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?

Don’t know anything about Toastmasters, but when I did speech & debate in high school, the accepted truism was that those who are nervous about public speaking never really stop being nervous; rather, with practice, they just learn how not to show it.

This certainly held true for me. I’m by inclination quite uncomfortable with public speaking (and have a touch of general social anxiety, like you), and I recall a brief class presentation in 8th grade that was pure disaster: I was convinced in my head that each line I spoke was an instant object of ridicule for the rest of the class, so I started throwing in a sarcastic, self-deprecating “thank you” after every couple of sentences, which just confused everybody, and led to my speech actually *being *an object of ridicule.

Point is, I was about as anxious and awful a speaker as a person can be, but once I got dragged by a friend to the speech team and started practicing several hours each week, I got pretty good at it. Despite being (to this day) only slightly less nervous as a speaker than I was in grade school, I’ve got a couple dozen speech & debate trophies lying around and now have no problem ignoring my self-doubt and elevated heart rate if I’m called on to speak in front of a group. Eventually, something in your brain clicks, and despite your nervousness you understand *intuitively *(rather than just theoretically) that no one is going to laugh at you, that the process of explaining something to 50 people is barely different than the process of explaining something to 1, and that if you just get up there and do the fucking thing with a bluff matter-of-factness, you’ll be just fine.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that the most important part of dealing with your speaking anxiety is just getting your reps in, and if Toastmasters is the most convenient way to do that, then you should give it a shot. There might be a free alternative of some sort at your university, though.

I was in Toastmasters for several years. *It seemed to be of considerable help to **many *participants. I do not think I personally got any benefit from it and I knew a couple who were driven to tears and quit so I would say any benefit would be a personal thing.

Would you mind elaborating a bit? What were you hoping to get out of it and in what ways didn’t it work for you?

See, this is where I had gotten to, before the big panic attack last year… I’d done so many damn speeches and aced all of them that my brain finally realized it wasn’t worth getting too worked up about - so I’d have some butterflies in my stomach but the minute I opened my mouth I’d realize I was totally nailing it and everything would be okay. I would end on a total high note, and people would be complimenting me. By the end of last semester I was breezing through everything - until that final day, when I just got blindsided by a total panic attack.

What’s happening now is more like what you’re describing - my anxiety is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m convinced everyone knows how nervous I am and that thought makes me nervous enough that everyone knows it. I know from experience, however, that exposure is highly effective for reducing anxiety, and the Toastmaster structure seems to be based on a combination of exposure and positive reinforcement, pretty much the master strategy for behavioral change. I like that they have a clear goal-outlined structure and that you have something tangible - like a certificate or award - to measure progress.

I was actually thinking about my presentation yesterday, and it occurred to me the most likely reason I stayed so nervous is the presentation was too short. If it had been, say, 10 minutes, my anxiety would have peaked, and started to come down when I finished, thus decreasing the anxious reaction in the future. I’ve done formal exposure therapy for anxiety reactions before, so I know the drill - but it’s pretty difficult to cope skillfully with panic in front of your entire class, even if you know ‘‘it’s just anxiety.’’

Sounds like you could benefit from two things in Toastmasters. Well, maybe three.

One is Table Topics, the extemporaneous portion of the meeting. You are given a topic and must immediately speak for 1 to 2 minutes on it. That sounds like practice in overcoming your initial panic. You will learn to trust yourself to vamp and recover if you suddenly draw a blank.

Another is mentoring. If you find a good club, you can be assigned a mentor. One of the main things a mentor does is listen as you practice giving your speech before the day it’s scheduled. Speaking in front of someone feels very different from practicing alone. If you’re going to freeze, it’s better to freeze a couple of times in front of a single helper and to work your way through the fear to a smooth delivery.

Lastly, you’ll be hearing from other people how nervous they were and are about speaking. You’ll see some of them give smooth presentations despite their fear. You’ll see others still struggling and it you’ll joing with the rest of the club in supporting them and noting their improvement. For me, at least, it’s easier to accept support when I’m also giving support. With your experience, I predict that you’ll soon be a trusted asset to your club. You may want to visit more than one club before deciding which one to join.

I had hoped to become more convincing, to better market my ideas in professional meetings with (mostly) peers. After 4-5 years I saw no improvement whatsoever. Curiously, I had almost no apprehension about standing up before a group and speaking. After the stint with Toastmasters I found myself watching for negative responses in the audience and perhaps lost a bit of confidence. It didn’t hurt me too bad. It just didn’t seem to do any good.

Haven’t read the whole thread, so sorry if someone already said this.

But as a mental health professional, have you considered availing yourself of the services of another mental health professional who is in a position to help with your anxiety?

Might be a lot easier than toastmasters :slight_smile:

I was pretty involved in Toastmasters for a couple of years, and then sort of stopped, and am thinking of starting back up again. I highly recommend it. I’ve seen people make great strides with public speaking through Toastmasters.

