Photo: Dr. Scott Lewis
By Glenn Croston
Surveys about our fears commonly show fear of public speaking at the top of the list.
Our fear of standing up in front of a group and talking is so great that we fear it more than death, in surveys at least.
On one hand, I understand, having sweated myself about getting up in front of a group. On the other hand, it seems odd that we’re so afraid — what are we afraid of, anyway?
What do we think will happen to us? We’re unlikely to suffer any real or lasting harm — or are we? The answer seems to lie in our remote past, in our evolution as social animals.
Humans evolved over the last few million years in a world filled with risks like large predators and starvation.
Based on the fossil evidence of predator attacks on our human ancestors (as described in the book Man the Hunted, by Robert Sussman and Donna Hart), and on predation rates on large primates today, early humans were probably commonly hunted by a wealth of large predators.
One common defence to predation displayed by primates and other animals is to live in groups. In a group, other group members can alert each other to predators and help to fight them off.
The advantages of living in a group probably are the reason why early humans and other large primates evolved to be social, and why we are still social today.
Humans were not the largest, fastest, or fiercest animal — early humans survived by their wits and their ability to collaborate.
Those who worked together well, helping others in their group, probably survived and passed on traits that contributed to social behaviour.
Failure to be a part of the social group, getting kicked out, probably spelled doom for early humans. Anything that threatens our status in our social group, like the threat of ostracism, feels like a very great risk to us.
“Ostracism appears to occur in all social animals that have been observed in nature,” said Kip Williams, a professor of psychological sciences at Purdue who has studied ostracism.
“To my knowledge, in the animal kingdom, ostracism is not only a form of social death, it also results in death. The animal is unable to protect itself against predators, cannot garner enough food, etc., and usually dies within a short period of time,” said Williams.
The fear is not just about public speaking, but is also faced my many others who are faced with getting in front of a crowd and performing like athletes, actors, and musicians. As a social psychologist, teacher, and a sufferer of social anxiety, Dr. Signe Dayhoff suffered through intense fear of public speaking every time he got up to teach a class.
“My tongue stuck to the roof of my dry mouth and I couldn’t swallow, I blushed, sweated and trembled,” he said. Eventually it got so bad that it interfered in his ability to do his job. Getting help, he found he could deal with the situation better.
“As I recovered 12 years ago, using cognitive-behavior therapy, patience, persistence, and practice, I found that nearly 20 million individuals at any one time suffer from some form of social anxiety. They fear being negatively evaluated in anything they do; fear being rejected; fear being abandoned.”
When faced with standing up in front of a group, we break into a sweat because we are afraid of rejection. And at a primal level, the fear is so great because we are not merely afraid of being embarrassed, or judged. We are afraid of being rejected from the social group, ostracized and left to defend ourselves all on our own.
We fear ostracism still so much today it seems, fearing it more than death, because not so long ago getting kicked out of the group probably really was a death sentence.
This article appeared in Psychology Today.
Glenn Croston is the author of The Real Story of Risk, exploring the twisted ways we see or fail to see the many risks we face in the world around us. He is also the author of Gifts from the Train Station, telling the inspirational stories of people who’ve faced great challenges and overcome them to reach out and help others.
By Ross Freake
Dana wants to talk like Ted — except for the Irish accent.
Dana Nease had been a Toastmaster for 10 days when she met Ted Corcoran, former president of Toastmasters International, at club-officer training for Okanagan clubs where he was the keynote speaker.
Her new club, Kelowna AM Toastmasters, was organizing the event, and, a week after joining, she volunteered to help.
If she didn’t know if before, she learned one valuable life lesson from Corcoran: it is in giving that we receive. While everyone else was taking officer training, Nease was receiving training from one of the best Toastmasters in the world.
“Instead of resting and preparing for his closing speech, Ted chose to share his pearls of wisdom with me,” she said.
“He graciously offered a one-on-one mentoring session with me for over an hour while I took a break from operating the coffee station.”
Nease had joined Toastmasters because she thought the new year was a perfect time to explore personal and professional growth.
“Kelowna AM Toastmasters seemed to be a perfect match.”
