If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, or are a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed that I sometimes make comedic references to my dislike of public speaking. And while I have been a member of Toastmasters for more than three years, and have come a long way in terms of overcoming nervousness and becoming a better speaker, I wouldn’t say that speaking is a real love of mine. Communication, yes, speaking … not so much. I was the kid in class who loathed oral reports and would spend the night before giving an oral report trying to make time stop so I wouldn’t have to give my speech. I was never very successful at figuring out how to make time stop, but I got good at holding my breath.
The other bit of information you need to know about me in order to fully understand and appreciate the story I’m about to tell you is that while I am pretty darn successful in the areas of Love, Truth, and Oneness, I’ve had to really work over the years at getting better at Authority, Power, and Courage. I’ve had to overcome panic disorder, being too dependent on my parents well into adulthood, and letting other people tell me what I should be doing with my life. And while I’ve made significant strides in the area of Authority, Power, and Courage over the years (some of my friends can’t even believe how far I’ve come) I still have a lot to learn.
Okay, you’ve got the background. Here’s the story of how I recently went up a level in Courage, Power and Authority.
As I mentioned, I joined Toastmasters three years ago because I knew at some point I’d find myself up on stage speaking to large crowds. I figured I might as well get a jump on becoming a better speaker so that when I actually did take the stage I didn’t die of fright. I’ve done well in Toastmasters, earning my first educational award – Competent Communicator – and taking on officer positions within my club to improve my leadership abilities. In January of 2009 I became President of my Toastmaster club, Voice Links. I did this because I’ve never been the leader of an organization or group (though I’ve taken the Vice President position many times) and I wanted to have the experience of being the person in charge, the leader, the head honcho, the buck stopper. I had great success being President of my club, I learned a lot about delegation, managing others, and being a leader. I was told by several members that I was one of the best Presidents the club had ever had. I preened. I felt good. I stepped down. Yes, I stepped down as President even though I could have remained for another 6 months. I did this because the job wasn’t challenging for me anymore and I’ve learned that if I get too comfortable it means it’s time for a greater challenge.
I am a member of another club, Powerhouse Pros, which happens to be the largest club in our district with over 50 members, and is more geared towards people who are interested in becoming professional speakers. This is the club Steve’s been in for years. I was asked to take on the position of VP of Membership for the upcoming term, which I agreed to do because I knew it would be a challenge and a growth experience, which is what I’m actively seeking right now. But the day after I stepped down as President of Voice Links, I was asked if I was willing to become President of Powerhouse Pros. The thought terrified me, honestly, because I didn’t feel ready to take over a club that had had such recent massive growth and a club where people were actually using it to become professional speakers. I’d only been in the club 8 months myself! But I realized that I had to face this challenge because it was exactly what I asked for. I had to feel the fear and do it anyway. I had to step into a role I didn’t feel quite ready for because those are the situations that provide us with the most growth. Steve had a good chortle at how the universe pushed me in this direction. And he agreed it would certainly help me in the area of Courage, Power, and Authority. I accepted the job even though I didn’t feel ready or capable.
I was immediately catapulted into a leadership position unlike anything I experienced in my other, more laid-back club. The difference in correspondence alone is monstrous, but managing all of these people and making sure their needs are being met is a real challenge. I am very lucky that I have an executive board full of officers who are awesome, kick ass, and quite competent! Once we all become accustomed to our roles, I feel our ship will sail quite smoothly.
The transition officially takes place on July 1, but I was asked to give a speech at our June 29th meeting, awarding our outgoing president with an engraved gavel for her year of service to our club. I wasn’t exactly expecting to have to create a tribute speech, but I accepted the challenge. Our outgoing Vice President of Education, the person in charge of creating the agenda for each meeting, came up with the brilliant plan of us doing a Wizard of Ah’s theme, which would involve several of us acting our parts all night during the meeting. Whoa. Hang on. Not what I signed up for. Hold up! I found myself charged with the role of the Wicked Witch who is out to fill our president’s shoes (aka the ruby slippers). Steve got such a kick out of this idea. He said, “Oh yeah, you gotta do it. You totally have the Wicked Witch cackle down pat. I’ve heard you do her voice. You’d be a natural at it.” I resisted, “But I’m already doing a whole speech that is sure to make me nervous. You want me to act all night too and memorize lines and, and, and…” He replied, “This is what you want. A challenge. And the universe is giving it to you. Accept the challenge. That’s how you go up a level.”
