I sometimes still feel not ready. Not ready to deliver a speech, not yet ready to take up a role. I had been a sympathizer of Toastmasters for a long time. I first attended a Toastmasters club when I was studying at Warsaw University. Now and then I would appear in meetings as a guest and couldn’t mutter a word.. I saw outstanding speakers perform at their best – witty, self-confident, no stage fright – perfect. That was my impression. I did not dare to join because I was not good enough, my English was not good enough and my skills – were none – or terrible. I was waiting to become perfect, as they were. That was my strongest conviction. From today’s perspective I can clearly see I was afraid and only procrastinating things.
When I moved to Berlin for the first time, with my expanding family, a Toastmasters club was just around the corner so I decided to appear in meetings, too. I was pregnant with my first child. I’d been there twice, I spotted and remembered someone and someone else spotted and remembered me.
Even though it was nearly 14 years ago I clearly remember Claude, a witty and outspoken Canadian, answering a Table Topic question. He weaved a whole story about an ostrich that had flown into his bathtub while he had been having a bath. It was hilarious. I was so impressed by his skills and relished the story so much. When I joined the very same club 5 years ago, on my return to Berlin, I told him about the ostrich but he didn’t remember. „I must have answered thousands of Table Topics questions during the last 19 years”, he replied. Probably so.
Benjamin, a Distinguished Toastmaster today, was in his first meeting when a woman sitting next to him suggested that not only guests, but also members should introduce themselves. It was not in the agenda. And guess what? They changed the agenda and every member introduced themselves. The woman who challenged the agenda failed to appear again. But Benjamin kept on coming, earning with time a well-deserved title – Distinguished Toastmaster. That woman was me. Benjamin still remembers me voicing my idea.
Now, when I think about it, I realize I should have joined the club when I was studying or at least 16 years ago. As the Chinese proverb goes : „The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”. So I joined.
It wasn’t easy though. As a procrastinator by nature, I was considering joining the club in the future, when I am „ready” and told Claude in passing I was thinking about joining. As Claude is a man of action, he sent me directly to Doris, the then VP Education and frankly speaking, I had no way out. I got Pascal as my mentor, my Toastmaster pin and -it was official – I became a member. They actually lured me into First Berlin and the universe conspired.
Man, it was scary! Soon I was supposed to give my ice breaker and I felt very uneasy about it. But what are mentors for? As the motto of the First Berlin Toastmasters club is „We support you succeed”, with the help of my mentor my ice breaker was voted the best speech of the meeting and I got a „Best speaker” ribbon. I was astonished. I felt so grateful to all the people who led me to my little success, and my deepest wish was to show that appreciation I wanted to say “thank you” for the supportive atmosphere, care and attention to me – a shy procrastinator. I can still remember focused, smiling faces when I was delivering my second speech „Words of appreciation”. They deserved it. They deserved every single word of appreciation for enabling me to feel safe and good – simply to blossom. To cut a long story short, my first 3 speeches in a row won contests for the best speech. Every time I was given a „Best Speaker” ribbon, I knew that they supported so I succeeded. Now it helps me stay humble and keep the right perspective.
Soon after I started delivering speeches, I took part in a Humorous Speech Contest. My mentor, Pascal, asked me to write a regular speech for a meeting that was to be in 2 week’s time. For me, the most difficult and time-consuming part of writing is coming up with an idea for a speech. Finding a subject is a long, tedious process, and then my mind is usually blank. But surprisingly, this time, I came home after a meeting, sat down and …wondered – what exactly it is in Toastmasters that despite of all the stress, people keep coming. I started collecting ideas on the spot and wrote a first draft. After re-writing and polishing it with help of a couple of more experienced Toastmasters, my speech „Why should you do it” went as far as to the Division level and… I was competing against my mentor!. I couldn’t believe it. And I must say, I got hooked. I can see contests not only as „learn and grow” part but also lots of fun and good company. And what if Pascal hadn’t made me write that speech…?
One year later, I was finishing Competent Communicator, a basic Toastmaster manual and going through my Competent Leadership manual. Even though I enjoyed my stage time when delivering prepared speeches, I still avoided impromptu speaking – though the adrenaline rises before both of them. I have tried out other manuals and delivered other speeches – entertaining, speeches for special occasions, storytelling etc. The stage experience in Toastmasters gave me courage to try out other audiences, too. I was a regular storyteller at the Bear storytelling evenings in Berlin. I had been telling stories and enjoying other storytellers’ confessions for 2 seasons. My speech „Strange encounters” even won the contest one evening. After engaging in mySpeakerbusiness (www.myspeakerbusiness.com) my team and I had a workshop in Athens where the last joined Toastmaster Convention of Districts 59 and 95 took place- nearly 3 thousand people. The workshop is entitled „How to Go from Toastmasters to Becoming a Well-Paid Professional Speaker” and , if you are interested, you can see it here:
I know it’s I, I, I. I may seem an arrogant person – but – to be frank – I never thought that joining Toastmasters would bring such results. And I know that I could achieve all of that thanks to constant support of my Toastmasters friends – from all over the world!
Now I do speech coaching, deliver trainings in public speaking and storytelling and moderate events. And – I would never ever believe it – I’m going for a Triple Crown – an award given to Toastmasters who complete 3 manuals during 1 Toastmaster year. I feel I made great progress – as a speaker and as a person. I’m more confident on and off stage. It’s easier for me to be in the centre of attention – I don’t look at my feet any more. And I’m not the Queen of Ahms – I became one when I produced 30 sounds of „ahm”, „yyy” and others. Now the crown of the Queen of Ahms is waiting to be taken;)
I feel I’m a different person from who I was at the beginning of the journey – more fulfilled, more conscious and definitely happier. And even though I sometimes feel I’m not ready – to take up a role, to deliver a speech – it is of second importance. What matters to me personally most, is that I have a great feeling of belonging. When I go to a Christmas party or a picnic, meet my fellow Toastmasters in and outside of meetings – I feel I belong to something bigger than a supporting circle of speakers and learners, something even bigger than a circle of friends you can trust. Some call it a big Toastmaster family. In this family you decide whether you’re in or out.
Author: Ewa Czech, Toastmasters Polska SA, past member of First Berlin TM, Ewa Czech Public Speaking Storytelling