Can you remember what you were doing at 6pm on Tuesday 12th November 1991?
I can. I was standing in a lecture hall in the University of Sheffield waiting for Logica’s milkround presentation to begin. And for the first time I was part of the presentation team, not part of the audience. And I was terrified.
OK, I had to look in my diary to remember the actual date, but I can still remember the fear. The thought of standing up to speak in front of a room full of students had me trembling in my boots.
10 years later I finally conquered that fear when I started working in graduate induction, presenting to groups of students every week. It is a skill that has served me well, running events for the AGR and pitching business cases to the senior team at City University, but it is something I’m always looking to improve on. And so yesterday I attended my first Toastmasters meeting.
Toastmasters started in 1924 in California and has developed into a worldwide group of locally run clubs operating in more than 120 countries. Run by volunteers, they meet regularly to develop their communication and leadership skills, using structured, self-paced speaking assignments to develop presentation skills and self-confidence. The club I visited was very welcoming and friendly with about 35 people turning out on rainy Monday night.
The model is based on positive feedback and recommendations from Evaluators, club members that offer encouragement and suggestions after each presentation. I consider myself to be a fairly experienced presenter now but I learned several new techniques last night. And throughout the evening I found myself thinking how great it would have been to do this at the beginning of my career.
Looking back to that evening in Sheffield I would never have believed that I’d be able to present to a room full of recruiters at an AGR conference, or that I would be coaching undergraduates on their presentation skills at Smart Resourcing Solutions’ excellent Assessment Center Simulations. I wish I’d discovered Toastmasters 30 years ago, so if you are looking to improve your confidence or presentation skills, or you work with students that could use some help in this area, I recommend you check them out.