Do not underestimate the power of this skill
Something was missing in my life when I was young. I was a real introvert, just doing my stuff quietly and always shadowing others. However, I always wanted good things for myself at least a reputable school.
I managed to get into reputable schools from a young age by the skin of my teeth where the grades just made it but I was greatly disillusioned with myself. At these schools, you would see talented young people since the schools are highly ranked. Some of my classmates were articulate, well read and rich. Many were not rich but they were highly intelligent. Some of them could even waxed poetical and some were simply mathematics geniuses. I was neither knowledgeable nor rich nor vocal and that truly put me in a disadvantaged position. To make matters worse, I was a stutterer.
On top of that, many of these outstanding students were also well rounded excelling in sports and extra curricular activities They were clearly leaders of tomorrow. I realized one hard truth — the world favors the rich, the smart and the outstanding people.
I continued my mediocre journey into the University. During Orientation, we had to go individually onto the stage to introduce ourselves. I almost died , having no experience in public speaking. University orientation was meant to be humiliating to humble the new comers, an odd tradition. Anyway, to cut my agony, I was shooed off the stage. Some brave vocal young classmates of mine performed well and were immediately glorified.
Subsequently after the trauma and the shame, I did not have a voice largely and chose to keep quiet throughout my next four years. I did not participate in any activities or took on leadership roles as expected. I did not feel equipped. Even until I worked as a graduate dentist.
One day, something clicked in me. There was somebody trying to get out of me and it was trying to assert itself. I embarked on my quest to learn public speaking. I first signed up with BBC council for just three sessions. The agonizing part was to be videotaped and watched myself fumbled and mumbled and stuttered. It was embarrassing and brought back painful memories of my inadequate past.
The course ended but not my pursuit of this new dream to be articulate. Everyday after work, I whipped out a book and practised reading aloud for twenty minutes to control my stuttering. Sometimes, I would tape myself though I hate my voice. It was not melodious enough.
Then I signed up for Dale Carnegie course that was available then. They taught public speaking and assured us that at the end of the ten sessions, we would be able to hold at least a 5 minute speech. On the first session, my self-introduction lasted 9 seconds. Among the students were professionals like myself, directors and managers, executives and office workers. We all had the fear of public speaking.
It was a well -organized course. The instructor’s message was forceful and inspiring each time . After his speech, the stage was ours. Each session, we were given a theme. It was ‘anger’, then ‘sorrow’ then ‘humor’ and so on and we were urged to prepare sincerely for our homework.
It was fun. The sessions were meant to elicit our emotions and in the process caused us to drop our facade and we would become our more authentic selves. We saw the improvement in each other. When the course ended, I felt that I have improved judging from the increased time I spent delivering my speech. No mean feat for an introvert.
The fear of public speaking never went away. So the quest to hone public speaking skill had to continue. It was during this time, I came across a Toastmasters club ( SIM II Toastmasters Club )which was gaining popularity among many clubs in Singapore. Toastmasters clubs are part of Toastmasters International, a non profit organization, first started by Ralph Smedley in the US in 1924.
Its purpose was to develop public speaking and leadership skills. But over the years, one develops increased confidence, listening skills, networking and many other intrinsic benefits. Today, it has become a movement with 357,000 members in 143 countries.
That was in 1990 when I first joined SIM II Toastmasters club. Almost thirty years later, I am still with the club and we have certainly evolved. In the process of being a Toastmaster, we have taken on many roles during our chapter meetings from President to Vice president of Education to treasurer to secretary and so on. Each has its responsibilities and we learned new things other than our jobs. Most important, we learnt how to present a structured relevant speech that engages the audience, within the time allowed and speak with a good control of our nervousness if any.
During the chapter meetings, we also learn the proper and good use of English language which I find ever charming to my ears. Postures, gestures were all considered. We improve through the evaluations by more experienced fellow Toastmasters members and there is a mentor system as well to help new members get started.
Due to the diverse culture in the club and the sharing of ideas through project speeches, each member gains tremendous knowledge from outside their field and a better understanding of fellow members.
Significance of public speaking
I can attest to the benefits of Toastmasters.
People who joined public speaking courses and are willing to work at this craft would see tremendous personal growth. I have witnessed new members who came in without a system so to speak of putting across their ideas undergo change when they do their project speeches. A structured manual is given to new members. Once they get started, they should improve on the next speech following the evaluations given to them during the previous presentation.
Two members from China who were not particularly articulate at first but due to their own diligence emerged champions in club contests. The experience and recognition were also important attributes of their resumes. Subsequently, they have also advanced in their careers.
I have benefited much too. I feel more confident and have a sense of well being — — of being able to communicate effectively, of being able to negotiate better and understand others better as they may not be able to express themselves well. I have also succeeded in losing my ‘crutch’ which is my script to appear more professional. I have reduced my time fillers which are words of no meaning but used to fill silence during speaking such as ‘um’ , ‘ah’ and ‘you know’.
As a dental surgeon, I am able to explain succinctly my protocol to my patients and also handle any misunderstanding with ease. It all boils down to effective communication. Patients leave the practice happily, understanding the treatment they have received and this translates into more referrals. Everyday, it has been a pleasant working time.
The reality is that people at the top and in key positions are often people who are articulate. They are seen as leaders who dare to speak and can lead the followers. The truth is that people who can communicate well are seen as more friendly and attractive. The certainty is that you will have more success in what you want to achieve.
The ball is in your court
Do you want measurable personal growth?
Do you want to build self confidence and a sense of well being?
Do you want to advance rapidly in your career?
Do you want to be able to tell your stories and enthrall your audience?
Do you want to make more friends?
Do you want more opportunities in life?
Do you want to be respected for your ability to communicate?
Do you want to become more mindful everyday?
The benefits are immeasurable. I noticed that those members who brought younger children to observe the club meetings( they are not allowed to be members until 21 years old) improved in subtle ways. By inviting them to stand up and introduce themselves, it is a good start to becoming future toastmasters.
I followed these children and found that they have gone on to do well in school, participating in their school story telling contests. One teenager developed good communication skills and confidence enough to start a magic performance career.
Whether young or old, working or retired, public speaking is an essential skill to master. Life is so much more interesting when one is able to communicate well. Misunderstandings could be averted. Instructions could be carried out to a T. Opportunities opened up suddenly. This IS the secret to success and not many people are even aware of it.
The founder of Toastmasters International