A particularly bad pun it may be, but this step in my preparation for the IBC (in less than 2 weeks!) could be one of the most important.
My Father had been a member, as had a number of former teachers and lecturers, and so I made my way to the Engineers club in Ballsbridge for my first foray into the secret world that is Toastmasters. I was expecting to be my younger brother to accompany me in order to make the ordeal a little less traumatic but as I sat outside in my car (like you would for a job interview you turned up early for) he phoned to cancel, citing extreme exhaustion or some other similarly pathetic excuse. I was alone.
If the competition wasnt so close I probably would have bottled it too but I had little to no choice in the matter. I had been working that day, and had also been training after, which meant that I entered the grand old house with my steel cap boots, fleece and coffee stained jeans. This, you may have guessed, was not the prescribed attire. The thought did occur to me however, that I was there to get used to everyone staring at me so in a way there was nothing more appropriate for me to wear.
The people seemed friendly enough and the crowd was a lot more varied than I had expected. the first half of the class was a competition entitled “Tall Tales” wherein 7 contestants stood up and told stories of varying degrees of truth to the audience. Most were funny, all were elegant and I felt that even though I wasn’t speaking I was picking up valuable hints by merely watching them.
The break approached and I considered wandering off (it was after 9pm and I had been up since 4.50am) when a well dressed man, who I suspect was one of the organisers, asked me to wander into the bar with the others and asked me a thing or two about who I was and what I did. He seemed to have a vague understanding of what a Barista was, although he seemed a tad confused about the competition, and seemed eager to make me feel at ease at the event. I mentioned that my father had once been a member in the club and all of a sudden a light went on.
I was soon receiving words of advice from all sides, and once they had established that the competition was nearing ever closer it was decided, quite unanimously, that I would speak. The “Topicsmaster” would dish out random topics and then call out a name of a person to speak on that topic for 2 minutes. He did ask me if I would be nervous or embarrassed about speaking but I reassured him that I had come with the sole intention of being nervous and embarrassed.
Once the break was over the topics came thick and fast and it was hugely evident who the more senior (not neccessarily older) members were. Some had very little to say on the subjects they were assigned but the way they handled themselves was proof that an audience will always be influenced more by how you speak rather than the content therein.
Just as I began to relax, I suddenly realised I was up next; “Now Ladies and Gentlemen we have a very special guest, the son of a former member, and a young man attending today for the first time. Your topic, Colin Harmon is the argument Tea is the drink of the people of Ireland and coffee is really just rubbish. Gulp.
I remember standing, and starting with the words “Mr. Topics Master, fellow Toastmasters, and guests” but after that its a bit of a blur. I made a joke about people confusing my chosen profession with that of a Barister and they laughed along with me. I tried making hand gestures, scanning the room, making eye contact and speaking to the back of the room, all the hints I had received at the interval and as I progressed i really did begin to enjoy it. I’m not sure if they were being polite but I got a big round of applause and subsequent praise so I’ll take that at face value.
Toastmasters to some may seem a little, well, dated or even elitist, but I really enjoyed the whole thing. I signed up to come back and do my “Ice Breaker” speech ( a whole 6mins!) and left with a spring in my step. I came with the intention of experiencing a room staring at me and really didn’t expect to get anything else from it but I think I’ve found a new hobby. I’ve just got another hobby to wrap up first though.