When I first moved to the island last March, I tried out dozens of opportunities at fitness centers, writing groups, and other extra-curricular activities. The biggest surprise to me was how instantly I fell in love with one of those activities, Toastmasters.
I won’t bore you with the nitty gritty details of what a Toastmasters meeting entails. It wasn’t boring to me, I wrote a whole blog post on my first experience at Toastmasters, which can be read here: http://earthconservant.com/100-ways-earthfit-day-79-one-trying-new-things-paid-off/
I do want to share how Toastmaster has changed me in the most positive ways possible, and even made me a better writer for it, too.
I joined Toastmasters because I wanted to be a more confident speaker, and not say “actually” every five seconds when I’m nervous. I had a workshop coming up at a conference in September, where I would be speaking for 2 whole hours on my ZooFit program. Exciting? Yes. Nerve-wrecking and induced-coma levels of stress and anxiety? That too. So naturally, Toastmasters was an easy choice for me.
I received my first manual called “Competent Communicator” which had 10 speaking projects for me to complete. The first one was the easiest- it was called the Ice Breaker. I got to talk about myself for 4-6 minutes. Easy-peasy. The next one was about organizing my speech, and I chose to demonstrate how to make a homemade medicine ball with a deflated basketball, some sand, and decorative duct tape. I received decent feedback from that one as well. The next speech was absolutely dreadful. I was only about ⅔ done with my speech when the yellow light came on from the Timekeeper, meaning I had only a minute left on my 7 minute speech. I panicked, forgetting some of my speech and sputtering ums and ahs the Ah Counter was going to definitely ding me for. But it wasn’t even that aspect that shook me. It was a topic I felt very strongly about, Palm Oil, and I didn’t reach my audience the way I meant to.
It was an upsetting day for me. How do I convey these important topics and still keep my audience engaged and interested? I wouldn’t have the opportunity to practice with Toastmasters until I returned from my conference.
My conference didn’t go over very well either. I accidentally overheard very critical feedback from one of my workshop attendees who said it was lame. I felt heartbroken, and wanted to pack up and just forget my entire program. Screw the book idea for “Zookeeper’s Guide to Fitness”. If zookeepers weren’t interested in the program, then how could I possibly convince others to join in.
I shared my frustrations with Toastmasters. The president of our club, Clyde, offered one small piece of advice- have some fun with your speech projects.
So, for my next speech project, I decided to share a story of me working with animals. I still managed to connect the story with an idea I advocate in my fitness program, and something I wanted to write about in my book. But the focus on the speech was my story with a dolphin I worked with and developed an incredible trusting relationship with.
It was hands down the best speech I’ve ever given in my life. Not just at Toastmasters, but in my entire career as a presenter. The. Best. Speech. Ever!
This taught me something vitally important, not just about my speeches, but about my writing in general. I was writing the Zookeeper’s Guide to Fitness. I needed these animal stories to interweave with my narrative to 1) illustrate my points , and 2) break up the lecture on how we should behave with engaging, inspiring, and funny stories.
I tried the method with my writing group the following week. Again, I received high praises for the story I shared. I was onto something here. Zookeeper’s Guide wasn’t just going to be a how-to book on fitness, it was going to be part memoir, sharing some of the most fascinating stories about working with some of the most amazing animals on earth.
Toastmasters has done something else to help my writing as well. Well, actually, two more things. It gives me one other outlet to test my writing material on. I have a writing group, but lately I’ve been writing more than I’ve been meeting, so having Toastmasters give me feedback on my writing turned to speeches is incredibly helpful, even if I only get to speak once a month.
But more important than that, Toastmasters helped me find my writing voice. Whenever I meet with my writing group, and I read aloud my work to be critiqued, the first comment I always hear is how consistent and enjoyable my writing voice is. Not that my personal voice is magically charming, but that I write in a way that really gives a good image of who the author is- me. I don’t even know if that makes a ton of sense, but without practicing my speaking voice, and getting up in front of groups of people, I would never have found my own way to write effectively.
Toastmasters did end up improving my speaking skills and confidence. At the beginning of the year, I hosted a workshop series entitled “Zookeeper’s Guide to Fitness” and had four participants. Small number, and very intimate, but I essentially gave the same presentation I gave at the zookeeper conference just a few months earlier. However, the difference in feedback was astronomical.
If you are looking for a new way to up your game in writing, I cannot recommend Toastmasters enough! Even if you don’t plan on public speaking, if you plan to publish your book, either traditionally or through self-publishing, you will need to hone your interviewing skills for marketing your book. Toastmasters will help with that. It will help you find your voice. And will change your writing life.
To find a club in your area, go to https://www.toastmasters.org/find-a-club. Or come visit us on the South Whidbey Sound Off club. We meet on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of every month at 7 pm at the Trinity Lutheran Church Annex Hall off 525 in Freeland. We would love to have you there!