Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Turn of the Leaf

It has been a very, very long time since I have given a formal, prepared, performative speech; teaching was informal public speaking. I did write and memorize a short speech for Connie Cutler's retirement events, but even that kind of speech is different from a very formal type of speech.

So naturally I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins this morning as I headed to Toastmasters for my first prepared speech: The Icebreaker.

I have three main goals for my membership in Toastmasters: 1) learn to be more extemporaneously humorous; 2) learn how to control my nerves and be more in the moment with confidence; and 3) live fearlessly with an openness to those around me, acknowledging all that I might learn from this group of people.

I find Toastmasters to be a perfect group of people in which to push myself and to learn. Many of the members are veterans; many of them trade puns and jokes on the fly. They are fast thinkers, eloquent speakers. And so professional: I have loved discovering what my fellow members are involved in outside of this group. There is an unspoken code that no one brags about resumes or is there to network superficially. We don't talk about where we went to school or how successful our businesses are---though I have researched some of my new friends and many of them are highly successful and some are even published. But we are all there together for an authentic reason: to learn and to grow and to push ourselves. We get to know each other personally and genuinely.

So therefore it was very important to me to try to EARN their respect with my first formal speech. They have only heard me speak extemporaneously before: my first impromptu (I think) made me sound a little juvenile, while my second impromptu helped establish better credibility. But the point of the "icebreaker" was to present my set of values, and I was eager for the chance to do this. Each person in that room inspires me to want to be better than I am. Like I do, the other members all believe that no matter how good they are, there is room to improve. I really respect that as a truth. There is always something to work on---if there weren't, what point is there in anything?

Of course, right before my dad and I left this morning, I was thinking to myself a little facetiously, "Why did I sign up for this again?" I mean, the central question is, why bring such nervousness on myself?

I guess the best answer is that I believe, and always have, that if you don't face productive fear, part of you stagnates and dies. If you don't challenge yourself to achieve or to try to be the best you can be at something, then there is very little point in life's journey. If you don't put yourself out of the comfort zone, you will never grow. It doesn't have to be public speaking...but for me, I constantly work on getting out of my head and inner monologue and opening up to people around me.

I love Toastmasters. I love how everyone there stimulates my mind in ways that only that kind of setting can. I think being immersed in that kind of creativity is making me a more creative mother for my daughter at home. I have never felt such a heightened sense of creative power in my life. I so much look forward to Toastmasters every week. Next week I need to bring in the "Thought of the Week" and I am excited.

So my speech, "The Turn of the Leaf,"went well. I know that I could have done a better job of suppressing my nerves, especially in the intro, and I know I kind of stepped forward and back a little too much in the small space when it might have been better to stand still. But I was able to use the speech to honor Grandpa Don---which is what I wanted to do---and to convey my thoughts regarding the source of love, and lasting quality of beauty, and the importance of family. The response seemed good: several people connected to the speech and were crying, and I got encouraging and positive feedback on my feedback forms from the audience. I wanted to leave a piece of my heart in the room, and I think I did. I wanted to explain what can be learned even with loss. I was very honored that I got voted for "Best Speaker" today and received the first place ribbon. At least now I can feel free too experiment more widely with my other assigned speeches and, even if I fail them, hopefully people will remember this speech and not think I am a total boob.

It was a great day, and I am proud that I am making myself do this at this point in my life. We never stop learning, and we should never think we are so great that we can rest on our laurels.

After Toastmasters, I went to pick up my pre-ordered Snow White from the Disney Store, and then the whole fam went out to lunch and frozen yogurt. Katie and I played in our garden and watered all of our new and old flowers.

I think when I look back many many years from now on my life, this autumn is going to be one of the best there ever was. I am trying to press each day close to my heart and to be thankful for time...