I have a B.A. in Communication, but I wanted to expand my knowledge of presentations. I became a member of Toastmasters International for five years. This organization has been around for ninety-eight years with the sole purpose of helping people with their speaking skills. You can find a club pretty much all over the world. I was fortunate enough to find a great group in Manhattan that was supportive, encouraging, and above all, non-judgemental. Most of the people that joined were hoping to get rid of their fear of public speaking. What I learned was that the butterflies will be there no matter what. It's more about your mindset when that nervousness kicks in. Are you prepared? Did you practice in front of other people and get feedback? Are you sure you won't go over the allotted time? Does your story have a beginning, a middle, and an end?
Being in a safe environment where everyone is there to help each other creates an atmosphere of acceptance. The truth is that most audiences are rooting for you to succeed. I believe we build up anxiety in our heads and worry that we'll make ridiculous mistakes. Is there the possibility that your speech won't go over as well as you hoped? Of course, but you got up and gave it your best. The next time you do it, you'll be better. The myth that great speakers are natural orators is just that, a myth. Most people work hard to deliver their message to come across as conversational and informative.
I almost had myself convinced I was doomed to a life in the background because of the paralysis I felt in front of people. Speaking in public may seem daunting because it is. Anytime we put ourselves out there for everyone to see and judge us, it's a challenging prospect but not impossible. Learning anything new takes time, energy, and practice. I still feel my heart beat fast and my chest tightens up before taking the stage, but I've learned to trust that I've done my homework. I check to ensure my posture is confident, with my head lifted, shoulders back, and smiling. It's incredible how quickly I'll switch from feeling nervous to excited.
I believe our communication skills are essential in having our message heard and finding our voice to do it. Joining Toastmasters not only helped develop my presentations, but I made lifelong friends. It's where I met my business partner, Michele Marshall, and now we have our own speaking coach business Authentic Voice LLC. We draw from our different experiences and perspectives to quickly hone in on what someone needs to strengthen their lectures, staff training, or sales pitches.