I have recently joined Toastermasters International to improve my public speaking as well as to dive into the safe waters of leadership training. Where else could someone get the support and training they need to be a great speaker?
As soon as you join, you are encouraged to get your first talk done. Eager to show my club my moves I booked my first talk, a CC 1 (Competent Communicator) which covers, You. For most people this is a very easy topic but not for me. Its extremely difficult. I simply don’t enjoy talking about myself.
Here is the talk that almost got me to quit on my first night as a speaker. As I couldn’t get my head around writing my introduction to this world, from birth to this moment. I thought the next best thing was to tell a story of why I am joining Toastmasters International.
(For the sake of not having this post toooooo long I have edited accordingly.)
I work for a small photography agency based in Pietermaritzburg but lucky enough to work from home, here in Pretoria. I have always loved photography. I even had a dream to become a photojournalist myself. Sadly, like anything creative you have to have the talent, in this case, the eye.
With my organization, I am able to travel the world as well as South Africa speaking and spreading our message which is African’s telling Africa’s story through the medium of photography. I love what I do. I love to seeing our photographers work on billboards, in books and yes, in Hollywood movies.
You might be thinking – why are you at Toastmasters then? The only way I can express it is what happened a few months back.
I was invited to be interviewed from a recent exhibition and conference that I had presented at in New York City called Visual Connections. The article was based on my organization and how we as an African photography agency are doing in the ever-changing world that we live in. The main theme of this interview was how we are telling the African story through photography. The moment I received the request I was excited, overwhelm and flooded with emotions of great pride. It was truly an honor and one that I took very seriously.
As the interviewer was based in London, the interview would be conducted over Skype Video. I made sure I was prepared for any questions he might ask me. I had stories from around our continent at my fingertips. Being prepared was key to knocking this out the park. I knew that if this goes well, we would have a lot more opportunities to speak and to be interviewed on this topic that is so dear to my hearts. This was vital.
As the hand on the clock slowly moved towards the hour of our meeting, I felt confident and in control. Saying the mantra in my mind – “You got this – You have spoken on this topic a thousand times. Enjoy the glory”
In those few seconds – I was a Titan in our industry, a Warrior fighting for the African story and the Queen who was entitled to have a platform to speak on. I was unstoppable. Well, at least in my mind eye I was.
A few minutes to the time of our meeting I decided to google my interviewer so that I can start a conversation about his achievements. I wanted to get an understanding and know my interviewer. As I sat in front of my computer, google opened and the letters of his name typed into the search bar. The results came in. I started to feel weak. The blood left my face and my jaw dropped open. These words entered in mind in big capital letters “WHAT HAVE YOU GOT YOURSELF INTO, ROBYN?”
At that very moment, the call came in over Skype. I couldn’t do this. I am not that important that they would send an award winning journalist to interview me, a mere African from the tip of Africa, South Africa. Who am I to speak on this message. Doubt. Fear. Ashamed at my arrogance while guilt washing over me.
I accepted the call. I was frozen. I heard his assistant say “I think there is a problem.” I know I had to do something. So trying to stay as still as possible. I gently slide my hands to the keyboard and wrote – “Can you see me? “To what they replied – “You seem to be frozen.” I responded “Oh dear – let me call in again. Maybe that will help.” I ended the call. Regain my posture and called back.
As I reflect on that day. I was made aware that although I have a lot to give to this world. This world has a lot to teach me. Gaining perspective was a humbling lesson to learn. It taught me that I am just an everyday woman. That although this journalist took the time to learn about us, is not a reflection of how great I am but how great our photographers are.
Failure is part of the process. Although this story is nothing big and yes, the article was published and doing well. I realized that I need to be open to the mentorship of great communicators and leaders. So next time I am invited for an interview and Skype is not my butter, I know I will be a little more confident in myself and humbled by the experience.
So, friends, I encourage you to take up every opportunity that presents itself. Learn from it, grow from it and share it. As the famous American proverbs say “The only difference between a stumbling stone and a stepping stone is the way you use them”
I am turning this stumbling stone into my stepping stone. Seize the moment, gain perspective and lastly, tell your story.
You might be thinking, that’s not too bad. Well, it was awful. I stumbled over my words, my arms were waving around like I was an air traffic controller and lastly, I was embarrassed that my over inflated ego rocked up like a hot mess. Busted. Queue the egg on my face. I was horrified.
Only after a month of reflection, I realized that the person that stood up that night was not me. It might have looked like me and sounded like me but it wasn’t me. Sometimes you have to be a little different and unorthodox to make a great speaker. So that is exactly what I am going to do next time. Be me. Here’s to the remanding 9 talks ahead of me.