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Toastmasters Take 2

March 26, 2010

I woke up this morning feeling pretty confident and excited for my Toastmaster’s meeting.  I put on a nice outfit (translation: jeans instead of sweats), spent a little time on my hair and makeup, and drove off to my 8am meeting.  I was not on the agenda to speak today but I knew that I would still have to talk at some point, which I was okay with.  Until I had to talk.  And then things went from bad to worse.

Every meeting includes a “Table Topics” portion when the Table Topics Master gets up and stimulates discussion by asking fellow Toastmasters to chime in for 1-2 minutes on the Master’s question.  I am not such a terrible speaker when I have to give a speech I’ve planned and agonized over, but ask me a random question, and a difficult one at that, and I just can’t pull it together. Today was no exception.

This morning I made the grave error of making eye contact with the Table Topics Master, at which point she asked me the following question: “Do you think that one has to overcome an obstacle to truly understand suffering?”  Despite nearly keeling over from anxiety, I managed to stand up to answer the question.  I told myself to take it slow by using a few seconds to organize my thoughts.  And I really tried!  But with dozens of people staring at me waiting for me to start, I felt obligated to move forward and say something. 

I did say something.  I said a lot of things, actually.  But the stuff that came out of my mouth?  Idiotic at best.  I think I mentioned something about how one doesn’t need to experience hardship to understand suffering…but honestly, I have no idea what I said.  The only thing I clearly remember saying was, “A minute is a really long time.” 

At that point I just wanted to give up.  Why was I torturing myself?  I figured that some people are just better at certain things and would it be a tragedy if I dedicated myself to Excel spreadsheets for the rest of my life?  But then a few things happened that made me reconsider becoming a Toastmaster’s dropout:

1. At the end of the meeting several people came up to me and told me that they too struggled and/or continue to struggle with Table Topics.  I’m not sure if I believe them, but the fact that strangers tried to make me feel better made all the difference in the world.

2. The Table Topics Master had to leave a little bit early, but before she did, she dropped this note into my lap (click to enlarge):

How nice is that?  For someone I barely know to write such a kind note?  I was really very touched.

3. My brother pointed out that I was attending Toastmasters to learn how to speak and think on my feet.  If I was already good at that, I probably wouldn’t be in the class.  Obvious?  Yes.  Did I need to hear it?  Yes.

Due to Good Friday there is no meeting next Friday.  That gives me two weeks to get my s@#$ together.  And while I don’t think a lifetime is enough time for me to do that, I’m hoping that by the next meeting I will at least be able to say something coherent.  Is that too much to ask?

37 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2010 10:22 pm

    The more I read about you and your fears, the more we have in common. Social anxiety is not fun at all, but that was so nice of her giving you that note. =)
    I have a horrible time thinking on my feet, especially when there are so many people staring at me. Funny thing is that I excelled in Drama class in High School. Maybe it’s because I was able to “act”.

  2. March 26, 2010 11:37 pm

    Im a mother who runs on 4-5 hrs of sleep nightly for the past 4 yrs. I dont think id have a shot at being coherent but i am sure you were, ameena!

  3. March 26, 2010 11:38 pm

    As a kid, I didn’t have any fears. But as an adult speaking about something I know or don’t know – no matter what the topic, I have no clue. As the kid of teachers who have taught so many other kids, it’s amazing that I don’t care much for public speaking. Just writing about it makes my knees knock together

  4. March 27, 2010 3:11 am

    I’m so glad you’ve decided to keep on with Toastmasters. Public speaking is HARD. And you’re brother is right – if you were already comfortable with public speaking, you wouldn’t be in the class! I can promise that it does get easier, even to come up with stuff on the spot. The practicing hurts, but you’ll find yourself ready to tackle anything. I’m still working on it, but gosh, was I much worse when I started! 🙂

  5. March 27, 2010 4:20 am

    That is a really sweet note! I am horrible at thinking/speaking on the fly– when teachers used to call on me in class, my throat would start to close up and I literally would be almost unable to speak!

    I’m really impressed that you’re doing this!

  6. March 27, 2010 4:31 am

    I’m loving your stories about Toastmasters. I can imagine that it’s brutal to be put on the spot with no preparation. But you’re so right- the kindness that people (strangers, really) can be so uplifting. And Sylvia sounds like a really encouraging and kind woman. I am so happy to hear that no matter how hard this class feels, you’re sticking it out. This may be an example of suffering! But no, I kid, I bet you’ll only get more comfortable. And you are such a great writer I just can’t imagine you being as bad as you say.
    Have a wonderful weekend!

