I've never gotten super excited about public speaking. I'm okay at it and I put myself out there from time to time because I like the idea of being a good public speaker, but don't always feel like I can deliver the way that I want to. I am a perfectionist and I want to be good at everything. Which isn't always the case, needless to say.
I joined a Toastmasters group called Professionally Speaking in September and had an aggressive 12 week plan to complete my 10 speeches. I thought if I just jumped in, it would scare me straight and I'd be cured at the end of it. My 12 week plan turned in to more of a 20 week plan because things just got busy at work and at home, next Christmas came along and I was out of town. Then I got cold feet for a couple of weeks because my last two projects focused on objectives I was avoiding- vocal variety and body language. In the last week of January I finally completed my Competent Communicator manual. New Thing #2.
I enjoyed writing my speeches, especially if I felt like I was educating my audience in some way. I had a couple of topics that were my stand-by things I was passionate about- I shared money saving strategies, couponing techniques and goal setting.
Throughout the course of my public speaking journey, I've learned that you can't fake passion or your amount of knowledge on a subject. What I ran into was that I was so excited about the topics that I would get nervous about how to compress the information in a concise way that could be understood clearly.
I was super ambitious and committed the first 8 speeches. I would outline my topic, put my notes in an outline on notecards, rehearse for hours, and usually practice in front of my Toastmasters mentor several days before my scheduled speech. I recieved really positive feedback throughout the experiences and was hoping that at the completion of my Competent Communicator manual I would be a rockstar. I was already envisioning the proud feeling of accomplishment when I finished my final speech.
That's not exactly how it went.
I think I believed that if I pushed myself to do 10 speeches in only a few months, I would be someone else at the end of it. I realize now that I had envisioned myself as a confident, eloquent motivational speaker at the completion of my Competent Communucator manual. I remember even scoffing at the title of the manual when I first got it. "Competent Communicator? That's like striving to be Fairly Adequate! If I'm going to put time and energy into this, I'm want to be awesome at the end of it!"
Awesome was what I was expecting with my final speech. Awesome I was not.
I guess I must have set myself up a little. Body language and movement during a speech is one of my biggest challenges and I put that speech off until the end. I didn't rehearse like I should have or even as much as I did for previous speeches. I was hoping to counter the "analysis paralysis" by not overthinking it or over rehearsing it and instead ended up feeling ill prepared.
I let myself think that since I'd done pretty well giving other speeches throughout the course of my time with Toastmasters that I could wing it to some extent on the 10th one. In all honesty, I was just plain avoiding it.
I also set myself up in the expectation department. I should have known that 10 speeches under my belt wouldn't magically undo all of my habits around public speaking. I am a true perfectionist. I remember how it felt after skiing in December- I thought that was as far out of my comfort zone that I could get and that every month it would get easier to put myself out there and do new things. I know now that's not the case. Every new thing I do will be pushing me and making me uncomfortable, or it should, for it to be meaningful.
This is why some people never exit their comfort zone. It's hard. In essence I'm risking my dignity and putting myself out there to potentially fall on my face, both literally and figuratively. That's the thing about setting goals and stepping out of your comfort zone- it may not feel good at the time. It may not feel good after the fact, like in this circumstance. But, I did what I set out to do. That's something. I realized too, that in this process of new experiences, I'm not only learning new skills I'm also learning a few things about myself. Sorry to go all "I'm trying to find myself" here, but this was definitely a good learning experience that will help me grow as a person.
Just the other night I read this in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and thought it was appropriate:
Through our human endowments of self-awareness and conscience, we become conscious of areas of weakness, areas for improvement, areas of talent that could be developed, areas that need to be changed or eliminated from our lives. Then, as we recognize and use our imagination and independent will to act on that awareness- making promises, setting goals, and being true to them- we build the strength of character, the being, that makes possible every other positive thing in our lives.
It is here that we find two ways to put ourselves in control of our lives immediately. We can make a promise- and keep it. Or we can set a goal- and work to achieve it. As we make and keep commitments, even small commitments, we begin to establish an inner integrity that gives us the awareness of self-control and the courage and strength to accept more of the responsibility for our own lives. My making and keeping promises to ourselves and others, little by little,our honor becomes greater than our moods.
Even though I didn't magically turn into Zig Ziglar at the completion of my 10 projects, I'm proud of myself for trying and am now starting my advanced Toastmasters manual. I have to believe that the more I work on this, the more comfortable I will get. And I'm not stopping until I'm awesome.