The Shyness Project

Tackling the #1 Fear in the U.S.


On Wednesday night from 7:30-9:00pm, I went to a Toastmasters meeting for the first time.  Toastmasters is basically a group where people practice and improve their public speaking.

There were about 12 others there besides my dad and me.  We sat around a medium sized table with comfy chairs, and it felt like we were at a conference.

The Sergeant at Arms, Pat, opened the meeting and started with the pledge of allegiance.  He introduced the Joke Master, Saeed, who came up to the podium and told two jokes.  Saeed seemed comfortable speaking in front of the group and he got many laughs.

The Toastmaster of the Evening, Carol, then introduced the guests (me, my dad, and one other woman next to me), explained who had each duty for the night, and introduced the word master, Larry.

Larry explained that the word he picked for each person to use when they came up to the podium was pococurante, which means indifferent or nonchalant.  He got some laughs for his unusual word choice, and I thought it would be really hard to use that word in a sentence on the spot.

Windy came up and explained her role as the Table Topics Master.  Her topic was an auction, and she handed out monopoly money to some of us to use for bidding.  She had three items to be auctioned:  a green set of bathroom scrubbing gloves, a macaroni and cheese box, and a pouch with a screwdriver and some other little tools. She picked on a person one at a time to come up and auction off an item. They all did an excellent job and got us laughing with their creative selling pitches.  The others were trying desperately to outbid each other and were having a lot of fun with it.

The Toastmaster Carol then introduced Marcy as the first speaker.  She had to do a 5-7 minute speech to inform and motivate others to learn something.  Her speech was called “How to improve any relationship in 30 seconds”.   She seemed very comfortable and had such excellent eye contact that you really felt like she was talking to you.

Cholae went next, and had a speech on a bear story in Yosemite.  Her goal was vocal variety she said.  She was very animated and had many facial expressions, and someone said she was like an actress performing a monologue on stage.  She moved around, made good eye contact, and told her story with a lot of enthusiasm.

We had a break for ten minutes after that, so I got some water and talked to Marcy. I told her that I really liked her speech and that it got my interest.  She asked if I’d had any communications classes before and I said no, and that I was here because I wanted to confront my fear of public speaking.  She said this is a good place to do that, and said she was terrified of public speaking when she was my age.  She told me that she studied educational psychology in college and that she’s also an artist, and said many of the people here are artists and writers.  I liked Marcy, and we got along really well.  Some other people came up to us and there was about 6 of us in a circle soon enough.  I was surprised by how easily I fit in with everyone, they’re all at least 40 and above and I was the youngest by far.   It was as if I’d been there all along, and even though I was in the midst of a bunch of strangers, I felt comfortable.   I told Houston I really liked how she sold the macaroni and that she was really funny, and many others agreed that she did amazing.

Then the Sergeant at Arms flicked the lights up and down to signal us to return to our seats.  Two people came up and evaluated the speeches, though there was nothing much to criticize and was mostly positive feedback.

The timer said how long each person took for each part, and if they stayed in range or not.  Most did, with a little bit of time over sometimes.  The Word Master went over how many times the pococurante word was used and if it was used well.  The Grammarian went over the number of ahs and ums, said the speeches were faultless, there were no likes, ahs, or anything, and they did a really good job.  They then asked for comments from guests, so my dad said that everybody did well and all that, and I said that everyone looked really comfortable and I couldn’t tell if they were nervous at all, though they told me that they were on the inside and laughed.  At that, the meeting was adjourned.

I remained at the table with my dad and talked to Larry afterward.  I actually did a water assessment for him before for my internship so we had met already once.  He asked what I thought and if I’d do it, and I told him that I felt pretty intimidated.  Everyone seemed so comfortable, confident, and professional, and I felt like I would look terrible compared to them and there would be so much to criticize.  I wouldn’t be able to not use an um or a so at some point or look at my notes.  My nervousness would show.

Talking to him helped though.  He told me the story of a girl who had come into Toastmasters who at first wouldn’t look anybody in the eye and would talk to them while facing away.  Her first speech she went up to the podium, opened her mouth, and nothing came out.  She opened it again and still nothing could come out.  She then sat back down, and they still evaluated her.  She came back, kept trying, and by the end of it she completed her 10 speeches and was up there at the podium making eye contact and doing really well.  He told me another story of a guy who lost the job to someone else in an interview because the other guy had the Toastmasters certificate and his presentation was better.

