Why I decided to join the Toastmasters club

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Two weeks ago, I attended my first ever Toastmasters class.

I came across the name of this organisation several times before.

The first time, four years ago, when I was completing a public speaking course. The last time, 3 weeks ago, when I read that the majority of Fortune 500 companies including some chunky names such as Coca-Cola, IBM, Google, and Microsoft now sponsor their own Toastmasters clubs for all their employees.

This information got me so intrigued that I had to finally give my local club a try!

I went to the Toastmasters website to find a local club and the first thing I saw was this:

 

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‘Wow!’ – I thought.

‘I can’t remember the last time I read something more powerful!’

What a truly remarkable way to set a vision for the new learners!

These few sentences made me realise that committing myself to mastering public speaking, something that I made a firm decision about 4 years ago was so much more than just about making a decision to learn how to manage my fear.

It was a decision to become a leader!

A leader of my own life, my thoughts, my emotions, my actions, my decisions –  despite all my fears!

It turned out to be a huge lesson on how to communicate with others, connect with another human being, listen and understand others through firstly understanding yourself, your fears, your motives and your habits.

After my first experience with the club, I can honestly say that this was one of the greatest gifts I could give myself, despite the fact that I have practically made a living of my public speaking skills ever since I made a decision to make a change.

Watching all these experienced and confident speakers made me also realise how much more and how much faster I could have learned from others than trying to figure it out all by myself over the last few years.

However, I have also discovered how much more there is still to learn which made me really look forward to all the new and endless possibilities!

If you too are considering joining the club, let me tell you this – don’t waste your time thinking about it!

There is a reason why you are interested in this.

Start being a leader today and do it!

You will thank yourself for this decision a million times over 🙂

 

A very special anniversary

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11th March.

I looked at the calendar and thought: ‘something important happened on that day’.

I couldn’t figure out what it was until I checked my work calendar. Exactly a year ago, I organised my first ever public speaking session at my company!

I didn’t plan it.

It wasn’t my idea.

A senior employee, who attended my series of a digital marketing-related training that I delivered at my company’s offices,  approached me after the last session.

-Why don’t you teach us all how you do it?

-But.. I thought I just did! – I replied and smiled slightly worried.

-No, I mean teach us how to speak so comfortably in public!

I was surprised, flattered and a bit doubtful when I first heard it. But, at the same time, my brain immediately started imagining what I could do to in order to make it happen.

-I guess I could! – I replied.

The next day, in order not to chicken out from this idea, I created an event and invited the whole company to a 2-hour session that was due to take place in just over 2 weeks time.

I started preparing myself by writing all the possible things I could share.

But as I was doing it, the chimp in my head (that is the emotional part of my brain) realised the potential magnitude of this task and I got very anxious.

I was just about to attempt to persuade my work colleagues that speaking with confidence in front of an audience is possible and, if practised, can even become enjoyable!

And I, the person who was still nervous before each new speech, was to stand there and make it sound easy!

It wasn’t just about learning how to speak. To make an impact, this training had to be about learning how to express yourself freely, telling the world who you are, what’s your story and what you know!

Who was I to do such a thing?

Did I know enough about it myself?

Did I have the power to convince anyone to try?

“But what if they think that I am full of myself?”- my chimp was definitely not helping out with this task.

I knew I had to go back to working on myself. On my own confidence!

I went back to reading my books on this subject, I watched loads of videos on Youtube from Stanford and Harvard University professors, motivational speakers, through to doctors and spiritual leaders.

A week before the session I already had 25 people signed up for the training and then the adrenaline hit really hard…

I read more, researched more and wrote more of what I would like to say because that was taking me away from my anxious and unhelpful thoughts.

It got to the point that I even got myself a waterproof notepad and took notes of videos that I watched while taking a bath. Seriously, I still have it and highly recommend it! 🙂

I also knew that just reading a book, watching a video or attending a lecture wouldn’t get anyone to speak.

This training couldn’t be as simple as showing some slides and telling my story. It had to be done in a way that our scared brains would react in a courageous way!

We had to practice speaking!

11th March arrived.

I stood in front of all these people who gathered in a small room. My mouth was dry, my hands were shaking, my breath was shallow.

I told them I would share my story and my speaking tips but we were also going to practice speaking.

I could see the fear in their eyes. They didn’t expect it and they definitely didn’t look forward to it!

And then.. something beautiful happened.

I realised that all of these people decided to participate because they trusted that I could teach them something useful.

My mind decided to switch its attention from my thoughts to the thoughts of my audience.

My heart followed applying the same system to feelings.

Somehow all the right words came to my mouth and I said much more than I thought I would. Fo 2 hours we were all operating on the same wave length. We smiled, we laughed, we shared the same emotions, we practice speaking and… we all had a great time! 

I cried that night from the overwhelming feeling of gratefulness for this moment in my life. I realised that by overcoming my own fear I gave something important to others.

Ever since that day, we have been meeting on regular basis to practice our skills by presenting 5-minute speeches where anyone has a chance to share their thoughts on any subject as long as its at least slightly related to work. The audience plays an important role in this too because after each speech everyone has to give the presenter some positive feedback.

