I have always been someone who was good at expressing myself- on paper. I could sit for hours and hours and write long essays, letters, hold long conversations electronically. Ask me to stand in front of a few persons and speak, I would find reasons not to be there or why I couldn’t.
I managed to get away with this fear, to conceal this fear for many years. As the saying goes “I faked the funk”. So well. But I knew I had a problem that I needed to fix. I just was not sure how I could do that.
I recall back in 1995, I decided to contest my school’s student council leadership and ran for the position of Student Council President.
It didn’t dawn on me the magnitude of what I had signed up for until I had to go from class to class and “run campaign”. I managed to hide behind my classmates and other students who helped do a lot of the talking for me.
But the day of the elections, we were told that we had to make a campaign speech.
Lord have mercy! I won the elections. Mostly because all the kids we had campaigned to, liked the sweets we gave them and they remembered us for that. I doubt it was because of my superb, enthralling and captivating oratory skills.
Another time, in January 2014, I had to speak in front of 96 employees at my job. Only for a few seconds and to basically just tell the staff body my name, job title and what my role is in the organization.
I found myself sweating profusely. I thought on the many ways I could slink out and away from the meeting and hoped they would not notice my absence. The introductions went line by line and finally it was my turn and I had to stand up and speak.
I stood and those 5 seconds were probably one of the longest timeframes in my life. I was at a loss for words and I just wanted to sit down and move those 96 pair of eyes from on me. So all I said was “my name is Brenda Brewer Moore and if you are in this room and don’t know me or what I do, then you need some explaining to do.”
I sat back down and I can’t explain how ashamed I felt. That I could not say something so simple!
That’s when I realized I had a really big problem that I needed to deal with heads on.
And so in February 2014 I heard from a friend that someone was starting a Toastmasters club, I immediately got interested. I asked her what the club was about and she told me that it’s a professional club where people go to improve their public speaking skills. I also went online and read up on what Toastmasters is all about and Bingo! I was sold.
I tackled Toastmasters like I tackle most things in my life: with determination, passion and commitment.
The first day I had to go up to give my Icebreaker speech (first speech), I wore a white pants suit and the 5 minutes allotted for the speech seemed like 30 minutes. When I had finished doing the simple job of telling the club why I decided to join Toastmasters and introducing myself to them, my pants were visibly soaked through with sweat. I was shaking like a leaf. I was so petrified!
But, no one laughed. No one sniggled. No one booed. No one teased.
Why? Because we all in that room had one thing in common: fear of public speaking and we had come together to overcome our fear of it.
I have come to love Toastmasters. I tell people that Toastmasters is in my blood. I love the fact that I can go to a safe space and make mistakes, get feedback, learn and also motivate others.
Fast forward to two years after joining the club, today, I am still nervous of public speaking, but I know that it’s a journey and I have come to learn little tips and tricks to apply to help calm my nerves, connect with my audience and get to the point. I have learned to make eye contact, to build expectation with pauses and to captivate.
In this period, I am proud and excited that my Toastmasters experience has helped me
speak at several high profile places that in another lifetime I would have shied away from. Places like the United Kingdom House of Parliament in London, the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the UN Building in Geneva, Switzerland, at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. At all of these places, I had to address a room full of people and or serve on panels.
No one watching me at any of those places would know I was a nervous wreck or that two years ago I would not have even been able to mutter “hello”. I exuded confidence and spoke well (well, so I am told. Ha!).
In June 2016, I proudly, excitedly completed 10 speeches and 10 leadership projects. This is the first step in the Toastmasters Education Program. I had completed my Competent Communications (CC) Manual and Competent Leadership(CL) manual and I was one of 2 members of the club to be the first to do this. Imagine that! The shy person!
I also have been privileged to serve first as Vice President for Membership of the club and most recently, President of the club.
And so, I share my story to motivate others who may also have the same problem I had (still have, but working on it) but may not know how to deal with it.
Join us at Ducor Toastmasters, the only Toastmasters Club in Liberia, where you can work on and improve your public speaking, communication and leadership skills at your own pace, in a safe, supportive environment.
For more information about Toastmasters, go to www.toastmasters.org and for information about our local club in Liberia, check us out on Facebook : ducortoastmasters