Toastmasters gives people a chance to practice public speaking in a supportive, low pressure environment. Good clubs provide opportunities for taking on leadership positions, taking on speaking roles, getting more comfortable getting up in front of people and talking.

Every club has a different personality, if you try a club near you and like the idea of Toastmasters, but not that particular club, you might try another that’s a better fit for you. You don’t have to join right away - you can just visit.

I know a musician who suffers from performance anxiety. He takes beta blockers just before a performance. I know very little about this practice except that it is fairly widespread. IANAD and I wouldn’t go this route without discussing it with a medical professional who was familiar with this decidedly “off label” use, but if your anxiety is crippling and a problem in your chosen profession, you might want to investigate this.

There’s a group that meets in the room adjacent to my office, so I kinda overhear how it works. They do things like have someone ding a little bell every time you say “um” or “erm” or “like” to get you out of the habit of relying on filler words. The people who participate, for the most part, seem to be getting something out of it based on the casual chatter I’ve heard.

I was in Toastmasters for several years.

The first thing I would share is that every TM group is different. If the one 15 minutes away does not do it for you, find a different group.

Like any organization, you get out of it what you put into it. I found it incredibly helpful and credit TM with helping me pass a panel interview for my current job. It helped me deal with my speaking anxiety (though did not cure it) and I am now able to present at conferences.

The most impressive presentation I’ve ever witnessed was that of a Toastmaster member who stammered in casual conversations. He wasn’t a stutterer but appeared to be somewhat shy when talking. It was a superbly organized and informative speech complete with humor.

Social anxiety stricken Social Worker here checking in (how pathetic is that!). I’ve never been good at making case presentations, doing group supervisions, etc., largely for this reason, even the social work ritual of going around the room & introducing oneself to the group at a seminar/workshop or whatever freaks me out. I get all tongue tied & end up saying something stupid, or just clamming up. :smack: I don’t doubt Id’ve done better in my career if I was more comfortable with that type of thing, I just never did anything about it.
A friend of mine, a business guy, did the Dale Carnegie course several years ago & seemed to think it was helpful, I’m guessing it’s similar to Toastmasters. He said they make you get up & speak off the cuff about something you know absolutely nothing about just to get over the fear. I’ve also heard about classical musicians who take beta blockers & it supposedly helps with the performance anxiety. I was also curious if hypnosis would help.
Sounds like you’re someone who just needs a little tweek, not a major overhaul!
Best of luck w/ it! :slight_smile:

I joined a group about 9 months ago. I wasn’t working so I thought it would be a good way to keep some of my professional skills intact. Also I had to give a few speeches and thought it would be good practice.

I found Table Topics particularly helpful for preparing for interviews.

I don’t really have a fear of public speaking. I’m an MBA and worked as a management consultant / project manager for the past 15 years so I’m used to getting up in front of a bunch of people and acting like I know what I’m talking about. That doesn’t mean I can’t get technically better at it though. I consistantly have one of the highest “ah” / “um” counts. But I usually make up for that by speaking confidently and being entertaining.

My only critique is that sometimes I feel you don’t get much out of it in terms of actual speaking time. Out of an hour or so meeting, you usually get one 2 minute Table Topic and a 5 minute prepared speech (if you prepared one). The rest is sitting there critiqueing people.

Also, (and this can be good or bad), as I go to meetings and get to know the other members, it might become a bit too comfortible.

olives did you try a meeting?

I was in a Toastmasters group around 1990. It was a nice and very helpful way to get acclimatized to public speaking.

Our group had something called ‘Table Topics’ (maybe all groups do?) and at the start of the meeting, someone would throw a random topic at you, and you just stayed seated, and spoke on the topic for 1 minute. Nice ice breaker, and we took turns at being the one to come up with the topics.

The feed back on the speeches I did I found extremely helpful. I deliberately did an extremely tough topic after I had been going for about a year. And ever since, any public speaking I have had to do has been by comparison, much easier.

Yeah, did you try a meeting??

I was very involved with Toastmasters for a while in the mid-90s: I started a club at my company (without having any previous Toastmasters experience) and served in most of the officer roles, including club president, and for one year I even served as an Area Governor (one step above the club level: it goes member > club > area > division > district > region > country). I think amarinth pretty much nailed it. :slight_smile:

Personally, I didn’t have any problems with public speaking, but I did notice that my leadership skills improved. Being a club officer especially helped with that, and it’s something I highly recommend if you’re at all interested: clubs are always looking for good officers!

Addressing the ‘huddled masses’ at a big anniversary party was no problem for me, and after I finished, I realized it was the Toastmasters experience that had been so helpful in getting the confidence to do it.

Exactly, some are very casual, retirees and housewives and such for whom it’s mostly a social club and some are seriously business-type driven people with definite goals. Find the one that works for you. The best thing for me was that it forced me to get up in front of people and speak, and the audience is supportive and on your side.

But it’s definitely a case of getting out of it what you put into it.