  7. March 27, 2010 5:20 am

    I’m so proud of you. I dont know how I would answer that question on the spot. Its just too deep for me LOL. The letter was really sweet.
    Thanks for taking part in my first ever give away daaaaaaahling. Good Luck and have a wonderful weekend.
    *kisses* HH

  8. Danielle permalink
    March 27, 2010 6:13 am

    Those were really nice gestures 🙂 I really think public speaking gets easier the more you practice it. Don’t give up!!

  9. March 27, 2010 6:36 am

    Life lesson – avoid eye contact when you don’t want to speak, at all costs. I learned that veeeery quickly in college 😉
    Seriously though, I am super incredibly impressed that you willingly took this class. I have SEVERE speaking in public anxiety. Public speaking in college was, erm, not fun. And I was forced to take it. So I commend you. Good luck!!!

    • Ali permalink
      March 28, 2010 8:51 am

      I found that if I didn’t make eye contact with the professor, they’d know I didn’t do the reading and call on me – so I balanced a very fine line of looking them in the eye confidently but smeyesing ‘you don’t need to call on me- find another target’.

  10. traynharder23 permalink
    March 27, 2010 6:46 am

    I HATEEEEE talking in front of people i don’t know! it’s horrible! and yes, DON”T MAKE EYE CONTACT! i did that and an evil professor called on me. EEK!

    i would NEVER take this class- you are SOOO amazing!

  11. March 27, 2010 7:07 am

    I wouldn’t even want to hear the gibberish that would come out of my mouth if someone asked me that! I tend to even stutter when nervously talking in front of people… so embarrasing!!

    What a kind note!! 🙂 And your brother is so right!!

  12. March 27, 2010 7:30 am

    wow such an awesome note! and i love how a nice outfit is jeans instead of sweats….me too hah 🙂

  13. March 27, 2010 7:58 am

    I agree with your brother: Great public speakers don’t need Toastmasters. That was so sweet of her to write you a note. Maybe during the part of the speech you don’t remember you said, “A minute is a very long time. I’m so not coming here next week.” 🙂

  14. March 27, 2010 8:21 am

    I agree with your brother — the class is to learn to speak. If we just took classes in things that we were already pros at, that would be pretty boring. It takes courage to do this. I can say that because I hate, hate, hate speaking on my feet. I really admire you. I’m glad you got such a kind note. I’m sure that made things a little better 🙂
    Have a good weekend:)

  15. March 27, 2010 8:49 am

    That sweet note is really touching. Public speaking is really scary…I think you’re courageous for sticking with it, and in the end I think you’ll be happy you did.

  16. March 27, 2010 9:19 am

    Such a sweet note deserves framing (or at least some time in your wallet, where you can pull it out and feel good whenever necessary!)

  17. fitandfortysomething permalink
    March 27, 2010 9:33 am

    you are so brave to go do something that obviously makes you nervous to say the least. keep it up though. you will get better at it. when i first started teaching i was so nervous to speak in front of anyone and then i got used to it 🙂 you will too. good for you to break out and conquer those fears.
    enjoy your day lady!

  18. March 27, 2010 10:09 am

    You are talented.

    Your brother is smart.


  19. March 27, 2010 10:41 am

    Great job!! I know how you feel. I loathe speaking in front of people. But then again being in the profession I’m in I have to do it. It sucks on my part as I tend to get teeny panic attacks. I just hide it really well, so no one knows it’s happening. I guess those acting classes in college were good for something. hahaha… But I’m glad you’re making progress. just like others have said, you’ll get used to it over time.

  20. March 27, 2010 12:20 pm

    1) Thank you again for your compliments on my hair – I honestly do not think I ever realized how nice it is to have naturally straight hair until I read about your crazy japanese chemical straightening sessions!

    2) I really enjoy public speaking, but I do know how you feel. I am currently in American Sign Language II and we have to get up a SIGN in front of the class. For tests we are video taped signing conversations! It makes my heart rate soar everytime. I am much better at communicating via blabbing my mouth than keeping it shut and using my hands!

    • March 27, 2010 5:56 pm

      Sadly, I think I would be a better speaker if I kept my mouth shut! Great job on the ASL though, what a cool thing to do!

  21. traynharder23 permalink
    March 27, 2010 1:01 pm

    MUCH better. MUCH. I hope i didn’t scare people off with my negative mood!

  22. March 27, 2010 1:40 pm

    Nicely done! I’ve heard that Toastmasters is a good program and that it very much helps with public speaking. Maybe one of these days I’ll sign up. That’s a very nice note too!
    I have to speak to my class everyday, but it’s a controlled environment, and I’m the one with the control. I also have to speak to parent groups now, and I just *hate* that part of my job. If I could have a silver tongue, I would be a happier human being. Maybe.
    I have found that looking nice give me just a smidgeon more of confidence.

