The Art of Speaking  

Tough decision changes life

By Sandy Magee

For over 20 years, I vowed I would face my debilitating fear of public speaking.

Conveniently, I always had a great excuse for not following through: too busy, cost prohibitive, it’s not a skill I really need right now….

With every year, the fear grew, made worse by the fact that I work solo in front of a computer screen all day long.

In January, 2013, I finally did it. I grew tired of my weak excuses and I followed through on a new year’s resolution and confronted my fear.

I found the Kelowna AM Toastmasters group that meets every Thursday morning downtown (6:45 a.m. at The Royal Anne Hotel).

The early start was tough; I am not a morning person, however, it fit my work schedule.

When I walked into my first meeting, I was a sweaty, anxious mess. My heart was racing like I was running a marathon.

However, I was instantly embraced by the warm and friendly group and was relieved to be introduced by a Toastmasters veteran.

I left thoroughly impressed with the speaking skills I witnessed, and how well organized the meeting was.

For several meetings, I observed quietly – with no pressure to speak — to see if the program would be a good fit for me.

I quickly learned that my experience was not unique, and that most people join Toastmasters to overcome their fear of speaking in front of a group.

I suppose that is why Toastmasters, a worldwide organization, has more than 345,000 members and 90 plus years of history.

I also learned that the program is not just about making fancy toasts (although that does happen at each meeting). Toastmasters is a well-oiled machine with organized agendas, specific roles for each meeting and manuals for setting and attaining incremental public speaking goals.

But wait! There’s more!

As a bonus, I got to hone my listening and evaluation skills, work on both prepared and impromptu speeches and try my hand at some leadership skills.

With time and practice, I became comfortable speaking in front of the group, and I attribute this to the friendly and encouraging environment Toastmaster’s provides. 

Case in point, feedback during speech evaluations are called gifts. I have reaped many benefits from those gifts, from the obvious – eliminating ums and ahs from daily speech patterns, to more subtle outcomes such as a boost in self confidence in my every-day life.

However, by far the biggest gift I received was the ability to stand up and deliver the speech of my life — my mother’s eulogy.

One year, after I joined Toastmasters, my mother passed away and I was charged with emceeing at her memorial.

It was one of the most difficult things I have ever faced, however, thanks to Toastmasters, I was equipped with the tools to write and deliver a farewell befitting a loved one.

Had I not had the Toastmasters training, I would have avoided speaking and I'm quite sure it would have been a life-long regret.

I will be forever grateful to the Toastmasters program and the friendly people supporting me every Thursday morning.

They not only helped me conquer a fear, but encouraged me to develop the skills to be confident and coherent in any situation.

When I joined Toastmasters, I thought it would be a quick fling, a speech or two and I’d be on my way… six months at the most. Here I am, four years later and I’m still learning, growing and enjoying all the benefits Toastmasters has to offer.

My only regret is that I waited 20 years to face my fear, because it really has been a life-changing experience.

Sandy Magee is a graphic designer, author and illustrator living in Kelowna. When he's not working, he's typically playing outside or sipping an espresso at a local coffee shop and doodling characters for his next children's book. He can be reached at www.redsandkids.com or www.redsandcreative.com.

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About the Author

The mission of a Toastmaster Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment that offers every member the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.

There are eight Toastmasters clubs in the Central Okanagan.

For more information and/or to find a club near you, check http://www.toastmasters.org.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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