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We Learn Confidence We Don’t Teach Tricks

by on June 19, 2017

Years ago when I told my teacher in high school that standing in front of a group of people to give a speech made me nervous, I remember him telling me, “Just pick a point on the wall at the back of the room and look at that. It will make it less intimidating.”  Another helpfully said, “Imagine all the people in the audience are naked.”

That last helpful piece of advice did more to frighten me than anything.  One of those people in the audience was a very stern looking 60 year-old lady who already scared the daylights out of me.  Imagining her naked body would have sent me into convulsions.

The way to deal with those nerves became clear a few years later when I encountered the Toastmasters Program. I found out that the solution to nervousness is to get the butterflies in your stomach to fly in formation.  What I mean by that is the butterflies will never go away completely but as you become more and more familiar with the stage, the nervousness will tend to become more of an asset: a nervous energy.  That is just one of the lessons I have learned in Toastmasters: that experience; the experience of getting up in front of an audience on repeat

ed occasions is the best solution to nervousness.

Eleanor Rosevelt said, “Do the thing that you fear and the death of fear is certain.” She was so right.

In the Toastmasters program you find yourself gradually eased into standing up in front of a group to present.  At first it is little things like presenting a word of the day or reporting on how long the prepared speech that someone else gave was. As you gain confidence you find yourself giving brief 1-minute impromptu speeches.  Throughout the whole process, you receive positive feedback and encouraging suggestions of how to improve what you are doing.  You give an “Icebreaker speech” which has no other objective than to simply gather up your courage to stand up in front of your club to speak.  When you sit down after doing that speech, it will be to a round of applause. In Toastmasters everything you do is greeted with a round of applause.  After a month or two of this you will notice that standing up to speak is not nearly so intimidating.  This has become a group of people you know well enough to feel comfortable speaking to.

You may have heard, “Practice makes perfect” but I don’t agree. Practice just makes permanent.  But experience with constructive feedback makes for improved performance is the best advice I can give.

In a Toastmasters meeting, you will have the opportunity to speak and to learn leadership skills by doing and getting positive constructive feedback on what you do.  You will gain confidence and that, my friend is the way to get past nervousness from speaking to a group of people.

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