I’ve always told myself I wasn’t afraid of anything; including public speaking. I’d spoke to my local council as a child, asking them to build a skate park. I’d done presentations in uni and for work. Sure, I would always be nervous, but I wasn’t afraid… was I?
Just over a year ago, I went along to my first Toastmasters meeting in Leeds as a visitor.
If you don’t know what Toastmasters is, it’s basically an organisation you can join to improve your public speaking skills. They have clubs and meetings all over the world. Go check out their website if you want to find out more.
As a visitor, you’re invited to stand up and do a Table Topic if you wish to. This is where you’re given a topic to speak on and you immediately stand up and speak for 1-2 minutes off the cuff. The thought of it scared the hell out of me. When asked, I immediately reasoned with myself, made my excuses and politely declined.
Maybe next time. I’d done well just turning up. In other words, I pussied out. Big time.
On my way home, I felt pretty good for going along, although I knew at the back of my mind I should have stood up and spoken. It was okay though, there’s always next time. I told myself I would definitely join up and go to all the meetings. You might guess where this is going…
I couldn’t make the next meeting for a genuine reason (seriously!), and after that it was all downhill.
“I didn’t feel up to it”.
“I should really catch up on some more work”.
“I’m moving to Harrogate soon so I’ll just wait and go to one there instead”.
“I’m still settling in to my new home so it can wait a while”.
Excuses after excuses after excuses.
Every so often someone would tell me how great it was and recommend going along, but I still didn’t go. This went on for twelve long months.
Okay, maybe I’m more afraid of public speaking than I first thought…
Then one day, things changed. I decided to sign up for an accountability partner through a group I’m part of. I was paired up with an awesome guy from Sweden called Andreas.
On our first call, we shared the three things each of us wanted to get done that week. One of mine was to meet with an accountability partner. I’d managed to turn up, so we both agreed it was a bit of a cop out and I’d need something else instead.
Funnily enough, I happened to be thinking about Toastmasters that day. The next meeting happened to be the same evening, so I mentioned it to Andreas.
“That’s perfect!” he said.
“Uh oh…” I thought.
Earlier on the call we’d agreed that if we failed any of our 3 things, we would post our failure to the group we’re part of. It sounded like a great idea at the time.
So now I faced the scary prospect of turning up to Toastmasters in a few hours. Or facing the scarier prospect of posting my failure to 2,000+ other people if I didn’t go.
Hmm… better make sure I turn up then.
With the thought of having to explain my failure looming at the back of my mind, I set off for my second Toastmasters meeting.
There were six other people there. I was asked whether I wanted to do a Table Topic and perform the role of Ah Counter* for the evening (something usually reserved for members). With thoughts of regret ringing loudly from the last meeting, I decided to go for it and do both.
*The Ah Counter is just what it sounds like. You quickly explain the role at the beginning of the meeting, count peoples ums, ahs and other crutch words, and report back at the end.
Most of the evening from then on was a blurry haze of nervousness, tension and terror. I managed to stand up and string some words together to explain the Ah Counter role. I waffled on for a minute to fill the silence of Table Topics. And I strung together a few more words to sum up the ums and ahs.
When I finally took a deep breath at the end, I felt a wave of relief and proudness pass over me. I had actually done it. I got up to speak unprepared and didn’t die in the process. And best of all, I felt amazing.
The following evening, I tried to find a good word to sum up the great feeling you get after doing something outside your comfort zone, but couldn’t. After a bit of searching, I came across a word for feeling good when you’re comfortable, added ‘un’, and voilà…
Uncomfortgasm: The irresistible rush of pleasure you get when expanding your comfort zone.