* As a member and the Vice President of Education of Unity Toastmasters (a community club in Toastmasters International), I am currently in the process of completing Pathways "Presentations Mastery." I will be writing a blog series of eight posts in one month to complete Level 4.*
Him: "Remember that time you made everybody cry at Toastmasters?"
Me: "You weren't even at that meeting."
Him: "Still, I heard about it."
My co-worker/friend was telling the truth. I really did initiate almost everyone crying at a Toastmasters meeting, but that was definitely not my plan.
I was pursuing my Competent Communicator certificate, and the topic was "Vocal Variety." I created a Google Slides presentation called "5 Pieces of Advice I Know for Sure." In that slideshow, I picked five of my most influential family members: my mother, my father, my grandfather, my brother and my great-great aunt.
I knew I could get through four of the five, but my speech was on September 21, 2017. And speaking about my grandfather was still so fresh in my mind. He'd passed away two months before, and my heart was still shattered.
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Practice or wing it?
And so I practiced this speech several times. Of course that's what most people do before they speak in public. But the thing is that I never do. I wing it through public speaking events, group panels, storytelling nights, dance competitions and job interviews. My motto is simple: If it doesn't come natural, don't say it.
But I really wanted the focus of this speech to be on those five pieces of advice. (I later ended up adding a sixth piece of advice from another family member but cannot remember who it was.) I also invited a guest/co-worker to visit Toastmasters for the first time, and he was pretty happy to come along.
That Thursday, we had a noticeably smaller crowd than usual. Everyone got stuck in meetings or other obligations. Our president couldn't even make it. But I still decided to give my speech and get it over with.
I completed "5 Pieces of Advice I Know for Sure" with dry eyes, and I was so proud of myself. Then we got to Table Topics, and the question was about what food do we link to a memory.
I jumped up, grinning, all set to talk about how my grandfather and me would get into real arguments over odd quantities of almond cookies at Chi Tung. And before I got more than a few words out, my eyes teared up and my lip trembled. Of all the topics to cry about, I was crying about cookies.
What lead to the tears during my Toastmasters speech
Clearly it wasn't so much about the dessert as it was the memories of the regular visits that the two of us took to this Chinese/Thai/Japanese restaurant almost every single time I went to his house. Birthdays. Father's Day. Mother's Day. Valentine's Day. I think the two of us even went on New Year's Day.
But the two of us would argue like kindergartners if we did not get an even amount of cookies or if one cookie was much bigger than the other. We were serious about those almond cookies!
All the time that I'd been preparing to give my official five-to-seven minute speech, I just never considered Table Topics. And when I sat down and covered my eyes, the guest I brought was too stunned to do anything. The officer sitting next to me was speechless too.
The meeting carried on. The speechless officer walked to the front to do Table Topics and got choked-up telling a story about a close friend of his with a mental illness. Then two other members wiped away tears remembering their grandmothers. Everybody, minus my confused guest, ended up either crying or fighting back tears telling a story about a loved one.
That was by far my most memorable meeting with my first Toastmasters group. We bonded over that, and I felt much closer to those people who showed up for that meeting. (The secretary at the time told me I was banned from Table Topics, and that made me laugh.)
Our small group was tickled when my dry-eyed guest wondered aloud if this was a typical Toastmasters meeting. I assured him it was not. Although he never came to another meeting with me, news about that particular meeting traveled to several other coworkers on my marketing team. And every blue moon, someone would bring it up and look right at me.
I have never cried in a meeting before or after that one. But I wouldn't do anything different that day. No matter how much practice I got for that meeting, the tears were meant to fall. Public speaking is important, but you cannot practice bonding moments.
Should you ever decide to buy yourself lunch or dinner at Chi Tung, do yourself a favor. Enjoy the almond cookie.