When I realized back in 2002 that my first novel was actually being published, I came up against another thought. One that scared me silly. I would have to speak about the book publicly.
I am an admitted introvert, but that does not mean I lack determination. I wracked my brain as to how I could handle this looming obstacle to my career. Two ideas sprang to mind:
- Dale Carnegie Course
I didn’t know anything about Dale Carnegie besides that it cost a lot of money, which I didn’t have, and I had no idea if or where it was offered. I checked the websites of various towns and the small city nearby, and discovered a Toastmasters Club forty minutes away. Gathering my courage, I joined.
One of the first things that happens at a Toastmasters meeting is the introduction of members and guests. As I drove the forty minutes to the meetings, I would rehearse my simple introduction. Nine years and many speeches later, I had achieved my Advanced Communicator Silver and Advanced Leader. This accomplishment still surprises me sometimes, except when I look back at what it’s done for me. I have confidently launched four books, presented book readings, classes, workshops and a keynote speech. There are still butterflies and an introvert’s nagging mantra: “how did I get myself into this?” But beyond this, I have the experience of many speeches and presentations to remind me that I’ve done it before and I can do it again.
How does Toastmasters work?
* The first manual consists of ten speeches. You choose the topic, the speech is timed and evaluated by your peers at the meetings.
* Each speech involves a new communication skill to be incorporated into your speech: eye contact, body language, gestures, vocal variation, visual aids, etc. And every speech presented gives you more confidence that you can do it again…and better.
* One aspect of speech evaluation that I regard very highly is the timing issue. A speech at a Toastmasters meeting is docked for being under or over the time allotted. If you’ve ever sat through an endless address or attended a meeting that went on for hours, you know how important timing is. If you are given fifteen minutes to speak, then you learn to time your presentation to between fourteen and sixteen minutes. The way you assure the length of your speech is to practice it aloud. More than once. After a while it becomes second nature to ask for time allotment and to gauge your speech accordingly.
* You learn to organize your material with a beginning, middle and end, whether it’s a speech or a Table Topic (unrehearsed two-minute speech).
* After the first manual, you are free to choose the next manuals from an extensive and interesting list. As you progress in your manual, you are worked into the meeting schedule in other aspects, including timing, counting “ahs,” leading the business portion of the meeting, and evaluation, to name a few. I often found evaluation experience as valuable as speaking.
* Besides local meetings, Toastmasters offers many opportunities to enter speech and evaluation contests at higher levels of the organization. All along the way, members are friendly, encouraging and inspiring.
So if you are an aspiring writer, get into the action ahead of time by signing up with a local Toastmasters group and learn public speaking in a warm, accepting environment. If you already have some books or articles published, it’s never too late to analyze and improve your presentation skills.
Take a look at this site for more information, and search out a Toastmasters Club nearby.