One of the best parts of being in Toastmasters is watching people come in who are there to experience what Toastmasters does best - the opportunity to get in front of a supportive audience for the first time with the goal of improvement.
Tuesday night I listened to one of our newest members give her Icebreaker speech. Reading speedily from a stack of tightly-filled 3x5 cards, he gave us humor, stories of her youth, opinions about her place in the world, and a statement I loved:
"I don't mind having butterflies when I speak, I'm just afraid they're going to eat me!"
We can talk about getting them to "fly in formation" all we want - but some people need them to be de-fanged first.
Even in the most supportive environment, self-expectations of ourselves as speakers can be higher than they need to be. As beginners, we may be as equally afraid of being pitied as laughed at. Even as our confidence grows we can fear people's inner judgments, silent ridicule, and covert dismissal. After all, who knows what's happening behind those eyes in the audience.
Luckily, Toastmasters takes it a step further, allowing the audience to give verbal and written feedback. The amount varies by the club and its traditions, but all clubs offer some measure of two-way communication between speaker and audience.
The evaluator last night was an experienced speaker and Toastmaster, and provided just the right tone in offering a healthy dose of praise peppered with helpful ideas for next time. Our club also provides half-sheet evaluations for each member to fill out and give to the speaker. By the end of the meeting, our first-time speaker had at least 10 evaluations in front of her to go along with the verbal evaluation.
I read people ripping apart the Toastmasters program often on other blogs, and sometimes I have a few choice thoughts myself. But at the end of the day, it's a terrific organization, which allows individuals to grow at their own pace. It opens up new roads to new destinations for most any new member. All members would be well-served to consider it not a destination in and of itself, but a great vehicle to get to a new one.
Join a club and start learning to Speak & Deliver. After nearly 11 and a half years with the organization, I'm happy to say I've never seen anyone eaten by butterflies.