Public speaking is said to be up there with divorce and dying as people's deepest fear.
While I agree it's not my favourite to do, I'd much rather speak in public than die, so it's something I've been focusing of late. As a writer, I often feel that I am quite capable of getting my thoughts across with the written word (although maybe not in this blog post - the McBaby is preventing me from sleeping at the moment!), but feel my speaking and shyness let me down.
So when I was invited to the local Toastmasters group by a really lovely lady I met at a networking group (see my official blog on the subject) here what could I do but agree to go!
MrM selfishly insisted that I borrow his car (I was going to walk and then make the most of the bar prior to the meeting), so I drove to the rugby club and squeaked something about having been invited and being here to practise public speaking. They asked me if I'd like to participate in a "table topic" which is a two-minute unprepared speech on a subject that is revealed to you seconds before your performance!
I agreed - after all - no point being there otherwise.
Then I started to realise that everyone at this club was VERY, very, VERY good.
I was in utter dread by this point, having looked at the very detailed agenda which contained assessments of speeches, assessments of the assessments, and what looked like hell - something called an "um-ah report", which reminded me of the great "The Day Today" piece about a workplace where everybody was invited to stop someone saying "um" by shouting "um" in his face every time he made the utterance.
There's even a person called a "grammarian" which sounds about the most perfect job for me that ever existed, although disappointingly she didn't pull people up for "could of", "hisself", "I was sat" or "invite" (as a noun).
The toastmaster went in front of me and his "table topic" was something about whether you'd consider rekindling the tradition of hitting a cat as a Shrove Tuesday tradition. By this point, I was truly considering running out the room and to my car while I considered what hellish topic I would be given.
It was something I simply could not have predicted. "Are Easter eggs getting smaller, and if so, is that a good thing?"
Oh emmm gee.
My mind went B-L-A-N-K.
I started my speech by insulting the table topic master. "Maybe Easter eggs aren't getting smaller, maybe you're getting bigger!"
Which went down quite well, surprisingly!
So then I started ranting about other things that have apparently got smaller. Wagon wheels. Car parking spaces.
Then I started talking about fudge.
Then I lost the thread of what I was saying and started talking about the packaging of Easter Eggs.
Then I decided that I was boring everyone and asked if I could sit down.
Which I did, with a ludicrous 45 seconds to spare. Yet, despite doing a speech that was half as long as it was meant to be, it turned out from the "um ah" officer that I said "um " six times. Not the most prolific "ummer" in the room, but not good, although they said that some people "um" 20 times on their first visit.
Can you imagine how astonished I was to be voted the best "table topic" speaker by a vote? I was asked to go up to the front to collect a ribbon as my talk was voted the best and sat in disbelief like Emma Thompson at the Oscars wondering if it was a joke?
I keep looking at this ribbon and laughing. It's going to be one of my most treasured possessions as to think my nonsense rant about Easter eggs was the best in the room is laughable. However, the toastmaster (a completely natural and very impressive speaker) said people tend to come across better than they think. I agree!
I sat next to another first timer who was a lovely girl who seemed to be very good at public speaking. I noticed too, that a lot of the people there were INdian, which I thought was very interesting. I understand that this club is invaluable to people who want to speak English better, but why Indian people in particular?
It was a very enjoyable evening (and I can say that in hindsight, because I actually was so nervous that I didn't enjoy it at all), and I'd love to do it again. If you're nervous about public speaking and want some practice in a safe environment, I cannot recommend it highly enough!