American writer and theologian Carl W. Buechner once stated, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Unwittingly, he may have been talking about Toastmasters.
In many ways, Toastmasters is the ultimate paradox. Many have indicated that the greatest of all fears is public speaking. It would stand to reason, then, that perhaps the most fearful of places is a Toastmasters’ meeting. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
For the purpose of writing this article, I spent some time reflecting on my experiences in being a part of Toastmasters. I considered the question of how an organization can take what most consider being a terrifying experience, and turn it into a completely enjoyable and compelling proposition. It turns out (in my opinion) to be quite simple.
It seems to me that the terrifying part of public speaking isn’t so much the speaking part. Most of us spend much of our day speaking to other people. Even as an introvert, the vast majority of opportunities I have to speak to others aren’t frightening in any way. By process of elimination, I would contend that the nerve-wracking part of speaking to an audience is, well, the audience.
In Toastmasters, we find the answer to the question regarding turning a terrifying experience into an enjoyable and compelling proposition.
How does Toastmasters do it? In short, Toastmasters provides a “safe” environment. Most of us don’t like to be judged; the environment of Toastmasters is non-judgmental. The prevailing sensation is one of support. Our local clubs go to great lengths to ensure the supportive environment for members and guests. Each week, as I walk into a meeting, I am assured of certain things – regardless of who I am, how long I’ve been affiliated with the club, or my status or position. I will be greeted. People will smile at me.
All efforts will be made to ensure I feel welcomed; it will seem as though I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Perhaps as important as anything, I will learn. I will be better as I leave than I was when I arrived. I will grow.
Carl W. Buechner would love being a part of Toastmasters, just as I do.
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