Carolyn’s First Toastmaster Speech

In our January 5 blog, we wrote about resolution making and using this time to work on some aspect of your life impacted by SD. I ran across this article from a couple of years ago in which Carolyn Bolz recounts the first day she attended a Toastmasters meeting. Toastmasters are an international organization with over 350,000 members trying to improve their speaking and leadership skills. They offer a supportive learn-by-doing environment that allows people to achieve their goals at their own pace. Every Toastmaster journey begins with a single speech. This is the story of Carolyn’s first Toastmaster speech with SD.

Have you ever done something that made your heart race and your palms sweat? That’s how I felt when I attended my first Toastmasters meeting. Since I have different forms of dystonia, including spasmodic dysphonia, I was worried about how the group members would react, especially if I ended up giving a speech. When I went to my first Toastmasters meeting, I drove halfway there, made a U-turn, and came back home. Facing a roomful of strangers and possibly having them stare or make comments about my dystonia symptoms caused me to feel anxious and self-conscious. The following week, I decided to try again.

This time I was able to drive to the real estate office where the Toastmasters meeting was held. I walked into the small auditorium at the back of the building, and then took a seat. A dozen men and women were milling around, talking with one another. All I knew about Toastmasters was that it was an organization where members gave speeches. Since I am self-employed and work at home, it seemed like a good place for me to socialize for an hour each Thursday afternoon. I also was curious about the speeches. Before my SD and other dystonia symptoms had worsened, I worked as an elementary school teacher and was used to talking in front of a group.

When the Toastmasters meeting began, the club president introduced the members who had assignments that week. This included the Timer, the “Ah” counter (who kept track of the number of “ah”s and “um”s in each speech), evaluators, and others. I was mesmerized as I listened to the first speaker give an introductory talk about herself. As she walked to the podium and again after she finished her speech, everyone applauded. The member who evaluated her presentation was kind and encouraging.

“Does anyone else want to speak?” the club president asked. “Our other scheduled speakers weren’t able to come today so we have plenty of time.” Without thinking, my hand shot up. “May I give an introductory speech?” I asked in my raspy voice. “This is my first time at a Toastmasters meeting, but I’d like to participate if it’s okay.” The President looked surprised, but nodded. I walked up front and began telling about myself. I enjoyed sharing with the group even though my head started bobbing, my right arm trembled, and my voice became squeaky and very weak. I paused a moment, took a deep breath, and then finished my short speech. On the way back to my seat, I appreciated the audience’s applause. I could tell by the smiles on the members’ faces that I had done well. The club President remarked how impressed he was that I had given my first speech without any preparation or notes.

At the end of the meeting, the members voted for Best Speaker, Best Table Topic (impromptu speech), and Best Evaluator. “Carolyn, you won the blue ribbon for today’s Best Speaker!” the president announced. I gasped as everyone applauded. I felt grateful that the club members had been able to look past my unusual voice, tremors, and bobbing head to concentrate on my speech instead. After the meeting, I joined Toastmasters. I was happy that I had not let SD and my other forms of dystonia keep me from taking a chance and trying something new. In fact, I went on to represent my club at the district level and won the 1st place trophy for best Table Topic (impromptu speech).