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Experience had taught me a five-minute spiel about my book usually guaranteed books would sale. For many writers, speaking requires leaving one’s comfort zone. When a friend invited me to visit a Toastmaster meeting, I accepted. A group of writers taught me how to write. Therefore, it was reasonable that a group of speakers could teach me how to speak. 

My knowledge about Toastmaster was minimal when I walked into the meeting. It was like a writer’s critique group that helped writers improve in their craft by receiving comments from other writers. Replace writer with speaker in the preceding sentence and you have a Toastmaster’s meeting. Toastmasters takes the process a step further by evaluating everything: the 5-to-7-minute speech, the evaluator’s evaluation of the speech, and the overall meeting is evaluated.

Becoming a Competent Communicator is the first step. That goal is accomplished by preparing and delivering ten speeches. Each speech added a new skill to master. The initial speeches dealt with things familiar to writers: organizing your thoughts, get to the point, and use the right words. Easy sailing halfway through the book, but I remained chained to what I wrote.

Speech five sent me into uncharted waters. Is my body language screaming I don’t want to be here while I try to win hearts with words? I had to be aware of my facial expressions, how I stood, moved, and gestured. If that wasn’t enough to remember, speech six demanded vocal variety. A flat monotone puts listeners to sleep.

The club president encouraged me to give speech six without notes. I decided to throw myself into deep water to sink or swim. I practiced the speech repeatedly. Doing so taught me a new skill. Not only can I edit on paper, but I can also edit in my head.  After I delivered speech six, without notes, the club president asked me to attend a district meeting and give the speech I had titled “Love Excluded Me”.

Toastmasters is an international organization with competitions. I joined to become a better speaker “PERIOD”.  “Not interested,” I said. But on the day of the district meeting, I relented. I had become comfortable speaking in front of ten friendly faces whom I knew were pulling for me. I wanted to know if I would be comfortable speaking in front of a larger group of strangers.

I arrived at the district meeting and sat next to my club president where I learned another choice bit of information. I was competing against him, a gifted speaker with excellent delivery. Nothing like a little pressure.

I stood before thirty, mostly strangers, and delivered “Love Excluded Me” as though I were talking to friends. I saw the yellow warning light and edited two sentences out of the end to guarantee I did not exceed the time limit. As soon as I sat down a woman handed me a note. She loved the speech.

I politely waiting for the last two speakers to make their presentation before I made my exit. Scores needed to be tabulated, and the winners announced before the meeting concluded. I had come to test my comfort zone, not to compete. Another woman approached me as I walked to the elevator. She loved the speech too.

A few days later, I received an email titled “Celebration Toastmaster: Congratulations Teena!!!” I am the Area 14 International Speech Contest Winner. The announcement made me smile. But let’s keep the win in perspective. There were three people competing in Area 14. I was guaranteed to be in the top three. But I did beat the club president who disqualified himself when he exceeded the time limit.

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