I recently attended a Toastmasters meeting. Have you heard of it? I always envisioned Toastmasters to be a bunch of people standing around, making speeches, and toasting to each other’s excellence afterward. Silly me, my vision is absolutely nothing like the reality.
I figured joining Toastmasters would be a good way to:
- Work on my public speaking skills
- Stay socialized
- Work through how to introduce myself
Something I’ve been struggling with over the last year is how to introduce myself – specifically in professional networking situations when people want to know what I do for work. It’s hard to talk about what I do for work when I don’t love it and want to talk about what I’d like to be doing (“Well… I work in client services for an investment banking firm, but I’d really love to be in marketing or communications!”). I know it sounds easy to just say that, but it’s not. I always felt like people could see the dissatisfaction written all over my face, and non-verbal cues are a big deal for first impressions.
Now what I’m struggling with is how to introduce myself during a career break without sounding like a lazy quitter. So far, I’ve been saying, “I recently decided to take a career break – I’m spending a few months doing some career discovery, writing for my blog, and taking advantage of educational opportunities to make myself a stronger candidate for when I’m ready to return to the workforce.” I’ve had mixed responses to this – some people people have literally done the, “OH… uh, well that sounds nice,” and lost the ability to communicate with me after that. Others are intrigued and want to know more about what I’m doing, and why.
Of course, when the latter group probes and asks questions, I make sure to mention that I’m also taking advantage of this down time to enjoy hiking, reading books for pleasure, and my half marathon training. I get to do all of the things that I was having a hard time fitting into my life before. (ie: BE JEALOUS)
So back to Toastmasters – I happened to drop in on a night when they were running a contest to advance speakers to the next level of competition (kind of like the spelling bee in school). It was interesting they way they did it – a “test speaker” would give a 3-5 minute speech about any topic (one gentleman spoke about the 3 rules of dating etiquette, and the other used small engines as an analogy for sparking your passion for [fill in the blank activity]), and the people participating in the contest had to provide an “evaluation speech.” These people had to spend 2-3 minutes explaining to the test speaker what they liked about their speech, and what they thought needed improvement.
In short, it was a very interesting evening and I’m looking forward to going back for a normal meeting. The Toastmasters environment appears to be very supportive and inclusive (nothing like the vision I mentioned at this start of this post). I won’t lie… the thought of giving a speech and having five people tell me what was wrong with it makes my skin crawl, even knowing that it’s not criticism and not meant to be mean-spirited. But ultimately, I think even this would help me be a stronger candidate. It would help me become better at telling stories, which is something I enjoy doing. Winning!
And then there’s the added benefit of being able to talk about running as much as possible… 🙂
How do you feel about public speaking? Would you find a group like Toastmasters beneficial to you in your own career?