Speech 10: Inspire Your Audience. The last speech of the Toastmasters Competent Communicator program challenges me to draw all my skills together to deliver a powerful inspirational message.
I gave my Ice Breaker speech for Toastmasters on July 25, 2017. I started off that speech by saying, “I’ve spent most of my life fighting with the voices in my head.” Then I went all-in and told a room full of almost-strangers all about my generalized anxiety disorder. “Hello, nice to meet you, I’m crazy.”
I share this information pretty freely these days. Not because I want sympathy or to make excuses for whatever weirdo thing I happen to be doing, but because it’s important that I be honest. Giving this thing its proper name, owning up to it, helps me control it so that it doesn’t control me.
My anxiety is, admittedly, just a skosh higher than the average person’s. But everyone experiences it. Anxiety is a form of a fear, and that’s something we’re biologically wired for. You may have heard it called “fight or flight.” The symptoms of fear — racing heart, heavy breathing, and tense muscles — can help your body be ready to fight or flee from the source of that fear.
Fear can be healthy. It can be a sign that you’re doing something dangerous, and your brain needs you to walk it back. It also sharpens your focus. Have you ever come into a room and spotted a scorpion or whatever bug you find particularly terrifying? What happens? The rest of the room disappears and you are focused like a laser on the source of that fear. That’s your brain saying, “Hey, that thing right there is dangerous. Keep a close eye on it while you decide to fight or flee.” Fear can force your muscle memory to take over, which can help you react faster than your conscious thought allows, thus avoiding injury or embarrassment.
Unfortunately, fear can also hold us back. At my job in San Antonio, my fear of public speaking made me so nervous that I did a poor job of leading a client through training. They lost confidence in my abilities, and my boss had to take over. Several years later I knew I wanted to spread my wings and look for a new job, but my fear of rejection and the unknown paralyzed me — I stayed at a job that was no longer fulfilling, and which underpaid me to boot, all because I was too afraid. It made me settle for less than I believed I deserved.
Then I got let go, which hurt and was scary. But miraculously, it didn’t kill me. And then I spent the next few months doing other terrifying things like applying for unemployment, writing hundreds of resumes and cover letters, interviewing for jobs, and coordinating a move from San Antonio to Austin. As scary as all that was…it didn’t kill me. I may have been terrified, and my brain may have been screaming at me to panic, we’re gonna need a bigger boat, the call is coming from inside the house…but I didn’t give into fear. I couldn’t let it stop me from doing what I wanted and needed to do.
One of my favorite quotes — which I heard first in the classic teen film The Princess Diaries but is actually attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt — is, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”
All these crazy experiences and internalizing this quote sent me on a strange mental tangent that has fundamentally changed my life. If getting let go and writing 178 resumes and getting rejected for lots of jobs didn’t kill me…what else wouldn’t kill me? What if being told no was just…being told no, and not the end of the universe as we know it, like my brain was insisting it was?
So I started defying my fears. Just a little at first, by doing things like saying good morning to someone in the elevator. I opened up about my anxiety more, and found that some of my friends — the smartest and most badass ladies — were experiencing the exact same thing. I wasn’t alone.
I finally got up the nerve to join Toastmasters, and feel like I’ve improved with every subsequent speech. My “speechifying” skills have been noticed at work, and I’ve gotten more chances to speak to larger groups, improving visibility for my team and gaining some brownie points for myself.
Last year I pitched an article to a online publication — I figured for sure they wouldn’t be interested, but they were. So I wrote the article, and they published it. Then paid me for it. And over a dozen more since then.
At this point I’m pretty sure I’ve gone off the deep end. I’ve set a goal of getting rejected 12 times in 2019. I’m literally searching for chances to propose a change, ask for something I want, or put myself out there in some other way — and be told no. Who am I?
Which finally brings me to the purpose of this speech. I want the people around me — you — to join me on this insane journey of being brave. To try new things, to reach for ever more challenging goals. Being brave doesn’t mean we’re not afraid — we feel that fear, acknowledge its existence, and then tell it to get the hell out of the way because we have got shit. to. do.
The next time you find yourself in a scary situation, ask yourself why you’re scared. Are you afraid you’ll get rejected? That you’ll be embarrassed or someone will think you’re silly for trying?
If the answer is yes, that’s okay — remember, fear is normal. If it’s something like, “Here, put your head in this lion’s mouth,” you’re probably fine to skip that. But if you’re not doing something you want or need to do just because you’re scared or intimidated, I want you to think long and hard about that. Don’t miss out on something amazing just because you’re too scared to go for it.
I encourage you to face your fears, and do something that scares you. It can be as small as saying hello to a stranger in the hallway, or as big as going skydiving for the first time. By taking that opportunity, you may be opening doors for yourself you could never have imagined.
Overcoming our fears makes us stronger, like steel forged in flame. These places of discomfort are often where we find the most joy, success, and power.
As Frank Herbert wrote in his famous book Dune: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Thank you.