Why only positive?

Because our brains are experts in finding negatives themselves and most of the time we know very well what we did wrong. However, it’s what we do right that is sometimes hard for ourselves to pinpoint.

If you hear from others what you do right, what made them listen, what is your strength, you can use that to master your further speeches.

It needed, however, to be done in a safe atmosphere which is not often easy to achieve at workplaces. But boy did we do it.. So far, I heard almost 20 stories during which we cried, laughed, felt intrigued, inspired and educated. We realised how much talent and knowledge lies within us and we felt even more driven to do more!

A few months later I delivered another training session on this subject and I can truly say that both the training and the practice sessions are changing my life constantly!  I really believe that they help us built trust within the company, they make us all grow personally and professionally.

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March is a very special month for me also for another reason. Four of those people who attended the training are going abroad this month to present for the first time in their life at a business conference related to our industry.

They go there to look their fear in the eyes and to show the world who they are. Because they told themselves THEY CAN!

And the rest will be history 🙂

What 2016 Taught Me About Public Speaking?

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 13.07.58End of each year is always a good occasion for conducting some summaries.

2016 has been another very busy one for me.

When I look back at this year, I could think about how much time I spent away from home on many long and lonely business trips.

Instead, I decided to shift my focus and made a list of all the things that I learned through this experience.

  • For the first time in my life, I presented on a big stage in front of 200 people and..I really enjoyed it! All my experience as a small groups’ trainer paid off when speaking in front of a large group and it didn’t feel much different. I then delivered a short workshop to 80 people in London which I also purely enjoyed. Something that just 4 years would have made me struggle to sleep at night proved to be enjoyable!
  • It turned out that delivering webinars is not very different from doing a face-to-face training. It requires the same amount of preparation in terms of the content, but more focus on a number of words chosen to describe the subject (the time was limited to 20 minutes) and more control of your own emotions.
  • I discovered that I can pass my knowledge on public speaking and organise practice sessions that people are willing to attend
  • I realised that with enough of enthusiasm and dedication I could teach other people to become successful speakers/trainers
  • I learned that during the most difficult time in my private life I could control my emotions and deliver a successful training

How to make 2017 the year of learning?

Every day brings opportunities to learn but it’s great to stop and check if we are actually doing it. And if the answer is ever ‘no’ then I always ask myself what I can do to learn more.

What areas would you like to improve?

If you are not sure, research various learning opportunities – whether this will be classes where you can master your public speaking, financial skills, improve your fitness or discover a new hobby.

If you want to grow and feel more satisfied with your development, put yourself forward to any learning opportunities that come your way. For instance, check any training that is offered by your company, local council or your friends. You may not know why you are doing it to start with or do it for another reason but it will pay off at some point in your life. I did public speaking course 4 years ago because I wanted to improve my communication skills during the business meetings. Little did I know where this will lead me!

Try to fill in gaps in our own understanding. Search for the answers to questions that you ask.

And finally, don’t expect different results by continuously doing what you have done so far.

When you learn, you grow and when you grow you feel fulfilled and that your life/career is going in the right direction.

I will finish with the quote which summarises this article well. It’s from one of my favourite Tedtalk presenters: Ken Robinson.

‘Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them; they’re not just lying around on the surface’ 

Think Yourself to Speaking Well

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I have recently finished reading a little but powerful book.

It’s called ‘As a Man Thinketh’ and it was published in 1903 by a British writer James Allen. The book is less than forty pages long but on every single page it sends a very powerful and clear message – learning how to manage your thoughts will put you in more control of your life and help you accomplish the things that are important to you.

I really believe that we are much more than what we think we are. By simply learning how to choose more positive and empowering thoughts and rejecting those that makes us feel scared, unworthy and weak, we can become more confident in our abilities.

The author compares our minds to a garden. Whether cultivated or neglected, things will grow in them. If gardens are cultivated and kept free from weeds, flowers and fruit grow. If neglected, weeds will start taking over and no seed will grow.

Looking after the garden requires self-discipline and practice. The more time you spend doing it, the better you become at it, the easier it gets. However, hard work is required right from the start.

It’s very easy to get nervous before the speech. All the natural fears of unknown, failure and being rejected kick in with twice the power.

I try my best to not allow myself to think negatively about the upcoming, arranged speaking events. Whenever the discouraging thoughts somehow manage to find the way into my brain, I quickly find the ways of distracting them with something more empowering – that is, for instance, reminding myself about the amount of time spent preparing for the talk, imagining the best possible outcome -seeing myself delivering an amazing and powerful talk or recalling all the other successful speaking experiences that I had in the past.

As the physically weak man can make himself strong by careful and patient training, so the man of weak thoughts can make them strong by exercising himself in right thinking. To put away aimlessness and weakness, and to begin to think with purpose, is to enter the ranks of those strong ones who only recognise failure as one of the pathways to attainment; who make all conditions serve them, and who think strongly, attempt fearlessly, and accomplish masterfully.

Every action starts with a thought. The first step to becoming a successful public speaker is to decide to become one.

Despite your fears.