From Nervous Speaker to Competent Communicator

TTContest_PatrickB_1stI’m going to talk about a journey.

Many of you have been on the same journey but I want to try and inspire those who haven’t to hop onboard.

My journey is how I got from giving my IceBreaker to delivering my 10th speech in February this year and becoming a Competent Communicator.

It was July 2012 when I first ventured into a Toastmasters meeting.

I can remember being so nervous that I’m sure I was dripping with sweat when, at the start of the meeting, I had to tell everybody my name and answer a simple question about the London Olympics. My answer was so brief, it wasn’t much more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

I thought the Toastmaster of the Evening was so confident but I could never imagine myself running a meeting, I was just too nervous. And I was amazed by the quality of speeches.

Why did I want to visit a Toastmasters club and put myself through this, if I was so nervous?

About a year before I had gone to an interview for a job that I really wanted. I passed the first two interviews easily and there was just one last interview to go.

And that’s when I came face to face with my bête noire – I had to give a presentation.

At the interview, I managed to get the words out. In fact, I thought my presentation was okay and optimistic about getting the job.

But when the recruitment consultant contacted me a few days later, it was bad news. I hadn’t got the job because my presentation wasn’t good enough.

At that time, I hated the job I was in. A combination of rejection and my general unhappiness led me to read a few self-help books.

One book planted a seed that would grow into a mighty oak – it mentioned Toastmasters. The seed grew in my mind and about six months later, I plucked up the courage to visit Waverley Communicators.

At the meetings, I was so nervous it took me nearly six months to deliver my IceBreaker. The speech was about the worst meal I’d ever had and best meal I’d ever had – a terrible steak in Newcastle followed by amazing seafood in Cyprus the following day.

My first Table Topic remains a vivid memory. I managed two sentences and then my mind went blank, followed by an unintentional 45 second pause. It was awful. After the meeting, everybody was so kind and told me how bad their first Table Topic had been.

Slowly, over the months, as I took on different roles and gave more speeches, I became more confident and began to deliver better speeches.

My mentor Paul Bailey really helped to whip my early speeches into something resembling a shape.

The first drafts Paul saw were often rambling and stuffed with too many ideas. Slowly, I learnt that “less is more” and it was better have a single idea and elaborate on it than skim the surface of many vaguely-related ideas.

After I’d delivered six or seven Table Topics at meetings, I had a shock – I won the best Table Topic ribbon. All I remember about the speech is talking about kicking a football, which is odd because I don’t like football.

I also gave a couple of dismal speeches. The speeches themselves weren’t dismal but the subjects were about dismal things, for example, the wet and windy weather in West Lothian that makes gardening difficult and the horror of travelling on Scotrail. It was all good experience and I began to feel less nervous.

One important thing I’ve learnt along my Toastmaster journey is that practice is key.

I memorised my first two speeches. Then, as I grew more confident I found it was easier to just learn the outline of the speech and perhaps memorise the opening and closing lines but nothing else in such detail.

However, one of my later speeches about gardening had some complex transitions between sections. I tried to memorise the transitions. On the night, I was so fixated on remembering the transitions that I forgot a large chunk of the speech. But, by that time, I knew this was just a minor set back.

When I was Toastmaster of the Evening for the first time, I didn’t find it nerve wracking. In fact, I was amazed how quickly the evening went by. However, if you had told me in my first meeting back in July 2012 that one day I would be running the meeting, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I also used to be in awe of people giving speeches. I sometimes still am if it’s a really good speech. But with my Toastmasters experience, I now realise that many speeches I used to be in awe of at work were probably, in reality, truly awful.

Nowadays, I don’t worry about giving speeches. I can channel any nerves into energy and I don’t panic if something goes wrong.

Joining Toastmasters is one of the best things I’ve ever done. As well as becoming a better speaker I have made some really good friends.

If like me you are nervous about speaking, I encourage you to join.

It doesn’t matter if it’s this club or another, your life will be so much richer and you will have a great journey. So, hop on board.

Post written by Patrick Bundy, member of Waverley Communicators

Patrick went on to win the club’s Table Topics Contest and represented the club at the Area 30 contest in 2014. He has also been the club’s Secretary since 2013.

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