Push Past Your Safety Net
by Carina Paton
Most people are afraid to initiate conversation with strangers. In fact, even those who appear to you to be comfortable are often terrified on the inside!
Many of us join Toastmasters to overcome a fear of public speaking. But rarely do we realize that Toastmasters is also an ideal place to overcome a fear of interacting one-on-one with people that we don’t (yet) know. Even more rarely do we utilize what opportunities the organization makes available to us to build these skills.
Your upcoming Area and Division speech competitions are just two of these opportunities. Even if you aren’t competing in the contest or filling a contest role, attending the contests will benefit both you and your club.
Many of us are comfortable at our club meetings. We quickly get to know our fellow club members, and each greeting and speech adds to our comfort. Our club members, once a group of very welcoming strangers, fast become our safety net. Given that, it’s not surprising that when we go to Toastmasters events above our club level we tend to stick to this safety net of our fellow club members.
I’m not going to tell you to leave that safety net behind entirely; rather, I would like to see more Toastmasters in our District use that safety net as a trampoline instead. Go to Area and Division contests with your fellow club members (in fact, why not be the one to encourage them to go with you). But instead of sticking to them like a fly in a spider’s web, use them as a point to jump off from and a place that you can come back to if you need it. This way they become true safety net—and a fun bouncy one at that!
We all have our own level of comfort at social events with unfamiliar people. Some of you will be what I call a “notworker,” which is someone who avoids networking entirely. If this is you, I encourage you to go to your Area and Division contests with others from your club. Consider carpooling—not only is it great for the environment, it can also ease nerves to arrive at an event with your safety net in tow.
If you are already what I call a “safety networker,” then take that next step: try initiating a conversation with someone you don’t yet know. The “strangers” that you will meet at Area and Division contests are some of the nicest to practice with. Think of how forgiving the Toastmasters in your club are of your mistakes. Toastmasters in your Area and Division are no different! In addition, those that you approach will very likely also be feeling out of their comfort zone. By being the one to initiate conversation with them, I bet they will be thankful for your courage. Who knows, you may even make a new friend!
Getting to know other Toastmasters in your Area and Division is priceless. Want to share ideas with others in your officer role at other clubs? They’re now just a phone call or email away. Need to find a test speaker or judges for your next club contest? You’ll now have numerous people to call to ask if they, or someone in their club, would be willing to take on a role. Having trouble filling speech roles in your meetings, or have more members ready to give speeches than you have space for in your meetings? Use your new network! Giving a speech at another club (or even listening to a speaker from another club) can prevent your meetings from becoming stale by bringing new ideas to your club.
I look forward to getting to know some new people at upcoming contests. See you there!