  23. March 27, 2010 1:51 pm

    You’re really quite brave to do something like this! I struggle with things like that too and to attend a class for it? Not happening anytime soon. 😉

  24. March 27, 2010 1:54 pm

    That’s such a sweet note- talking without preparation in such a presence is intimidating and scary- it’s actually the motivation of what keeps me doing (most) of my reading for my classes out of the fear that I’ll get randomly called on and have no idea what to say- though even when I have an idea of what the subject is about I struggle with conveying it through words…
    guess that’s why I like writing better- because you can plan it, edit it, and perfect it to your liking.

    • March 27, 2010 9:52 pm

      I totally agree that writing is much easier, especially with the help of the backspace and delete buttons! What did we do before computers?

  25. March 27, 2010 2:10 pm

    I’ve always had little anxiety attacks at speaking in public or answering questions. I get all tongue-tied and start spurting stupid things, or I just freeze and can’t say a thing. That was great the encouragement you got afterwards, though.

  26. March 27, 2010 2:47 pm

    Karma! When I read the part about strangers trying to make you feel better, and how nice it was for someone you barely know to write such a sweet note, that’s the first thing that popped into my head (karma). When I first started blogging, you were that nice stranger to me. You always gave me such nice comments and support. Thank you so much for reading my blog. You are the type of person who I feel will always have good karma following you cause you’re so nice to others, even a total stranger. Keep at it with Toastmasters dear! You’ve definitely got my support! Remember, everyone there is there for the same reason as you. Don’t be afraid to be yourself cause you’re a beautiful person. You go girl!

  27. actorsdiet permalink
    March 27, 2010 6:17 pm

    wow those toastmasters are the kings of etiquette! such note writing skills!

  28. March 27, 2010 7:29 pm

    Boy, what a sweet, kind note. But not generous…because I think every word she wrote was the solid truth. 🙂

    I’m horrible with public speaking too…have you heard my terrible accent?! Gosh…but I’ve been forced to speak in public so many times that I tend to be more comfortable than the others. I still prefer to write, though. I can hit delete anytime. And I actually can make myself sound remotely intelligent…

  29. whydeprive permalink
    March 27, 2010 8:10 pm

    I SUCK at public speaking. Its so stressful. Good for you for sticking with it though. That takes some serious balls.

    I used to have a really hard time giving presentations at work. They would make us do them, and although I knew EVERYONE, and would say or do anything in front of them (and believe me, I did) speaking in front of all of them together was the worst thing ever.

  30. March 27, 2010 10:25 pm

    Ugh, public speaking is hard! I find the main way I get through it is to don a mask and pretend it’s a stage.

    And yes, that’s a super sweet note!

  31. March 28, 2010 7:27 am

    Good for you Ameena. Keep at it! That was a hard thing being put on the spot…Kudos to you.

    i took a speech class eons a go (wow I was young then) and I actually liked it…yes it was un nerving but to know all the other classmates felt like i did made it easier.

    Than I made one of my speeches funny and I was the class clown after that. I’m a goofball at heart.

    that note totally made my eyes sting! that was so very kind of her!

    have a great Sunday.

  32. Mayura permalink
    March 29, 2010 7:22 am

    Hi Ameena,

    You have a great blog! I make sure I read it every day.

    I’ve never commented before, but I really related to your posts about Toastmasters. I’ve been a member for a few months now and it’s amazing how much you improve after the first few meetings! The tabletopics are still the worst part for me as well. I think it’s just how much practice you’ve had. I’ve heard the other speakers in my club who’ve been doing it for years! say they that if they haven’t spoken in a while, it becomes difficult again.

    I’ve also read somewhere that writers have a hard time speaking, because they’re constantly editing what they want to say in their head.

  33. Anjum permalink
    April 3, 2010 7:22 pm

    I have been part of Toastmasters and I know Table Topics is difficult at first, but it really does get easier with time. The nice thing I found is that everyone in the group supports you and wants you to succeed. I gained a lot of confidence from being part of the club. Stick with it. You will learn a good skill that will pay off in a lot of different aspects on your life. It is one of the best things I have done for myself. MY club had about 30 people come every week. Not bragging, but I did 8 speeches and I won best speech for every one I did! I totally enjoyed it and the experience was great.

    Stay with it!!!

  34. Shahbano permalink
    April 5, 2010 6:55 pm

    Public speaking can be so intimidating. I;m sure you are better than you think!

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