There were about fifty people in attendance, most from suburban or city-based clubs. A few had come from east Gippsland, three of us were from Bass Coast and there was a lone visitor from Canberra. In the course of the morning’s proceedings, almost every person present was called to take a turn on the platform, speaking into a hand held microphone, to the whole group.
I estimated that about a third of the participants spoke with accents suggesting that public speaking in English might present an additional challenge. A few others spoke through the constraints of mild to moderate cerebral palsy, or a stutter, or some physical impairment. Some spoke in spite of the shock of hearing their own voice amplified for the first time ever; and some had never stood on a platform and spoken to so many strangers. Some were there because they had been “volunteered” onto their committees only a couple of weeks before.
Only three of the speakers gave presentations that were scheduled and pre-prepared. The rest of us spoke impromptu, mostly descriptions of our roles within our clubs, or of problems we had encountered and solutions we had tried out. We all had a strict time limit and the person wielding the gavel was merciless.
So a quick calculation suggested that only a minority of the speakers at that gathering could be expected to get up and say something articulate, informative, interesting and concise and do it with grace and poise.
That the majority did was astonishing.
Had I found myself in the midst of some breed of superhuman with nerves of steel and computer-speed intellect? Not at all. I chatted to some in the break and everyone seemed like normal fallible humans to me; wishing they’d dressed with a bit more care; hoping their inexperience using a microphone wouldn’t end up looking like bad stand-up comedy; feeling just plain nervous.
The explanation may be that a common thread among Toastmasters members is the desire to improve themselves in some way. Learning to speak effectively in public is the obvious one but in the process of working through the first manual of ten speeches, almost everyone discovers many other skills that they either didn’t know they had, or didn’t know they needed to learn.
And then how do they go about it? Well, they just keep trying. They keep turning up to meetings, they make a speech when it’s their turn, they perform their allocated role for the night which might be as simple as recording how many ums and ahs everyone emitted, or as challenging as presenting a critique of one of their peers’ speeches. They make mistakes, and because everyone else there has made the same mistakes, or knows they will also make them, everyone helps explain, or encourage, or someone makes a funny comment and any tension evaporates.
Because keeping trying is how you get better at anything. The Quit ads have tapped into a positive vein by pointing out that it may take many attempts to quit smoking before finally stopping for good. Similarly, many people need time to get used to necessary dietary changes or to beginning exercise. The idea is to start, expect there to be challenges and, yes, failures, but keep starting. Add an extra spoonful of vegetable to each dinner, a few extra green leaves with each lunch. Try preparing a vegetable in a new way; maybe it tastes better to you like that instead of the traditional presentation.
Exercise is a big one. But again, taking on small goals works better. Try different forms of exercise till you find one, or several, that you can enjoy at some level. Then do just enough each time so that you feel you could have done a bit more. So next time do that bit more. After a while you will start noticing those feel-good brain chemicals kick in after you’ve pushed yourself that bit extra, and then suddenly you’ll realise you’re actually looking forward to your next exercise session, and by then your hardest challenge is over.
There’s a book entitled How to Eat an Elephant. Of course, it isn’t about dining on pachyderm au gratin. It’s about taking on seemingly impossible goals and breaking them down into smaller, digestible chunks, then working progressively through them until, as if by magic, you are there.
March 14, 2016
As usual, I found Miriam Strickland's article inspirational and entertaining.
When I find a piece of time, I intend to join Toastmasters, am immediately doing my tai chi and chi gong and expressive dancing will finish long-put-off gardening goal and pick lettuce for lunch. Many thanks, Miriam.
Felicia Di Stefano, Glen Alvie