Not Interested

Left Jeff Harris Toastmaster  Judge, Center Teena Myers, Right Chic Miller President Celebration Toastmasters.

Left Jeff Harris Toastmaster Judge, Center Teena Myers, Right Chic Miller President Celebration Toastmasters.

Experience has taught me a five minute spiel about Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot usually guarantees the sale of at least one book. For many writers, speaking requires leaving one’s comfort zone. When a friend invited me to visit a Toastmaster meeting, I accepted. A group of writers taught me how to write. Therefore, it was reasonable that a group of speakers could teach me how to speak.

My knowledge about Toastmaster was minimal when I walked into the meeting. The meeting was similar to a writers critique group that helps a writer improve in their craft by receiving comments from other writers. Replace writer with speaker in the preceding sentence and you have a Toastmasters meeting. Toastmasters takes the process a step further by evaluating everything: the 5 to 7 minute speech, the evaluator’s evaluation of the speech and the overall meeting is evaluated.

Becoming a Competent Communicator is the first step. That goal is accomplished by preparing and delivering ten speeches. Each speech adds a new skill to master. The evaluator lets you know how well you mastered the new skill after you deliver the speech. The initial speeches dealt with things familiar to writers: organizing your thoughts, get to the point and use the right words. I was almost halfway through the book without too much of a challenge, but still chained to what I had written. I was doing more reading than speaking.

Speech five sent me into uncharted waters. Is my body language screaming I don’t want to be here while I try to win hearts with words? I had to be aware of my facial expressions, how I stood, moved, and gestured. If that wasn’t enough to remember, speech six demanded vocal variety. A flat monotone simply does not hold a listener’s attention.

The club president encouraged me to give speech six without notes. I decided to throw myself into deep water and sink or swim. I did not write what I planned to say, but I did practice the speech repeatedly. Doing so taught me a new skill. Not only can I edit on paper, I can edit in my head.  After I delivered speech six, without notes, the club president encouraged me to attend a district meeting and give the speech I had titled “Love Excluded Me”.

Toastmasters is an international organization with competitions. I joined Toastmasters to become a better speaker “PERIOD”.  “Not interested,” I said. Undeterred, he continued to encourage me. When I learned the meeting was a contest, I was even less interested in attending, but on the day of the district meeting I relented. I had become comfortable speaking in front of ten friendly faces whom I knew were pulling for me. I wanted to know if I would be comfortable speaking in front of a larger group of strangers.

noteI arrived at the district meeting and sat next to my club president where I learned another choice bit of information. I was competing against him, a gifted speaker with excellent delivery. Nothing like a little pressure. I am glad I went. I was surprisingly calm. I stood before thirty, mostly strangers, and delivered “Love Excluded Me” as though I were talking to friends. I saw the yellow warning light and edited two sentences out of the end to guarantee I did not exceed the time limit. Then I returned to my seat. As soon as I sat down a woman handed me a hand written note. She really liked the speech.

I politely waiting for the last two speakers to make their presentation before I made my exit. Scores needed to be tabulated, and the winners announced before the meeting concluded. I wasn’t interested. I had come to test my comfort zone, not to compete. Another woman approached me as I walked to the elevator. She really liked the speech too.

A few days later, I received an email titled “Celebration Toastmaster: Congratulations Teena!!!” I am the Area 14 International Speech Contest Winner, Spring 2014. The announcement made me smile. I am barely half way through the Competent Communicator book and already a speech contest winner. But let’s keep the win in perspective. There were three people competing in Area 14. I was guaranteed to be in the top three. But I did beat the club president who was disqualified when he exceeded the time limit. If it had been my goal to win, I suppose I could do some gloating right now.

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