Ten days after joining, she heard what the Irish version of the perfect Toastmaster sounds like — and was inspired.
“Ted was passionate, heartfelt and motivating as he told his story of what to expect from Toastmasters — from reviewing the organization’s core values to overcoming the challenges of club goals.
“He shared his expertise regarding cultivating new membership and how to strengthen leadership. I knew then that I had made the right decision to join.
“Toastmasters’ provides a safe and supportive environment to learn to become a better speaker, listener, writer, leader and person.”
Ted was equally impressed with Nease, and, during his speech, acknowledged her as someone exemplifying Toastmasters’ core values, which are:
While Corcoran was mentoring Nease about the additional benefits of Toastmasters program (a sense of camaraderie and belonging, goal-setting, networking, and building solid personal and professional relationships, etc.) a college student asked if she could have a cup of coffee.
“’Of course, I replied,’ and I asked her if she was with Toastmasters. She wasn’t, but she asked me all about the program. Ted just watched. “After five minutes, she was hooked and made a plan to join the Toastmasters Okanagan College Club the following Wednesday.
“In Ted’s wrap-up speech, he took the time to acknowledge me, a newbie. I can’t tell you how I will cherish this moment for a long time.”
It wasn’t just newbies impressed and inspired by the Irish raconteur, the veterans also raved about his charm, his storytelling and his willingness to share his knowledge.
“His conversational style was one of the aspects I particularly loved about his presentations,” said Moya Webb, president of Okanagan College Toastmasters.
“He had taken the time to get to know a few people in the audience and with just the little joke here and there, it began to feel like a group of friends talking rather than a keynote speaker broadcasting to a large group.
“That was quite an achievement I thought, a true gift to be able to connect to a group as individuals.
“His phenomenal memory and ability to offer that specific piece of advice here and there that was pertinent to the situation rather than pre-canned was also inspiring.”
Webb, a former division director, heard Corcoran at the spring conference where she was inspired by his abilities to speak, listen and pay attention to detail, but the connections he made with individual leaders set a new level of expectation for the event.
“I also noticed he attended the district executive meeting where all of the division directors gave their semi annual reports. Ted was clearly listening and approached me after the meeting and commented on some of the things I had included in my report.
“I was surprised that someone with Ted's seniority was at that meeting when he didn't need to be, but was clearly listening closely and then taking a moment to support and coach individuals.”
Lorne Barker shared Nease’s and Webb’s enthusiasm for Corcoran the speaker and Corcoran the man.
“I found the best part of Ted's speaking was his easy-going manner and humour interjected throughout his talks. Personal stories also enhanced each speech that he gave,” said Barker, president of Kelowna Toastmasters.
“I learned we should never stop educating ourselves. We should always strive to do our best and we should always take every opportunity to give back to Toastmasters what it has given us.”
Sofia Simeonidis was so impressed with Corcoran, she was quoting him two weeks later at an executive meeting of the OC club, where she is sergeant at arms.
Like everyone who heard Corcoran speak, she got a few tips about speaking, listening, evaluating and leading, but, like Nease, her biggest take always were life lessons.
"The magic of life happens when we step outside our comfort zone," she said. “Ted became a president of his club on his first meeting, so when you dare to take chances in life you grow, new avenues open, you live.”
That has added meaning when you realize that English is a second language for Simeonidis and Toastmasters poses a much greater challenge for her.
On her business card it says: “P.S. If something sounds Greek to you, it's because I am A Greek.”
That’s something that would cause a chuckle in an Irishman like Corcoran — and something he would borrow for a future speech because he knows that the only real sin is seeing a good idea, or story, and not stealing it.
Ross Freake is president of Kelowna AM Toastmasters.
By Ros Hansen
“People have learned to talk. They have not learned to communicate. That’s why Toastmasters is so important.”
It’s Ted Corcoran speaking, and the former president of Toastmasters International is very enthusiastic about his subject.
“Toastmasters has a well-established program that has been proven successful over many years. It has evolved over time, and it helps us to communicate effectively, not just talk.
