Enid rapidly tapped her right foot under the table. It was one of her long list of bad habits she needed to learn to control, but no matter how hard she tried, that foot would not stop. Why? Because she was nervous and the promotion she had dreamed of was just within her grasp. All she had to do was to survive this conference. Much to her surprise, she was ready. As she waited for her introduction, she remembered how the air had been knocked out her, literally, when her boss asked if she could stand in for her and speak. Enid had nodded yes, smiled, and ran straight to the ladies’ room to throw up. What had she agreed to do? Of all the things Enid knew that frightened her, the main one was to speak up or speak period. In public, it would be a nightmare come true. Between her mother patting Enid’s knee to keep her foot from tapping the floor to her father opening her mouth to see if there was a tongue residing there, Enid knew with all her heart that she could not do it, neither speak up in front of people she didn’t know nor even the ones she knew.
Greta noticed Enid had moved timidly back to her desk as if someone had given her the worse news in the world. The poor girl was talented and very intelligent. She could write the best suggestions in the world, complete the best-written drafts of policies, and even had other employees looking forward to the once dull company newsletter. But getting her to speak more than two or three words was a daunting challenge. One that most of her fellow employees had given up on which made Enid seem like a loner of sorts. The pain of watching her shrink away into her cubicle almost hurt. Not that Greta had been the most talkative in her early corporate years, she could at least hold a conversation and wasn’t afraid of the higher-ups, but back then she was acutely scared to speak in meetings. Greta’s greatest fear was of saying the wrong thing in the wrong way, not like Enid who was fearful of everything and everybody except her computer.
“Enid, could you come into my office a minute?” Greta had asked as she walked out of her office and called to Enid. The look of fear surfaced in Enid’s eyes. Greta smiled hoping that would calm her a bit, but the jilted way Enid removed herself from her chair made her realize the smile had failed to soothe her.
“Have a seat,” Greta pointed to the chair across from her desk. Enid sat down, and her knee started pumping.
“You are okay with speaking at the conference next month?” Greta had asked.
“Hmmmmm. Yes,” Enid nodded, her eyes appearing teary.
“You have six weeks to rehearse,” Greta offered. “I’m sure you are going to wow the crowd. And don’t worry, my crowd is the smallest crowd at the conference, usually about 40 people. They are really nice though. You will be fine.”
“Why me?” Enid realized the words had spilled from her lips before the thought had been completed in her mind.
“Because I see greatness in you, Enid. You just haven’t discovered it yet.”
“Ma’am?” Enid couldn’t believe her ears. Her father used to ask her to open her mouth and then jokingly he would look inside of it saying, “there’s greatness in there. One of these days, you are going to have to let it out. Speak up, young lady.”
“This is what I want you to do,” Greta smiled. “I realize I didn’t give you much time, but you are more knowledgeable in our department doings than anyone else. You write so eloquently and professionally about everything we do, every little detail. You know this profession inside out, and you can share that with others at the conference. You can tell them why our department is always the top one in the company in the nation, and it’s because of people like you, but you don’t have to brag. You know what I mean?” Greta laughed.
“If I write the presentation, can someone else give it?” Enid asked.
“Nope. You write it. You get the credit. You get the recognition,” Greta said as she opened her desk drawer. “I learned how to stop being bashful and how to speak professionally as a leader in this company by joining a club called Toastmasters. Ever heard of it?”
Enid shook her head.
“No problem, I want you to start a club right here at this company,” Greta said handing her a manual. “I want you to be their first president. Here’s the information on who to contact to get started. In the meantime, I want you to write your presentation and start rehearsing. Every day, I want you to give me 15 minutes of the segment at the end of the day. In six weeks, your life is going to change, but once you get started in Toastmaster’s, well, let’s say everybody will see the same greatness in you that I see. Are you ready?”
Enid put her hand on her knee applying a little pressure to stop it from bouncing upward, the same way her mother used to do. She nodded her head yes, she was ready for greatness.
That was the tale Enid shared as she took the podium at the International Speech Contest two years later. Before emerging on stage, her foot had not tapped, and the words were not hidden inside of her. With the help of her Toastmaster friends she had made, her confidence had grown. Composed and filled with the lessons she had learned in Toastmasters, she was no longer afraid to hold conversations. There were no nervous moments before speaking her truths and sharing her expertise with others. She took that stage owning it, letting everybody in the room know there was greatness inside of her and inside of them.
Yes, I am a Toastmaster, a Northlake Toastmaster!!! Proud of it and always moving forward earning every award that I can. Toastmasters has been very instrumental in me moving forward in my career. Everything I have learned in Toastmasters has helped me to become a more confident leader and communicator in all areas of my life, not just work. Another great benefit of being a Toastmaster is the networking. I have had the pleasure of meeting people from all walks of life, professions, ethnicities, and nationalities. We find that we have so much to learn from each and so much that we share, a special community. If you haven’t visited a club, if you are afraid of speaking in public, or if you are just looking for like-minded individuals who are all about growth, check out Toastmasters. And, be careful, you may join our group of Toastmaster junkies before you know it. It’s intoxicating! Hope you enjoyed the story I wrote for a Toastmaster‘s project toward another award. Let me know what you think. Dilsa S. Bailey, ACS, ALB aka simplydilsa