Finally, I delivered my first Toastmasters speech

On Tuesday I finally delivered my first speech at the NUS Toastmasters Club.

Preparation

This first speech (or “project” in the Toastmasters jargon) was supposed to be an ice breaker. The goal was to introduce myself to the fellow Toastmasters. Needless to say, the first thing that came to my mind was something akin to a simple “standard” self introduction where one mentions his or her name, background, hobbies, etc. But that would be problematic. It would probably suffice for 30-second talking, but definitely not for a 4 to 6 minute speech. Those cold facts would also hardly provide a vivid view into my real person. Furthermore, I would be speaking to Toastmasters, rather than a general audience, so I had better also taylor my speech to the more specific audience. I decided that I would talk about myself through an experience that could reflect both who I was and why I joined Toastmasters. The final choice I made was my embarrassing concert organising history.

Now it came to the preparation of the concrete materials. If this had been half a year earlier, I would have written an outline with bullet points only and declared victory. Since I had given enough horrible speeches to know that I could hardly speak in public like a normal person without thinking about every sentence I would say in advance, I wrote a full script first and then converted it to a bullet point list which could remind me during the speech.

It was still a step away from a nice speech though. I needed to read the script over and over, try to memorise most part of it, and time myself so I could ensure that I would finish in time. This, however, I did not find sufficient time to do. In the beginning, I quickly realised that my script was too long (around 1000 words), so I spent some time shortening it to around 800 words. I read it once and found that I could finish in time. I did not check it anymore other than when commuting on a bus between my flat and the lab on the day of the speech. I did not like to spend my lab hours on this.

Chapter Meeting

The chapter meeting was pleasant, although I started to worry a bit in the beginning when I found more than a dozen guests there (it turned out to be a demo meeting).

The speech went okay. The time went fast and I was not as nervous as I had imagined. The beginning was smooth. I practised it many times after all. In the middle though, I got stuck a few times going through my notes for what to say next, which kind of embarrassed me and made me worry that I would exceed the time limit. In some parts I also digressed a bit, using different expressions than planned and adding some extra details, but luckily the speech as a whole still felt cohesive.

Feedback

Although I felt a bit disappointed when the timer said that my speech ran almost 2 minutes over the time limit and would not be qualified for the voting, I soon recognised that this was because I had not done sufficient timed rehearsals during the preparation and this issue was totally fixable in the future, and stopped minding the result any more. The same heppened once more when the ah counter told me that I had more than ten fillers (mostly ums) in my speech.

The meeting as a whole actually made me feel very comfortable and happy. Part of it came from others' encouraging and helpful feedback. I was expecting the evaluator to barrage me with a lot of issues, but the feedback turned out to be quite encouraging. She pointed out the things that I had done well first: good structure, lots of eye contact (with the camera), story easily understandable and resonant. The things I could improve include: the tone could be less monotonous, and that I could slow down to avoid those unwanted pauses. I am quite happy about the evaluation and also agree with the suggestions. A few other toastmasters also PM’d me congratulating me for finishing my ice breaker or saying that they had enjoyed my speech.

Part of the pleasant experience came from the simple fact that my speech had been well respected by the fellow toastmasters. It was clear that they had listened very intently to it, however imperfect it was. For example, I was surprised to find quite a few of my expressions quoted by the language evaluator when she revisited and evaluated the language use throughout the meeting. some of which I had never imagined that I had uttered clearly enough for others to catch.

What’s Next

I am happy that I delivered my ice breaker speech. The experience was wonderful. I am now able to see more clearly how helpful Toastmasters clubs can be to timid horrible public speakers like me. They create a friendly environment where I am always encouraged no matter how badly I speak. I did still feel embarrassed this time when I made a mistake, but I am confident that I will get embarrassed less next time.

In fact this fear of embarrassment has always been a major hindrance for me. I have already been a Toastmaster for more than half a year (I joined the club towards the end of last year), but used to myself procrastinating again and again on the first prepared speech. I made excuses for myself by imagining that I was busy. This was not entirely false, of course, for as a PhD student I certainly usually had quite a lot of work to do, but it was not true either that I had difficulties arranging time to prepare a speech. The real problem was in most part still my lack of courage to step out of my comfort zone.

I am hoping that it will be easier for me to overcome my fear in the future now that I have made the first step. Not just the prepared speech, but the table topic speech too, which I probably have even more problems with. This time I still cowered during the table topic speech section, fearing that I would be picked to speak about any random question with little preparation (also why my performance in the TOEFL oral exam was so bad). I hope I will be brave enough to take a shot next time.