"I’ve done that basic Competent Communicator (CC) manual about 10 times and each time I learn something new. I consider CC projects Number Two and Three to be especially key; they contain so much that’s important.
“I teach a course in How to Write a Speech in Ten Minutes. I tell people they must be able to encapsulate their purpose in one sentence. If you don’t have a purpose in your message. It will go in one ear and out the other. The Toastmaster program teaches you how to communicate effectively."
Most people think Toastmasters is about public speaking - and it is - but communicating, listening and leadership are equally important, maybe more important.
“The new Pathways program, which is part of the changes within Toastmasters, gives us a way to incorporate speaking into leadership. This means the two are no longer separate – you can articulate what you’ve learned about leadership – for example you could give a speech about what you have learned about vision.
"In 2004, we had 200,000 members in 10,000 clubs. Now, only a dozen years later, we have 360,000 members in 16,000 clubs.
"In Kelowna, I found a great turnout at the events and a hunger for Toastmasters, but what the District needs is more new clubs. Now, that people realize what needs to be done it might be possible to turn this corner.
“I belong to Toastmasters because I want to make the world a better place. The world would be better – don’t you think so – if we all contributed we met other positive people and we had fun.
"We can all share in making the world a better place; change your corner of the world and that makes the world a better place. Some people seem to stay in the background, almost invisible because they don’t believe in themselves. Toastmasters gives these people a voice so they can come forward and contribute and have fun too.
“Any change in the world depends on people. Belonging to a large organization gives us greater perspective and we find new ways and new ideas. This is true even at the club level; we meet new people and hear new ideas and this exposure gives us a bigger picture.
"We can see where we fit in and what we can do. If you don’t go outside your own little circle you don’t see that.
“I thought I had just joined Toastmasters, but look! I ended up international president. Where could you end up?”
By Scott Young
Of all the organizations I’ve joined, Toastmasters has had the greatest positive impact on my life.
The benefits of membership extend far beyond simple public speaking skills. I think almost everyone would benefit from joining Toastmasters.
First a little information about what Toastmasters is for those who are unfamiliar with this organization. Since it was started in 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley to train public speaking, the organization has since grown to more than 345,000 members in over 90 countries.
Focusing on public speaking and leadership skills, Toastmasters is one of the largest organized systems of personal development in the world.
Not Just Public Speaking…
One of the big problems I see with Toastmasters current reputation is that most people on initial inspection believe that it is simply a program for speakers to get together and practice what, for most people, is an often unused skill.
Since most people don’t do any public speaking aside from the occasional meeting or toast at a wedding, they see the (usually) weekly meetings as being a considerable investment for unsure benefits.
Unfortunately, what most people don’t understand is that the skills learned in mastering public speaking and leadership are core skills needed for dealing with other people.
These skills are the communication skills you use many times every single day. Instead of thinking about doing a big presentation with your Toastmaster skills, think about something as simple as talking with a group of friends.
Many people who have labelled themselves introverts or lack social skills can find Toastmasters to be a fantastic place to rapidly improve their communication skills.
Even if you are a very sociable person, Toastmasters can teach you to improve your skills and give you the confidence that comes from being a competent speaker.
But if you just go to one meeting and see the prepared speeches, this benefit of Toastmasters might not be apparent. It took me several months before I really found the intrinsic benefits to Toastmasters.
Although the improvement to public speaking comes immediately, it can take a little longer before you recognize the benefits it has in all communication.
Toastmasters is a great place to make friends and meet new people.
Organizations in general are great places to meet people, but I would say that the Toastmasters atmosphere facilitates it even more. I have met many people through Toastmasters, including many people I might not have otherwise had the chance to meet.
One of the reasons I feel Toastmasters makes it easier to meet people is because there is a strong emphasis on being very supportive of the people around you.
It’s too bad that this attitude isn’t ingrained in all our dealings with other people, because it really makes it much easier to make friends. I can’t speak for all clubs when I make this statement, but generally I have found Toastmasters to be a place that tries its best to make people feel welcomed.
