Like many of you, I set some personal and professional goals at the beginning of the year. One of mine was to feel more confident and be a better public speaker. I wanted to feel better talking with prospects over the phone, feel more confident giving talks or presentations on inbound marketing, and overall public communication.
I listened to a very interesting podcast from Seth Godin that talked about learning a new skill. He used juggling as the example. To learn to juggle, you don’t start with 3 balls and throw them up in the air. You first learn how to throw and catch with only one ball. Juggle is just throwing and catching. So, when I had visions of myself up on huge stage giving an inspiring keynote speech, I understood it would be a process, and I needed to “start” somewhere.
I was talking with a friend of mine, Darren Rienke, about my desire to hone my public speaking skills and he jumped in before I could finish. He said, “What are you doing Tuesday at 7am? Good, you’re coming with me to Toastmasters”.
Toastmasters? That thing where they give out awards or something for doing speaking? Yep, the same one.
So, I did it. I joined Darren and went to Toastmasters, immediately saw the benefit, and joined the group, too. I have been in my Toastmasters group since March 2018, and given 4 unique speeches.
In this article, I am going to give you many reasons why practicing your public speaking is great for business, and your personal life.
Make the Fear a Good Thing
I have felt as though I was good at public speaking, but I was terrified by the idea of it.
Toastmasters has this fun improv game called “Table Topics”. The Table Topics Master asks a set of questions based around the theme aimed at stirring witty thinking, and to learn more about each member. These questions are asked one by one, and to random members. On my first visit as a guest, they called on me.
My stomach dropped.
As I walked up to the front of the room I kept thinking, what am I going to say? How will I fill 45 seconds. What did I get myself into? Is it too late to make a run for the door? I hate Darren.
I got up there, and it went fine. I don’t remember what I said, but people laughed (maybe at me) and clapped. When I got back to my seat, my face was red, heart was beating and I let go a sigh of relief.
It was the same way for my first speech. Right before I went up to the microphone, I thought about going to the bathroom and not coming back. I was so terrified of messing up or stumbling. It was an icebreaker speech, so it was just a story about me, easy enough.
I got through it and people laughed and clapped.
I still get a little nervous when I speak at Toastmasters or at another event but now that is part of the draw. It’s hard to explain, but someone said its the same feeling he gets right before he jumps out of a plane, a sudden rush of excitement and nerves.
In the past I have been terrified to speak and it crippled my ability to confidently speak in public. Because of the practice with Toastmasters, I now use the fear as a motivator to better prepare for my speech and feed off of it.
Pause, Pause, Pause (then pause some more)
Do you ever see the same themes start to pop up in your life? I took a great sales bootcamp class with Dan Tyre from HubSpot (read my full article here) and he always reminded us to PAUSE and let the prospect answer. Well, I heard the same advice at Toastmasters, too.
My first speech was ok but I rushed through it. I included too much and worried it would be too long, so I went fast. Too fast. Through the critical and useful feedback, my fellow members reminded me to take a beat and let parts of my speech sink in. Let the audience think about what I just shared.
When I am speaking at Toastmasters or anywhere, silence freaks me out. Am I losing them? Are they bored? I need to keep talking. I have the same thoughts when on sales calls. I would keep talking instead of just listening. Listening is another topic we will cover, but you have to allow your points and thoughts to sink in, and not rush through it.
Shut up and Listen
This is another theme that has popped up in my life lately.
#1: I have been married for over 5 years now, and I have become a great listener.
#2: Dan Tyre, HubSpot Sales Bootcamp, says your prospect should be doing the talking, you do the listening. The salesperson should only be talking 20% of the call. Ask the right questions, and they will keep talking.
#3: Toastmasters - I have learned more from listening to others speak than I have speaking myself.
We have some very talented speakers in our Toastmasters group. Some use it for their profession, some have made professions out of it and do it for personal reasons, and some do it just for fun. I listen, I watch and I learn from the all the members, good and bad. I see what works, what doesn’t. That's why we are there after all, to try new things and become better speakers.
Part of Toastmasters is giving feedback on the speakers. This forces you to listen to each speaker and think critically about each one. You mention all the things you think they did really well, and some suggestions on how to improve.
As s speaker, this is extremely valuable because the audience sees things I am doing that I am not aware of. There is even a role at the meeting called the “Ah Counter”. They count and keep track of how many times you say “ah”, “um”, “like”, “so”, etc. My first meetings were really bad. I used these words a lot more than I thought it did. Once you become aware of this, you become conscious, and can work to plan out our everyday communication.
After attending Toastmasters, I noticed I was saying “um” and other weird phrases on sales calls. Now, when I speak with prospects I am more aware of how I present myself and work to limit the number of times I use these words. I am not perfect, and don’t think I ever will be, but it’s a work in progress.
Overall, I now look forward to Toastmasters. It has given me an opportunity to gain confidence in something I want to be good at. I don’t think I will ever be as good as big time speakers but I will have fun doing speaking, and hopefully do it a lot more.
It’s just learning to juggle, don’t start with the big scary event, or something with hundreds of people. Learn how to overcome your fear, practice, and learn to have fun.
If you are in San Diego and interesting in joining me at Toastmasters, email me and you can join our next meeting. If you are outside of San Diego, search for a Toastmaster club near you.