Why I joined Toastmasters & How it has Helped Me
Firstly, let me explain my job as a Data Solutions Consultant. My time is spent either behind a desk or presenting to clients and their wide range of subject matter experts – marketing, CRM, data, compliance, IT and operations. Their questions often require a detailed and considered response. Sometimes I’m fortunate to be sat down behind my laptop, which for some reason provides me with a bit of a ‘safe space,’ but sometimes I’m stood up at the front of the room, which is where I felt my performance was in need of improvement.
Answering questions was fine. Remembering body language such as using my eyes to scan the room, use of hands and good posture was also fine. As was using tone, and not going down random blind alleys in my responses.
The issue I had was doing all 3 things at the same time! For me, I felt it was too much – ‘brain overload.’
I found myself talking with my hands in my pockets, looking at the slides, or losing track of where my answer was going. None of this lost me work (or at least I don’t think it did), but it made me question my ability and lowered my confidence. In a role where confidence is key (like it is in all roles, I guess) it just made me uncomfortable, and I could see this ebbing away at me over time. I had to do something to fix it.
I started looking at training, thinking about sports training in particular. What does Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, CR7 practice all day – it was the basics. I asked a friend why, and his reply was so that it became automatic, and that is what I needed to do. I needed my brain to focus on giving cognisant answers to difficult questions, and to turn my use of body language and tone into something habitual – I would not have to worry too much about these things!
A friend introduced me to Toastmasters and I went along to my first session to see what it was all about. I was a bit apprehensive to start with, not knowing what to expect. It was made very clear at the start, as it is in all sessions I have attended, that this is a friendly place to practice and to learn. I listened to the prepared speeches and also took part in one of the impromptu table topics – two minutes to talk about a topic off the top of my head. Whilst this was all fun and the atmosphere was friendly, it was the evaluations that drew me in. As attendees we are expected to provide short written feedback back to the speakers, with evaluations towards the end of the session. The general evaluator provided feedback on the speakers and the hosts, including my 2 minute speech. The feedback was exactly what I was after – constructive and informative. I noticed some people asking for specific feedback, other recording speeches on behalf of the speaker – I realised that this was the supportive environment I needed to regain confidence and grow my expertise in the art of presenting, and make some new friends along the way!
It also left me thinking. The chance to reflect on what I did, what I saw, and decide what I would do differently next time was where I started to get excited about the journey ahead, and I looked forward to developing skills that would benefit me both professionally and personally. Toastmasters has several learning paths which you can choose to follow, with the Harrogate club also providing mentoring and other assistance outside of the 2-hour meeting, that can ensure you progress as fast as you wish to.
To summarise, I would advise anyone who wants to gain confidence in speaking and presenting to come along to Harrogate Toastmasters and give it a try. I’ve seen people grow in confidence, from tiny acorns to fully-fledged trees, and it’s truly inspiring to be a part of.
Strictly Speaking Harrogate Toastmasters Member