Some people come out of the womb fantastic speakers; the rest of us need a little help. I WAS ACTUALLY A VERY SHY CHILD. The first time I got up to teach a class, I was 22. I thought I was going to vomit. When I was living in Atlanta, I gave a presentation. I was horrible. A woman walked up to me and said, “You have potential — but you need a lot of help.” She introduced me to Toastmasters.
I rejoined when I moved to Boston. People told me, “YOU HAVE A CHANCE AT THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP.” It took me four tries. Speak is a documentary that follows competitors to the 2008 World Championship of Public Speaking. My speech, “Baby, Don’t Believe Them,” was about my journey from low self-esteem to the college professor you see now.
People love the story of the hero, someone who overcomes overwhelming odds to be a self-assured person. EVERYBODY FACES ADVERSITY; those that can weave that in a story come out on top in Toastmasters. What you see [in the film] are those who have gone through the process and developed that confidence. Few come to Toastmasters already confident public speakers; the majority come with zero skills.
The dread of public speaking absolutely makes sense to me; it’s THE FEAR YOU’RE GOING TO RUB PEOPLE THE WRONG WAY or make yourself look like a complete idiot. Now, when I get up to speak to my classes at Curry College, there’s no twinge of fear whatsoever, but if it’s a fresh, new audience, or particularly large, there’s still a little bit of that. The one thing people want to do is practice. Too many people think they can wing it. I guarantee you, your mind is going to go blank.
— As told to Melissa Schorr