“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
― Jerry Seinfeld
When I first heard this Jerry Seinfeld quote, I chuckled. Then I gave it some serious thought – it is totally true. Most people (including myself) are at one point afraid of public speaking. I just found out today (thanks to Google) that there is a technical term for this – Glossophobia.
There are a few reasons for this Irrational Fear- the flight/fight programming of our brains -When you are public speaking, a part of you is afraid that your message could be criticized. Our brain’s job is to keep us safe- when it senses that fear – then the brain signals physiological changes to signal a threat – sweaty palms, increased heart beat and butterflies in the stomach. And the physiological changes cause more anxiety and make it worse – makes it difficult to concentrate.
Another reason is the fear of rejection. Show me one person who does not like to be rejected. I think this particular fear does not need a lot of explanation. We have all experienced some type of Fear of Rejection and it sucks (It hurts actually).
A lack of Preparation is another reason. The more prepared you are the less anxiety you will have. We feel a sense of calm knowing we are walking into a situation where we are completely prepared. Having spent more time in the preparation phase – truly calms our brain, and we are able to focus in the moment.
So, what is the remedy?
I strongly believe a structured learning process will help you overcome the fear of public speaking, and also help you become a better communicator.
I was looking for such a program and I found Toastmasters, I enrolled in one club and became an active member for 7 years.
In those 7 years I have gained numerous benefits.
- Overcoming anxieties & fears associated with Public Speaking
- Learning how to structure a speech regardless of the situation
- Grabbing the audience’s situation, and keeping the audience hooked
- Effectively connecting with the audience
- Able to Listen Effectively, and to provide feedback
- Learning to critique a particular speech
- Most importantly, the ability to think on my feet
The above skills & traits I have acquired with my 7 years of Toastmasters experience -has helped me in my Sales Career, Job Interviews, Presentations, Pitches, and even in casual conversations with strangers.
So what is the Toastmasters Program?
Toastmasters was founded in 1924 by Dr.Ralph Smedley in California. Dr. Smedley realized that there was a need for training to help young men to become effective communicators. Initially started at a local YMCA – now Toastmasters has grown to 14650 Individual Clubs in 126 countries servicing more than 300000 members.
Toastmasters is a voluntary organization – where members learn to combat their fear of public speaking and improve their communication and leadership skills.
How does the program work?
Members have the option to chose one of the many clubs in their cities. Some clubs are cultural clubs that meet during the evenings; while some are corporate clubs sponsored by organizations and they usually meet during the day.
The meetings are held either weekly or bi-weekly. During each meeting, the members are assigned roles for that particular meeting.
The highlight of the Toastmasters Program is that each and every participant is given an opportunity to practice. This is achieved by the Table Topics Program. Every participant is given a topic and is asked to speak on that topic for a specified time (1 to 2 minutes). Everyone at that meeting has an opportunity to speak. You are guaranteed to improve your communication skills – if you are forced to speak at each meeting. The benefit of Table Topics is that it improves your ability to think on your feet.
Ever been in a job interview, and you were asked a difficult & thought-provoking question? In times like these Table Topics skills come in handy.
At each meeting, select speakers are required to deliver prepared speeches. The speaker chooses a project, prepares the speech and presents it to the audience (within the specified time limit). Each speaker is at a different skill level, and the speeches delivered vary based on the speaker’s skill-level & experience.
This is extremely effective because it helps the members to learn how to craft speeches. You are not left clueless- the program manuals guide you with examples and ideas on how to create a speech. You will be using the guidelines to craft your own speech. Able to speak in front of an audience is one thing, but learning how to deliver effective speeches is a totally different thing. In many cases, you are also assigned a mentor who will guide you in your Toastmaster journey.
A very unique aspect of the Weekly Meetings is the Evaluation/Feedback portion. Each prepared speech is evaluated at the same meeting. An Evaluator provides his/her feedback that will help the speaker gain insight into the positive aspects of their speech, and also constructive criticism to improve their speeches moving forward.
I found this to be extremely helpful. I gained immediate feedback each time I delivered a speech. I took those feedback into my next speeches, and over time my speech quality improved.
Imagine getting a performance review from your boss every day. Imagine a coach who provides feedback to star athletes after each practice. Although this rarely happens – you can agree with the effectiveness of the strategy. According to Ken Blanchard “Feedback is the breakfast of Champions“.
You will also get opportunities to be an evaluator. This forces you to become an extremely good listener. A speaker has just delivered his/her speech and they are requesting feedback. This forces us to hone in & focus during their speech, and then provide them valuable feedback. The Art of Effective Evaluation is extremely valuable – it enhances your analytical and critical thinking.
Another key aspect is Leadership roles. Each meeting, you are required to pitch in your contribution- to make sure the meeting goes smoothly. With the different roles, you volunteer to take up different responsibilities. And with each responsibility, you improve your ability to lead your team.
In summary, the more you put into your Toastmasters journey, the more you get back. I have personally seen myself & others improve their communication skills tremendously. The constant support, feedback, and encouragement will aid you in shaping your skills.
My favorite Toastmasters story was about a member called Helen. I heard that during one of her first speeches she could not withstand the fear and pressure – she fainted- they had to call the ambulance. This is not an exaggeration, this is a true story. Helen was extremely nervous about Public Speaking, and her fear manifested into an extreme anxiety attack. But Helen did not give up, she came back to the meetings, she delivered her speeches and she did her part in each meeting.
A few years later, I met Helen at an event. She was completely transformed. She was much more confident. She not only overcame her fears- but she was now mentoring others in their journey. She also held key Leadership roles in helping multiple members and clubs. Her hard work eventually paid off.
If Helen can do it, and I can do it- so can You. I strongly encourage you to attend a local Toastmasters Club meeting, and see for yourself – the value you will realize.
Strengthening this one key skill (Public Speaking) will do wonders for your career.