It’s reported one of the greatest fears humans have is Glossophobia, Public Speaking to the layperson. It seems incomprehensible that while we can talk to our family, friends and peers in small groups, 75% of us experience palpitations when we have the attention of a small group of people during a public speech.

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So what options are available to us, and what steps can we take to tackle this fear of public speaking?

Let’s consider a toddler who now walks confidently, didn’t they falter on their first steps? Could they have had nerves, fear, frustration and agitation? Is it also possible they had the support of people who believed in them? Did they have a place to fall and not feel any harm? Words of encouragement to continue and the guidance to adjust their gait? If the child can improve their ability to walk, and once we were a child. We too can improve our ability to speak in public, couldn’t we? 

Where can we find such an encouraging and supportive environment to take our first steps, or should I say, speak our first words into a live audience? The answer is Toastmasters. Toastmasters is an organisation which provides precisely the platform needed for those who want to develop their public speaking skills.

Started in 1929, now running in 143 countries (last count March 2019), toastmasters is not only a leading global organisation delivering leadership and communication training organisation operating at community levels; it’s a place to make great friends and learn more about life. Did I also mention all clubs are Not For Profit organisations!

Every other week, dotted all over the world, there is a Toastmasters Public Speaking Training workshop not too far away from you. People of different societal, financial and psychographic levels gather together and support each other to become better speakers and leaders.

Speakers of Croydon is a local Public Speaker Training and Leadership Training Club in Croydon, South London. The club was established in 2003 and proudly boasts a longstanding record of being a “President’s Distinguished Club“. That is the highest level of recognition available for a club.

Each club also has a voluntary committee which plans and coordinates the events and affairs of the club. The committee at Speakers of Croydon decided to hold an event in January 2020 called SpeechCraft

Speechcraft is a community-based program which allows experienced Toastmasters to present the fundamentals of public speaking to non-members. The last SpeechCraft at Speakers of Croydon was five years ago, so the committee wanted to make sure this was special, and they spent three months planning.

This SpeechCraft was delivered over four weeks in January 2020.  

Participants were thrown into the deep-end from the very first workshop with Table Topics, and each workshop during the four sessions contained valuable educational talks such as how to choose a speech topic, speaking with purpose, body language and gestures for example. 

The Participants were supported by members as they delivered a speech each week. Over each week, the length of the speech increased. Members of the Speakers of Croydon also benefited from the educational talks, provided valuable evaluations, and demonstrated fantastic Table Topics (Impromptu Speaking) each week.  

Participants L to R; Chigbo Ibe, Diana Hlatshwayo, Tash Gardener, Julie Jacobs-Obodai

When interviewed and asked why did they attend, one participant, Chigbo Ibe, shared he needed and wanted to have more confidence in speaking in public. 

Diana Hlatshwayo shared “I always knew I had a problem speaking in a group of people, I am okay in a small crowd, I wanted to better myself for a larger crowd.”

When asked, what did he learn, Chigbo shared:

“There are techniques to become better. Different strategies to overcome fear speaking. The importance of planning how different types of communication impact speech such as eye contact and working the stage.”

Diana shared, what she found really helpful was the practise itself; speaking in front of people. She stated “Over and above that, learning to prepare a speech with intro, middle end. I learned a lot from all the evaluations, about body language and using the stage.”

Danielle Phillips shared that she learned “Timing & preparation are key. Trying to change the nervous energy to positive energy is key too. I learned to try to enjoy the experience and a 3-minute speech isn’t as long as you think it is”.

Tash Gardener shown the green card to indicate timing in her speech

The participants were asked; would they recommend Toastmasters to a friend, and it was a resounding yes. Chigbo’s answer was the famous Nike Strapline; Just do it!

The committee members were interviewed about their experience planning and executing a SpeechCraft event and what they got out of it.

Adenola Olayide, who led the planning Committee for SpeechCraft shared: 

“I decided to do SpeechCraft as part of my Advanced communicator Gold programme. Speakers of Croydon needed more new members in the club, so we formed a committee to organise it. Speakers of Croydon had not done a SpeechCraft for five years; therefore, members were not sure how to organise one. I took up the challenge to lead on it. Out of my comfort zone. The SpeechCraft was a success because we signed up new members to the club.

I learnt how to manage my time and set priorities. My leadership and team-building skills improved because every committee member was happy to work with me. My public speaking skills further consolidated as I got to be toastmaster for four consecutive weeks, honing my confidence and organisational skills. It was a success all round. Will I do it again? Absolutely yes!”

Club President, Debbie Williams shared she wanted to attract more members to the club and have the confidence more members mean more support roles filled. She felt that SpeechCraft creates invested members as members of the committee and longstanding active members of Speakers of Croydon were participants of the previous SpeechCraft!

She also shared; 

“There was a Steep learning curve, and though I’ve heard about SpeechCraft, it’s the first time I’ve seen it in action. It created great camaraderie as a team to see it through, pulling together to push the education. 

We still did Table Topics and called up members of the club, so it wasn’t one-sided. 

SpeechCraft also echoes the Toastmasters ethics of giving back”.

Trudy Kuhn, VPM educational content for participants

Trudy Kuhn, Vice President Membership for Speakers of Croydon shared; “It was heartwarming to see all those very new people taking part and really pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. I was proud that I could help them and that as a team, we put on a successful event.”

Your writer of this article, Vice President of Public Relations for the club, a Marketing Coach, Naz Haque, observed both participants and the planning committee, and I share three things which stood out for me.

1) Week by week, the participants were unrecognisable compared to their previous self. They took massive strides and developed immensely.

2) SpeechCraft forged stronger bonds with all members of Speakers of Croydon. Not only did the planning committee come together and deliver, but it was also wonderful to see longstanding members attending every week to support with their passion, words and wisdom. I look more to learning from all these exceptional people

3) The educational talks in SpeechCraft were brimming with value and expert guidance which helps more experienced members like myself to improve too.

VPPR Naz Haque delivering an evaluation to a participant.

Just like that toddler learning to take their first steps with safety and support, your writer and the participants have been growing in a space dedicated to them, filled with Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence. Thank you Speakers of Croydon!

As a result of SpeechCraft, 5 of the 7 participants (including the three above) are now members of Speakers of Croydon.

If you’d like to attend a workshop at Speakers of Croydon, please message via the Facebook https://www.facebook.com/speakersofcroydon/ or meetup page: https://www.meetup.com/Speakers-of-Croydon/

SpeechCraft 2020 Members and Participants

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