I used to be an extremely awkward and shy person. Avoiding social situations was a sacred virtue to me. When I accidentally found myself in them, I watched from the corner of the room in fear. Why? Because I had all too often said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong times.
I was envious of those who engaged everyone around them, those who said the right things at the right time, those who showed me what I was lacking. I could have easily stayed in my comfort zone and accepted that I was an introvert, and there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. I just wasn’t satisfied with that. I knew that some of the most influential people of history were not just social; they were superb public speakers with the ability to lead, inspire, and motivate others to action. In my opinion, public speaking skills are a great representation of social skills. To me, the ability to speak well in public would be the Holy Grail in my journey to become a more social person.
Now, after years of consistent effort and slowly creeping out of my comfort zone, I’m not only a decent public speaker, but commonly thought to be an extrovert. There are great books that teach you how to be more social, but something else that immensely helped was the public speaking club Toastmasters.
Even though public speaking is only one skill in your arsenal of social skills, I’d argue that it’s a seminal one. It’s also the most challenging one, which means it’s what most people lack. If you can improve your public speaking ability, you will greatly improve your social skills. The way you speak in public is indicative of how you talk to people. It only takes a few people to evaluate your public speaking abilities. After giving a speech, they’ll tell you what’s awkward about you, things you won’t notice, and what your friends and family are afraid to tell you.
To become a better public speaker, identify your subconscious verbal and nonverbal mannerisms. Some mannerisms help because they’re cute or funny or make you unique (e.g., a funny facial expression). Others hurt you (e.g., saying “umm” excessively). Once you’ve become consciously aware of your subconscious mannerisms, you’ll finally know what to work on.
You’ve probably heard of Toastmasters, but what people don’t understand about Toastmasters is:
1. Toastmaster clubs are all over the world. You can easily find one near you
2. It’s a minimal time commitment (two to four 1-2 hour meetings per month)
3. You can talk about whatever you’re passionate about and people will listen and critique
4. It’s fun to get up and talk about your passion
5. Many of the speeches are very entertaining and you’ll learn about new, interesting things at every meeting.
To learn more about Toastmasters, check out this blog post.
My challenge to you….
Become a “competent communicator” in the Toastmasters Club. It only involves 10 speeches and costs about $60. Depending on your club’s size, it might take you only a few months to get it done. Taking this step is important both socially and professionally. It’s easy. It’s fun. I encourage you to make time for it. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to post a comment.