Step 1: Show up
In 2010, my first experience with attempting to get better at public speaking was a disaster. I was too scared to attend my first Toastmasters meeting, so half-way there I turned my car around and went back home! The next week I followed through and attended, even though opening the door to the meeting gave me a flashback of 8-year-old me fearfully opening the door to my 3rd grade class – and watching every kid turn around and stare at me. I entered the Toastmasters meeting despite the flashback.
During my first meeting I volunteered to participate in Table Topics, which requires answering a surprise question on-the-spot. It was scary, but I had promised myself that I would participate in the scariest aspects of that first meeting. I survived.
I believe that videotaping all of my 5-7 minute prepared Toastmasters speeches helped me quickly come to grips with standing in front of an in-person audience, making mistakes, and documenting the progress. Videotaping also helped me see what body language I was exhibiting that I wasn’t aware of, like unknowingly tugging on my shirt while speaking. The Table Topics section of a Toastmasters meeting also turned out to be an excellent exercise for getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable when people are staring at me when I lose my train of thought or attempt to sound coherent.
Step 2: Increase the difficulty
Toastmasters speech contests were the next step up to gain public speaking experience and confidence. I lost the first couple of speech contests that I entered. I also videotaped every one of them. The added pressure of videotaping myself makes the overall journey better because the progress – mistakes and all – is documented over time.
Step 3: Say yes to opportunities
Two opportunities came my way that I would have turned down before Toastmasters: 1) speak at the North Franklin Boulevard Business District‘s 25th annual meeting, and 2) lead a 2-hour public speaking & confidence bootcamp for P2O Hot Pilates & Fitness‘s instructor teacher training. Both were paid gigs.