Saturday, March 27, 2010

Competent Communicator At Last

Last Thursday I was working at my desk when an e-mail popped into Outlook. Thursday is Toastmaster's Day. I received a note saying that there was an open speaking slot available; the first one to claim it could speak.

I happened to have a speech written, printed out and ready to go. I hadn't rehearsed it at all, so I would have to depend on notes, my memory, and my passion for the subject matter. I immediately replied to say that I wanted the chance.

I felt some urgency for two reasons: first, it would be my tenth speech in the Competent Communicator series, the lowest rung on the Toastmasters ladder, and second, I would achieve the milestone within two years of giving my icebreaker speech back in Apr 2008. I had a seven month hiatus from September 2008 through April 2009 where I was utterly silent. I changed jobs and clubs during that time. It took me a while to get used to my new surroundings. But now I was on a roll. I wanted to make that first benchmark.

I bounced up the stairs to the conference room on the tenth floor just before noon, text in hand. I was the first speaker that day. I wasn't happy about my failure to rehearse, but I liked the topic and delivered it fairly well.

The president of our club happened to be talking about the requirements for achieving "distinguished club" status. Every club has a set of goals to meet in terms of new members, certifications earned, officers trained and such. When she found out that I was getting my competent communicator designation, she smiled and said "You weren't even on my radar!" Our club was one step closer to the highest designation as a result of my efforts.

I felt a great sense of accomplishment. It took longer than I'd like, but I've really picked up the past since joining this group. I delivered just three speeches in fifteen months at my first club. I gave four more from April 2009 through the end of the year. I've already stepped up three times this year, and March is just ending.

This club meets once a week, which helps a great deal. My first club only met on the second and fourth Thursday of the month, so the number of available speaking slots was cut in half. The drip, drip, drip effect of meeting every week helps - it's too easy to slide back while two weeks go by.

I have the district competition coming up on 14-Apr. I'm approaching it as a learning experience, with little or no thought about winning it. I want to see what accomplished speakers do and use them as an inspiration to progress further along.

I'm as comfortable as I can be with standing and delivering. I have no fear of it at all. I know my technique needs to become more conscious, more deliberate.

But the two things that I need to improve on most are writing and rehearsing. I should have a stable of talks on hand, ready to deliver at a moment's notice. People have to cancel all the time due to work obligations. I can make progress if I can jump in the way I did for my tenth.

It's the rehearsal that needs the most work. The way to become more conscious, more deliberate is to practice it in, to observe what you're doing, to think about how it all comes across. Speakers are no different from actors learning their lines. I have to have them down cold when I stride to the podium.

There are very few things in life that I'm naturally good at, but speaking in front of groups seems to be one of them. I'd like to see if I can polish this skill into something that will have a future use that I can't see right now. I'm always trying to figure out what my third act in life will be. First engineering, then software. If the world has changed, and we all need to change fields several times, I want to be ready.

No comments: