The first time I gave a speech at Toastmasters, I thought I was going to die.
I could feel my blood pressure skyrocket and it was only moments until it would be the end of me. I thought I was going to be the first 23-year-old to die from a stroke giving a speech.
I am an introvert by nature. Speaking up in large groups used to be nerve-wracking for me and I was intimidated to speak one on one with C-suite executives. I wanted to be buttoned up and perfect every time I spoke and that caused me to be a nervous mess.
One of my first interviews right out of college was for an IT Business Intelligence position at Sony Consumer Electronics. The environment was very formal and everyone seemed so professional – exactly the environment I wanted to thrive in. I wore my fancy Calvin Klein suit, big girl pumps, and drove to Carson CA in scorching Southern California heat. I stressed the whole time that I was going to be late but luckily, I made it just in time.
At the time I needed to be early to interviews to collect myself since I was a nervous mess, but no time today. I walked right in. They asked me a few questions, then brought in their technical expert to quiz me on technical questions. I was not confident in my technical skills, so I started sweating profusely, and then grabbed my head and said, “Oh god, I’m going to pass out.” We had to stop the interview to drink water until I was ok to proceed. Needless to say, I did not get that job. To this day, still embarrassing to think about.
Fast forward about 7 years – I spoke at townhalls to my company off the cuff because I didn’t have time to prepare; I gave a presentation on earned media value to a summit of 200+ professionals; I presented to our client’s CMOs regularly. How did I get to this point? Toastmasters.
Toastmasters transformed me as a public speaker and enabled me to be the leader I knew I was on the inside. I am a huge advocate for anyone at any speaking level to join this non-profit organization. If you think you are good at presentations already, chances are there is still more to improve.
Toastmasters teaches skills like pacing, eye contact, body movement, purposeful pauses, impactful organizational techniques, vocal variety, and more. Nuances most people don’t think about unless they’ve had direct training.
The biggest lesson Toastmasters helped me with is repetitions. I have given ~50 speeches over the years and achieved the highest designation, Distinguished Toastmaster. I have gone from a nervous mess on the brink of death to becoming a CEO answering interview questions on national broadcast television on the fly.
The best part about Toastmasters is, I am not alone in this transformation. Everyone I’ve seen over the years, even some of the worst public speakers initially, have improved and transformed to the point where I say “wow, that was a great speech.”
The process works and I cannot recommend this program enough to any and every professional!