Fear of Public Speaking (My Experience with Toastmasters International)

Whether you’re freelancing, CEO of your company, employee, or still a college student, you should know that public speaking is the number one fear among Americans.  Even more so than the fear of death.

The fear of public speaking is called glossophobia and is believed to affect up to 75% of the population.

The goal of this blog is to help others start their own business and escape the 9-5. Especially those that are going at it alone.

If you want to quit the 9-5 and work for yourself, you had better step up your social skills and no better way than with public speaking. You’ll need it to win clients, customers, suppliers, negotiations, etc.

Do you remember your first time speaking to a group of people? Did you have fear-inducing anxiety or were you cool like a cucumber?

Let me tell you a secret: I haven’t met a single person that ever said they were cool as a cucumber on their first public speaking appearance.

microphone with text fear of public speaking

I must admit I was terribly nervous at my first real speech in high school. It’s even harder if you’re introverted like myself. I’m not a shy introvert, but it was strange to be in the spotlight among a bunch of eyes.

My palms became sweaty, I had shortness of breath, and I was nauseous. I felt like passing out. From then on, I tried to avoid future classes that required any kind of presentation.

Let me tell you about my experience overcoming this fear with Toastmasters International – a public speaking organization.

I’m not here to convince or deter you from joining Toastmasters, just want to share my personal experience with this organization.

What is Toastmasters International?

Toastmasters is a non-profit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. They have a network of clubs all around the world. I’m not sure how they’re non-profit when I had to pay $45 for six months + $20 for new member fee.

You will learn to be a more effective communicator by improving body language, hand gestures, better grammar and vocabulary usage, time management skills, and other techniques to increase your confidence with public speaking.

Toastmasters also have local, national, and international competitions if you like to participate.

First Timer

I realize that in order to grow my businesses, I needed to get better at public speaking. I did some research online and found Toastmasters International.

There are many locations with different days and hours. I picked one nearby and decided to pay a visit.

Upon stepping into the grand doors of this organization (inside of Denny’s restaurant), I found all the anxiety and nervousness coming back.

The last time I had given a speech was back in college and that was over 10 years ago. But I was also excited for what’s to come.

My club consisted mostly of middle age and older, men and women. I’m in this demographic, so that was a good thing I guess.

There were probably only 10 people at my club and everyone seemed experienced, which was a bit intimidating.

I introduced myself. They asked me how I found the club, and what brought me there.

Pretty straightforward stuff. I even got a first-timer ribbon, so that was nice.

Within a few weeks, they elected me for a role called Sergeant at Arms. I said sure, why not. I even attended a Toastmasters Sergeant at Arms training, held inside a local University.

The duties of the Sergeant at Arms role is to set up the meeting, among a few other things.

This includes setting up the Toastmasters banner, passing out role sheets, greeting guests, making sure there are sufficient chairs, calling the meeting into order, and then cleaning up after the meeting. You’ll be carrying things in your car.

Typical Toastmasters Meeting

Before the meeting starts, everyone should have a role, such as the Toastmaster, General Evaluator, Table Topics Master, Evaluator, Ah-Counter, Grammarian, Timer, and Vote Counter. These roles should be notified by email and re-assigned during the meeting in case of an absent member.

Here are the duties of each role:

  • Toastmaster – President of the club or the presiding officer that leads the club.
  • General Evaluator – Evaluates how the meeting went and may make suggestions to improve the club.
  • Table Topics Master – Leads the table topics portion of the meeting.
  • Evaluators – Evaluates the speakers and may make recommendations to improve.
  • Ah-Counter – This person records each “and, but, so, you know, ah, and ums,” they hear and reports when called upon.
  • Grammarian – This person monitors grammar and vocabulary usage and reports when called upon.
  • Timer – Keeps track of the time each person speaks during their speech, table topics, and evaluations.
  • Vote Counter – Someone who tallies up the votes for best speaker, best table topics speaker, and best evaluator.

At the beginning of my club, the Sergeant at Arms (me) calls the meeting into order, asks everyone to silence their phones, and then introduces the president of the club or presiding officer.

The president or presiding officer will go over the duties of the day, including the pledge of the allegiance, thought of the day, joke of the day, and how the meeting is gonna go down.

My club starts with three speakers, table topics, then evaluations. The three speakers will go first with their prepared speeches. If you’re just starting out, you’ll have to do an ice-breaker speech to introduce yourself and “break the ice.”

After the ice-breaker speech, you can speak about anything you like.

Next round of speakers is table topics. This is when members of the club are randomly called upon to deliver an impromptu speech based on a topic for the day. These are short speeches limited from 1 to 3 minutes.

Last round of speakers is the evaluators. They evaluate the prepared speeches given by the members. They are encouraged to use the “sandwich” feedback method to evaluate the prepared speeches and how the speakers can improve.

The final portion of the meeting will be reserved for awards. These awards are for best speaker, best table topics speaker, and best evaluator. Winners will receive a blue ribbon.

I won the best speaker once during my short time there, and that increased my confidence with public speaking.

Almost Cult-like

One thing I didn’t like about Toastmasters is the almost cult-like feel. Toastmasters tends to draw optimistic people and those interested in personal development.

If you’re creeped out by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins, then Toastmasters may not be for you.

Naturally, there are also going to be cliques within any group, much like high school. You might feel alienated if you’re not part of a clique.

There may also be people there pitching their businesses to you. I’m not interested in MLM (multi-level-marketing) of any kind. No thank you.

My Decision to Move On

After a few speeches, I realize that I wasn’t really improving anymore. I still get a little nervous, but so do many other great speakers. This is normal. Speaking in front of people isn’t really a big deal to me anymore.

I also find it silly that I’m supposed to limit my use of the words “and, so, but, and um.” Quite frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with using these words.

Another reason I decided to move on is preparing and rehearing speeches took up too much of my time. Maybe I’ll come back to Toastmasters in the future. It was money well-spent and I’m sure I can deliver most speeches or presentations quite confidently now.

Overall, I would say Toastmasters did help me improve my fear of public speaking by quite a bit. I highly recommend anyone who is shy or scared of public speaking to give it a try. I’m an introvert and it brought me out of my shell.

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