Shortly thereafter the universe sent several synchronicities to show me I wasn’t going to get out of this so easily. First, Steve suddenly got an email from a woman who signed her name “Just call me the Wicked Witch of the East.” That was synchronicity #1. Ten minutes later I found myself at the grocery store, parked next to a vehicle with the license plate “WchyWmn.” That was synchronicity #2. The third synchronicity came in the form of someone on television mentioning the tornado from the Wizard of Oz movie. I agreed to be the witch. I had a hat and a cackle and I knew how to use them!
Now guess who they got to join me in this debacle?
John Kinde, playing the scarecrow. John is a professional speaker, humorist, and runs an Improv Troupe here in town. This man is the unmitigated king of observational humor.
Bryant Pergerson, playing the Tinman. Bryant made it all the way to Toastmaster’s highest competition, the International Speech Contest, beating out nearly 25,000 other toastmasters along the way. My man Bryant can speak like nobody’s business.
S. Frank Stringham, playing the Cowardly Lion. S. is also a professional speaker and comedian who does an amazing impression of the Cowardly Lion. S. is a member of John’s Improv Troupe as well. The man was born to be on stage and is always entertaining.
Darren LaCroix, playing the Wizard. Darren is actually a World Champion of Public Speaking and coaches people on how to be better professional speakers. If you want to know how to speak better, you get with Darren or buy his products.
Bill Parker, as our narrator. Bill is a Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest level of distinction that Toastmasters offers, and is also a new member of the Improv Troupe. He’s quite comfortable speaking and has been doing so for years.
Sherri Parker, playing Glenda, the Good Governor of the South. Sherri is our new District Governor, a high mucky muck in the Toastmaster organization, and also a Distinguished Toastmaster who gave a keynote address at our recent Toastmaster Leadership Institute. Girlfriend’s got it going on!
And then me. Little old me. Still struggling to get the butterflies to fly in formation. It was like standing next to Tom Cruise, Robert DeNiro, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, and Meryl Streep while they decide to throw together a little something to act out for fun.
But hey, I’m here to learn, to get my feet wet, to challenge myself, and this was how it had to be. I got the script for our play the morning of the performance. I spent the day practicing my cackle and also writing up my tribute to our outgoing president. I fed the butterflies in my stomach since they were hanging out so long, I figured they might be hungry.
I was too busy to be nervous, but occasionally throughout the day I would get stabs of adrenaline as I realized what I was going to put myself through. The night before our meeting I had a dream about the entire event. There turned out to be some prophetic components to this dream. First, I dreamed that twice as many people were at the meeting than we usually have, and in the dream we ran out of chairs and it was standing room only. I also dreamed that some of our guests were in school and had to attend a toastmaster club meeting as part of class credit. I dreamed that our VP of Education, Bill, was late – he usually arrives first to help set up the meeting room, but in the dream he came only 10 minutes before the meeting which, at a meeting as chaotic as this was going to be, would have been a bad idea. I also dreamed that our outgoing president, Pam, was in a bad mood and angry at our VP of Education.
All of these things I dreamed came to pass. Our room was overflowing with all manner of people, more than 50 people showed up. It was insane. Several people had to stand in the back because we ran out of chairs. Our president, Pam, was angry at Bill because the fake agenda he handed out was wrought with errors and she was annoyed with him. Plus he was nowhere to be found as he was running unusually late. And there were several students from the local university who came by to witness the meeting as part of one of their classes.
Back to the story …
This night turned out to be a whirlwind for me. I successfully did Pam’s tribute. I did a decent job as the Wicked Witch, though I spoke much faster than I should have. Our area, division and district governors came by to do our officer installation so I was involved in that. And finally, at the end of the meeting, Pam called me up to get feedback from our guests and to end the meeting.
Through it all, though, I had fun. I can’t believe it, but I had fun. Something I’d been dreading turned out to be something quite enjoyable. By the end of the meeting I could feel a metaphorical mantle of power settle on my shoulders, and instead of weighing me down, it raised me up. And I learned something so valuable. When you face your fears instead of running from them, you go up a level in courage. And if you can remember to have fun in the process, you’ll have all the power you’ll ever need. For a moment there, I forgot all about the butterflies in my stomach. They had stopped fluttering. I think they were afraid of my cackle.
When Steve and I got home that night I was riding a high I haven’t had in a long time. We sat on our couch together and watched the end of a Star Trek episode, Remember Me. In it, Beverly Crusher is in a reality of her own making and is trying to get back home. At one point she says, “Could it be that simple? Just click my heels together?” It was the final nod from my Guides. I’d done good, and I was pleased with myself. I know the road ahead may have some bumps, and I know the butterflies may come back, but I will face them with courage.
What could you do today that would help you level up in courage? Where have you gotten so comfortable that it’s not even a challenge anymore? What are you avoiding doing that you know would provide you with tremendous growth? Follow that yellow brick road, my friend. At the end you’ll find not a wizard, but your own power.