by Dani Johnson and finished the book “Everyday Greatness”.

Challenge yourself to do something you have always wanted to do.

Take one small step toward your dreams today!

What small step will you take today?

 

Good Things Take Time; Never Give Up!

On a daily basis, the two things I consistently do are play the piano and run for my 365-one-mile-per-day challenge. Every so often, I have a breakthrough or two that keeps me motivated. Today was one of those days!

Breakthrough No. 1: Push yourself slightly more than normal

On 23 June 2018, I challenged myself to run two miles every day for 30 days, as opposed to one mile per day. Everything was going well until the July 4th 5k race. I felt great during the race; however, the next day, my legs felt like lead weights with every step especially when I ran. I started dreading my daily runs because I hurt so much and they were taking much longer because I was sore. Even after the soreness went away, I still didn’t want to run which was making my daily runs seem like a chore.

I knew something had to change. Today, I decided to stop complaining and increased the speed on the treadmill which put me in the 9-minute per mile range. Before I knew it, the run was over. I actually felt better running faster. Surprise! Surprise!

Push yourself just a little more than normal. You might be surprised by the outcome. 

Breakthrough No. 2: Never give up! Keep trying!

For the last six weeks, I have been trying to learn Mozart’s Sonata K545. This is my first Sonata so it is most definitely a challenge. There is a section in the piece that my brain and fingers have not been able to master. I tried for weeks to figure it out and get the timing right throughout the piece to no avail.

Today, I finally managed to play through the challenging section and significantly improved the timing. It was as if my mind finally clicked.

Never give up on a goal. Keep on trying even if your progress seems minimal at first. 

I wish you all the best with your goals and dreams!

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Facing Rejection While Chasing Your Dreams

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On Friday afternoon, Tim Grahl’s newly published book Running Down a Dream arrived. It was still warm from the printing press. It is that new!

I eagerly opened the package, flipped to the first page, and started reading. I finished it three hours later. It was that good!

Tim shares 20 practical tools that helped him while running down his dream. I didn’t think I would need his toolkit quite so soon. Was I ever wrong!

Facing Rejection

Producing and sharing creative content “in the open” via a blog, website, YouTube, Facebook, etc, is an excellent way to connect with readers and/or listeners.

Invariably, you will face rejection or criticism. It may even happen sooner than you think.

This happened to Tim. When he started sharing content on his website, he mentioned that a handful of people pounced on him. He shares a great analogy: “It was like waiting for a baby to take her first couple of steps and then immediately pushing her over. Who does that? […] Even now, thinking back to those times still makes me angry” (page 71).

How I Benefitted From Tim’s Toolkit

Four and a half years ago, I fulfilled a 20-year dream. I purchased a used, upright piano and found a great teacher. I have since upgraded to a grand piano, and continue weekly lessons.

Three months ago, I started a thread in a piano technique Facebook page encouraging members to do a 40-piece piano challenge with me. Within one year, the goal is to play 40 pieces for the purpose of improving your technique and increasing your repertoire. The post has generated hundreds of comments and numerous people are doing the challenge. The group has 20,000 followers so if you post a piece, you are opening yourself up to criticism.

A week ago, I shared my fifth piece. I couldn’t play the piece a year ago so I was excited to share my progress. I am a firm believer in celebrating life’s small wins. Over time, small wins become big wins.

Today, I received a comment I perceived as negative from a piano teacher within the group. With that first comment, I felt deflated, didn’t want to play the piano anymore, and wondered if I should even bother. It’s amazing how one negative comment can make you question your dream. The dialogue is as follows:

Feedback: I think you really need to work on strengthening those fingers as they sound very weak. The performance also has no dynamic variation whatsoever. Do you have a teacher?

My response: Thanks so much for the constructive feedback. Yes, I have a teacher who I see every week. This piece, like everything I am learning, is a work in progress.

Feedback: Did your teacher mention anything about basic technique and dynamics yet?

My response: She did. I posted this piece before she had a chance to hear it.

Reading her comments really stung. I envisioned her sneering behind her computer. I proceeded to analyze everything she wrote. Were my fingers really that weak? Last year, I couldn’t even play this piece. Now I can. Doesn’t that count for something? Did I have dynamics? I did, but sometimes they are hard to hear on a cell phone recording. Of course, I have a teacher! How rude of her to ask! Wait!! Am I that bad that it seems I don’t have a teacher? Why yes! I know about basic technique! I didn’t start lessons yesterday. My face grew red, I started to become angry, and I walked away from the piano.

