Waxing eloquent-- or not-- about public speaking


In the spring of 2016, I learned that a local chapter of Toastmasters International would be forming in my community.  I had heard of the organization before.  If I hadn’t been familiar with it, I would have thought it had something to do with toast, or perhaps wine-tasting, and wouldn’t even have considered joining.  But I knew it had something to do with public speaking, and since I want to run for public office at some point, I thought I should at least be open to becoming a member.

I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to join, though.  The group would be meeting on Monday nights, and I already had something going on three or four nights each week.  Plus, I didn’t know if I really wanted to put myself out there.

I love talking to people, but only when it’s interactive, when we’re having a conversation.  But to stand up at a lectern and “talk at” people and be the sole focus of their attention (unless I’m boring them to death and they’re looking at their phones and tablets instead) just doesn’t appeal to me.

With my friends’ encouragement, and with the knowledge that this was an opportunity not to be taken lightly, I submitted my application and forked over my dues.

I enjoy participating in activities like this when I can take an active role in helping to get things done, so I decided to run for a board position in the club.  As the vice-president of public relations, I got to advertise our club in the newspaper, start a club Facebook page, write a magazine article, and even make an appearance on the radio.  I loved it.

The public speaking part still scares me, but I like the leadership aspect of it.  Once again at my friends’ urging, I decided, a bit hesitantly, to run for President of the club when that position became available earlier this month.

My first meeting in my new position, I stood at the lectern, gavel in hand, thinking, ‘Oh no, what if I totally flop at this and they want to impeach me?”  Between meetings, I sometimes find myself questioning whether I did the right thing by trying to move up in the ranks.

At the same time, though, I’m beginning to see that this really was the right decision for me.  It’s bringing up fears and insecurities about leadership that I didn’t know I had.  But I guess that’s part of the learning process, and part of being a flawed human being trying to take the helm.

At the same time, though, my vision for the club is growing.  I don’t care as much about the externals, how many members we have, how much media exposure we have, and the like.  I really want to invest in our club members and set a course that brings out the best in them and helps them gain confidence in themselves.  I want them to discover potential they didn’t know they had.  And I want them to know that I support them.

It may very well be that, as they cultivate their skills and talents, some one will rise up to take my place who’s more gifted in leadership than I am, or is strong in areas where I’m not.  I also want to be humble enough to recognize that and know when it’s time to pass the buck.  That’s part of what good leadership is all about.

When I was in college and living in Washington, DC for a few months, then-Senator Joe Lieberman talked to my class about public service.  He said that if you ever want to be successful in public office, then having that position should not be your ultimate goal.  Instead, your priority should be to do the best you can to serve your constituents.  When you’re making a genuine effort to do that, you’ll most likely find yourself being promoted to positions of leadership.

That’s how I like to look at my role in the club.  I’m not here to be President.  I’m here to execute a vision that encourages people to flourish.  If I can do that, all the secondary goals we have for our group will likely follow, but I don’t want those achievements to get in the way of what’s most important.

I’ve been President of our Toastmasters club for less than a month now.  I hope the other members don’t grade me after my first 100 days in office.  If they do, I hope it’s a good report.



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