The second reason Toastmasters is a great place to meet people is because there is mutually positive feedback between members. By giving and receiving positive feedback I think rapport is established much more quickly.
If you do decide to join a club with a high volume of new members I have found this to be even more true as everyone is trying to learn at the same time.
One of the aspects of Toastmasters that surprised me most was just how fun the meetings are. Even without all the skill and relationship benefits, I would go to meetings sheerly for entertainment.
Unfortunately, I think this aspect of Toastmasters is also overlooked by new members. In the first few meetings you might feel a bit fresh and nervous, so it might be hard to enjoy yourself.
But I’ve found after just a couple meetings members have often told me that they come just for the stress relief or laughs.
I’ve been to meetings where there was improv comedy, jokes, and even charades. Even the regular activities such as prepared speeches, table topics and doing introductions are usually filled with humour.
If your initial impression of Toastmasters was that of a stuffy, boring organization where people gave toasts to each other, then I think you should look again.
How to Join Toastmasters
Now that I’ve spun on about how great toastmasters is, I want to tell you how you can join a club in your area. Joining is incredibly easy and is extremely cheap compared to the value you get out of it.
Step One: Find a Club
Finding a club is actually much easier than you would think. There are thousands of clubs all over the world, so even if you live in a remote place of the world, you might be able to find a local club.
I used to live in a small town of a few thousand people several hundred kilometers away from any major city and I was surprised to realize that there was a club in my area.
Find your local club here.
Step Two: Contact the Club
Most clubs have a contact address where you can send the vice president of membership an e-mail asking about the club. They should be able to tell you when they meet, what kind of members (experienced, new, etc.) and what to expect.
If you live in a larger city, you can probably find many different clubs so you can pick and choose what best fits your schedule. So far all of the clubs I have contacted were extremely receptive to new guests, so just send a few e-mails and you will probably get quick responses.
Step Three: Come as a Guest
Each club has a different membership policy, but almost all of them allow for guest visits for a couple of meetings before membership is required. So if you aren’t sure about the Toastmasters experience, come as a guest and check it out.
This way you can check out several clubs and find one that suits your needs.
Not all clubs are perfect and some might not be suitable for you. As the VP of Membership in my own club, I’ve seen a lot of guests pass by our club (as well as those who join).
Just because you dislike the first club you go to would be no reason to stop. I would say try at least three different clubs before making a decision about whether Toastmasters is right for you. Clubs can vary like flavours of ice-cream so just because you don’t like vanilla doesn’t mean you won’t like chocolate.
Step Four: Come for at Least Six Months
Unfortunately, one of the biggest downsides of Toastmasters is simply that the benefits of membership won’t be apparent initially. When I did my first few speeches and impromptu speaking opportunities, I didn’t notice drastic improvement and I hadn’t yet gotten to know all the members.
However after completing more speeches and spending several months I really began to see Toastmasters as being fun, educational and useful to my life.
This may be a bit of an investment to spend six months as a trial period for whether you like this Toastmasters thing, but I believe that it can take at least this long before the benefits come pouring in.
Some people respond well to Toastmasters and make huge improvements within just a handful of meetings, while others may take longer to build skills and it could take several months.
I’ve said before how I believe in the 30-day trials of experimenting with an idea for thirty consecutive days. Well since Toastmaster meetings are usually only once per week, expanding one month to six would be about fair. If you are willing to invest a month into a new idea, diet, or habit then I think coming up with a little cash and an hour a week isn’t too hard.
Toastmasters is a great club for all ages to join. My last club I was the youngest member by at least 10 years, but the new club I am in is a student club where most people range from 20-25.
If you are in a foreign country and don’t speak the native language, Toastmasters can be a great place to learn. Many members have noted it was a great place to learn English (or whatever language your club speaks).
There are few things I strictly advocate because I believe each person is different. While I’m not arrogant enough to assume Toastmasters is for everyone, I have found it an overwhelmingly positive experience. And again, if you haven’t already clicked the find a club link, here it is.
Scott Young is a writer, programmer, traveller and avid reader of interesting things. For the last 10 years, he has been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better. He doesn't promise he has all the answers, just a place to start.