I needed Tim’s help. I flipped to the toolkit at the back of the book and found two tools to help me through this situation.

Tool 9: Find the Right Kind Of Criticism

Tim advises his readers to, “ignore 99% of criticism that comes your way. My rule: I only accept criticism from people I know care about me. […] Ignore online criticism. Instead, focus on the handful of people who love you and are willing to tell you the truth” (page 198).

I decided that the only person I will accept constructive criticism from is my teacher. When I surprised her with the piece in question, we played the duet and she suggested I play it for an upcoming recital. Maybe it wasn’t so poor after all.

Tool 13: Realize You Are Supposed To Suck

Tim begins this section by saying that, “Anytime you start heaping shame and despair on yourself, step back and remember that you are still learning. Yes, you are not where you want to be, but you are on your way” (page 201).

I took Tim’s advice. Maybe I do suck at playing the piano. Even if I do, so what? I am still learning. The person commenting knows nothing about me or my progress. Besides, I am only 4.5 years into this journey. I am not planning to become a piano teacher. I am not, nor will ever be, a concert pianist. That isn’t my goal. I play for my own enjoyment and I love encouraging other adults to learn. One day, when my teacher says I am ready, I plan to become a music therapy volunteer at our local cancer treatment center.

Even though I am still bitter about the comment, I am thankful for Tim’s toolkit to help me overcome life’s hurdles. I know I will reference the book again.

Don’t let others smash your dreams with rejection or criticism. Keep those you trust close by. Keep moving forward towards your ideal life! You really can do it!

Purchase your copy of Tim’s book here!

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It’s official! I’m going back to Toastmasters…

Next Wednesday, I return to Toastmasters with the goal of finishing the Competent Communicator Manual which consists of 10 different types of presentations. Last night, I filled out the application and corresponded with our local club’s President.

Toastmasters, here I come… again!

2009

Nine years ago, I gave a particularly bad speech. It was really awful! I still cringe thinking about it.

My then boss asked me to give a briefing with two days to prepare. I was new to the topic, had not briefed in years, and was not ready to brief the material.

The night before the presentation, I had something close to a panic attack. I broke down and cried the ugliest of tears. I dreaded that briefing with every fiber of my being. I barely slept. I woke up exhausted. I drove to work in a fog.

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When I walked into the room, 20 people stared at me. Within 30 seconds, I could feel the nervousness growing inside me with every word. My face turned bright red. I started sweating profusely. My mind went blank. Silence.

My boss was sitting in the far right corner quietly watching his employee turn to mush. I asked him if he would like to take over. The visitors shifted in their seats uncomfortably. They glanced at each other wondering what was going on. Much to my dismay, he said no. I had no choice but to struggle through the briefing. I survived. Barely.

The next week, I signed up for Toastmasters. I vowed that I would never humiliate myself and my employer again. I attended a local Toastmaster’s Club every Thursday night for 6 months. Before every meeting, I doubled up on deodorant. I began counting uhs and ummmms, participated in table topics, and gave my first Ice Breaker speech. When the club changed locations, I stopped going since the new facility was too far away. With the club gone, I fell back into my old habit of avoidance. The few briefing skills I had went dormant.

2018

My All Things Great project has inspired me to try again. With a three day public speaking course under my belt as of this week, and a few briefings here and there since 2012, I am more determined than ever to finish the competent communication manual. For details on this manual, see Toastmasters Speech Series: Your Guide to the First 10 Speeches.

Toastmasters, here I come… again!

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Public Speaking Tip No. 1: Calm Your Nerves By Using the Two Second Rule

Calming your nerves before a briefing can be especially challenging if you are not an experienced briefer. A helpful tip I learned at this week’s briefing class is as follows:
  • Walk towards the podium or location where you will brief
  • Turn toward the audience, pause, and smile
  • Make eye contact with one person and internally count, one-one-thousand, two-one thousand
  • Make eye contact with a second person and internally count, one-one-thousand, two-one thousand
  • Make eye contact with a third person and internally count, one-one-thousand, two-one thousand
  • Start your presentation

There were six people in our class. We all thought this nerve-calming technique felt forced and awkward. Yet, as we got used to it, we found that it really helped reduce the effects of nervous energy.

It also forces the audience to focus on you because they are waiting to hear what you have to say.

The 2017 World Toastmaster champion, Manoj Vasudevan, used this exact technique quite effectively. If you watch him, he follows the same formula that I shared above.

If a Toastmaster champion can use this technique, so can we!

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