Don't let a fear of public speaking hold you back

September 8th, 2019 7:32 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Siobhan with former club president Audrey Harris

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You can, not just overcome a fear of public speaking, but master the art – with a little help from some friends.

ABOUT three quarters of people have a fear of speaking in public.

That’s a lot of people worried about something that will affect almost all of us at some stage.

Whether it’s making a point at a parent teacher or tidy towns meeting, having to speak at a wedding or funeral, or even just contributing at a dinner party, it’s hard to avoid it.

So, how do you overcome it?

And, can you not just overcome it, but master it and – heavens above – even learn to enjoy it? I thought I never would.

But 18 months on from my first visit to West Cork Toastmasters, I am looking forward to the new winter sessions starting again. Toastmasters has been going a long time … since 1924, in fact.

Little did its American founder Ralph Smedley realise, that almost 100 years later, there would be 358,000 members in 143 countries, covering almost 17,000 clubs, with new ones coming online every year.

He wanted to set up a non-profit club for men (originally) who wanted to gain confidence in speaking, and leadership, and very quickly the idea grew.

The word refers to making a ‘toast’ at an occasion – and so the idea of  ‘mastering’ any speech, or ‘toast’ was born and now the meetings are open to anyone over 18.

Everytime I see the number of members quoted, I am amazed there aren’t more, to be honest.

The programme has developed from an ad-hoc speaking group in the organisation’s infancy to a very developed programme online and in manuals today.

You can pick what elements of speaking or leadership you want to concentrate on, and follow that programme.

You write and then develop your speeches, following excellent online tools to help you create them and aim to give your best performance on the day. But if that sounds daunting – it shouldn’t be.

You can spend a few weeks building up to your first speech by watching your club colleagues perform speeches at varying levels, and you will also be given an experienced mentor to help you with everything – from choosing a subject, to constructing an engaging speech, to dealing with nerves and doing your best performance each time.

Our club encourages people to start their first speech with something gentle – like maybe reading a favourite short poem from a book.

It’s all about confronting your fears, getting up there, and doing it anyway. If technology is your thing, then you can follow a ‘path’ (the Toastmasters term) that accommodates that.

If you want to be an expert on humorous speeches, or more analytical ones, then you can choose those directions too. The most important thing is to take that first step and just check it out.

• West Cork Toastmasters is holding a free Open Day at 11am on Saturday September 21st at the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery. Come and see what it’s all about, meeting finishes at 12.30pm sharp. All are welcome.

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