My fear of public speaking coincided with the discovery that I’m amazing at it - in 5th grade. My teacher told me I should join a debate team. I just wanted to crawl under my desk and never be seen again. I dreaded presentations like I cannot describe - literally agonizing about them for weeks before they came. I coped with it by memorizing every speech word for word and rehearsing for days.
Because of the vast number of Spanish presentations I had to give in college, my anxiety had diminished somewhat by the time I got to grad school - I might be nervous the day before, but I’d get up there and nail it and then wonder what I was so nervous about… during my first year of grad school, I had at least ten of them and I nailed every one. The anxiety was going away.
Until the last day of class last year. I don’t know what happened, it was a 2.5 minute presentation in front of a professor who I both hated and feared and I just panicked (okay, full disclosure - I slept 3 hours the night before, didn’t eat breakfast and had just downed a can of Pepsi rather than lunch. I was basically begging for a disaster.) My ears started ringing and I couldn’t hear anything, and my voice was shaking all over the place, I have no idea what I was saying because I literally could not hear my own voice. I got through it somehow and I got an A in the class anyway, but it was completely humiliating and that ‘‘groove’’ I was finding… I just lost it.
Now my speech-related anxiety is back with a vengeance. I’ve found my voice shaking even making random comments in class. I had a presentation yesterday - again, I was speaking for all of 2 minutes. I got through it, my voice was shaking a little but I’m not certain anyone noticed how very anxious I was. It wasn’t really a catastrophe by any external standard, but as an experience it was awful - the anxiety was just terrible. I was doing fine until I realized I was doing fine, and then the fear just flooded in. I was still shaking for a good two hours afterward.
So I’m like, tired of this, you know. I’m about to graduate in the Spring with a Master’s degree in macro social work, which means that my ultimate aim is to be a leader at an agency in my field, or to do political advocacy, or program evaluation/consulting, all of which require comfort with public speaking. I don’t want to be held back in my career or avoid applying for a job just because it has a strong oral communication component.
So I’ve decided to join Toastmasters. There’s a meeting group about 15 minutes from my house. It would add to my otherwise impressive workload but I think I’ve just finally reached my wit’s end. There is absolutely no reason I should get this worked up in front of a crowd after all the experience and positive feedback I’ve gotten over the course of my life. Toastmasters seems ideal because they start you off easy and gradually work toward more daunting challenges and stronger leadership roles. Leadership skills in general are also one of those things I need to work on. And the environment, by the looks of their website, sounds really supportive.
Does anyone here have any experience with Toastmasters? What was it like? Does it do what it claims to do? Does it help with public speaking anxiety? Does it improve leadership ability as it claims? I’m also interested if it improves social anxiety in general. I have quite a bit of that too.
If it really does all that - teaches comfort with public speaking, develops leadership skills and diminishes social anxiety - it seems like it would remove about 80% of daily stress from my life. What have I got to lose?