He told me that they all have been doing this for years and it just takes time.  He said they’re a very laid back group and they like to have fun, and this is a good environment to practice and will help you with a lot of things in life.  I liked his talk, and I think he convinced me to come again.

I’m scared out of my mind, but I am going to do this.  (I can’t believe I’m doing this.) This is a huge jump, and before the meeting I felt like I could take this, but the fear really kicked in when we were actually there.  I felt so intimidated by the other speakers who were all so comfortable and looked like they enjoyed being up there.  They were funny, charismatic, and confident.  They never said um or ah or so, and no nervousness showed at all.  They seemed like true professionals.  They didn’t really get any criticisms except for a nit picky thing or two that I think was just said because there had to be some sort of criticism.

If I can do this though, I can do anything. (Aaaghh I hate public speaking!!!)

“Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain”.

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8 thoughts on “Tackling the #1 Fear in the U.S.

  1. I have faith in you!
    If it helps though…Public speaking STILL creeps me out but I’m fine with getting up in front of tons of people and acting in a play. In fact, I know many actors/actresses who HATE Public Speaking.
    A lot of people don’t seem to understand this because they think being able to act should take away the fear, but it’s different.
    When you are “acting”, you are playing a character, someone else, NOT doing a speech. When you’re public speaking for a job or a class, you are speaking as yourself and being extremely vulnerable….you can’t hide behind a character. So it IS different.
    A monologue sounds a lot like a speech, in a way, but again, it’s still a character. Of course, as an actor, you can play around with speeches and try to think of them as a monologue and pretend to be a character but, at least for me, it’s still kind of difficult.

    • Thanks Sharon! The more I’ve been going the more comfortable I am being there, just signed up officially last week and now have to wait for my speaking manual to come in the mail.

      Public speaking is very nerve-racking, and crazily enough most would rather die than give a speech. For some it is fun and easy, but for most of us, I think we just want to get our speeches over with so we can sit down and relax.

      That is interesting about how you feel so comfortable with acting in a play while public speaking is not something you’re comfortable with, but your explanation makes a lot of sense! I think it’s really cool and admirable that you are able to get up and perform in front of people. Thanks for writing!

  2. You remind me of me…this is exactly the sort of thing I’ve chosen to do again and again to address issues head on. no doubt in my mind you will continue to grow and blossom / Is your dad going to sign up too? I enjoyed reading the details of this meeting, Never been to one of these before so I found it fascinating.

    • That’s great that you are continuing to address public speaking fears over and over! The repetition of Toastmasters will be very helpful, do they have a Toastmasters in your area? I know they have a bunch all over the world. Yep my dad is going to sign up too, he really didn’t want to at first but I encouraged him to go telling him that if I could do it he could do it, and we’d both be beginners together. He was worried that he’d talk too fast and his mind would go blank, and I told him I worry about that too, and that’s exactly why I want to do this. And it’s been a great bonding time for us so far which is good because I usually don’t spend a whole lot of time with him. 🙂 Thanks for writing Doug!

  3. You CAN do anything, girl! Just keep going and who knows where you’ll end up, maybe with a talk show!

  4. kindamixedup on said:

    That is something else. A big step, that is. Congrats!!!! 😀 I have considered taking one of those public speaking classes before, only because people kept telling me it would be a great thing to do to overcome my so-called “shyness”. The thing is people do not know the difference between shyness and what was going on in my head, i.e social anxiety. And in MY case, I don’t really have a problem with public speaking; the more people the better (a bit of an exageration, but you know what I mean?). Yet, you put me in front of one or two people and ask me to small talk or have a casual chat; I panic. *sigh*
    In my experience, the more you do something, the more you get comfortable doing it. I have no doubts you will overcome you fear of public speaking soon enough, brittany!

    • Thanks Vee! 🙂 Yep this is a pretty darn big step. Yeah I would get annoyed if people mention joining public speaking classes to overcome my so called shyness too, so I wouldn’t do it if anyone suggested it to me, haha. I’m doing it because I want to do it, independent of what others may think. And mostly, because it scares me, and I don’t want it to anymore. That’s interesting how you feel comfortable with public speaking yet not as much with a small group or one-on-one, I think I’m the opposite. Depends on the person or people, but usually I really like talking with people one-on-one or in a small group, and it’s when I feel the most comfortable. But if it’s a large group setting, especially with people I’m not very familiar with or don’t have much in common with to add to their chit chat, I am sometimes uncomfortable and don’t enjoy myself.
      Thanks, I’m noticing a difference already I think!

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