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The Gift-A Toastmaster Story

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I love public speaking, but I can assure you that it wasn’t always so. I was very shy as a child. Being tall I was always placed in the last seat, last row. On the playground I was always the last one chosen, second team. When I was in 4th grade, it was discovered that I had very poor vision. It was amazing what a difference it made when I could see the blackboard in the classroom and the ball on the playground. Life after glasses was better, but the patterns of shyness already had been firmly established.

In college I majored in nursing. For some strange, unknown reason I had to take a public speaking class. I could not understand why I needed to know how to speak in front of a group. I pleaded with my advisor, “I’ll take anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology. I’ll even take an advanced zoology but please NOT public speaking.” My advisor was not moved. I suffered through the class. Fortunately, the speech professor was merciful and I passed the class. I was relieved thinking that I would never have to speak in front of a group again.

I moved to New York; worked in a hospital and was quickly advanced to an assistant nurse manager. I started taking classes at New York University for a Masters in Pediatric Nursing. After a semester I hit a roadblock. In nursing graduate education one needs to declare a functional minor such as education, administration or clinical specialization. The only options at New York University were administration and education. Now, there were two things I knew about myself. I knew that I could never get up in front of a class of 30 plus students and deliver a lecture. It was impossible. I also knew that I could never, ever, coherently express the position of nursing under fire in a corporate boardroom. Inconceivable! What was I to do? I did what any reasonable person would do-----I fled. I left a city I loved; a job I loved; an employer I loved, all my friends and moved to a city where I knew no one so that I could minor in clinical specialization and avoid ever having to do public speaking.

I cruised along okay for about 15 years. I graduated at the top of my graduate school class, got married, moved to California and started my family. The public speaking issue did not come up until my older daughter, Rachel, graduated from 6th grade. I was active in her school. I was PTA president, chairperson of the legacy gift to the school and member of the board of her small private school. At the graduation ceremony the president of the school board came to me and asked, “Does PTA have anything to say to the graduates?” I looked anxiously at the crowd gathering and said, “ Oh No! PTA has nothing to say to the graduates.” Then I turned to my friend and said, “Would you make the legacy presentation to the class? You speak so much better than I do.” She said, “But Marty, you did all the work.” I said, “But you are a better speaker than I am and I think it would be better for the graduates if you made the presentation.” She said “Well, OK”.

On the way home my daughters were devastated. They felt that my friend had stolen my thunder---their thunder. I had taken from them the opportunity to feel proud. I had ruined my daughter’s 6th grade graduation. It’s hard to adequately express the pain I felt.

I decided at that point that I would not live the rest of my life in fear. I had allowed myself to stay in a box long enough making major life decisions based on fear. I was going to get myself out. I enrolled in a Dale Carnegie class that summer. It was hard. It was very hard, but I completed the class. After the class ended though, I knew that I would revert back to the shyness unless I put myself in the position of speaking on a regular basis. I had heard about Toastmasters. I found a club and joined. . I wish I could tell you that everything was easy from that point forth, but it was not. I felt physically ill each week as I drove to the club meeting. It took me two and a half months to gain the courage to give my first speech. As the date, January 9, 1989, arrived I got more and more nervous. When I got up to give my 4-6 minute speech introducing myself to the club, I walked to the front of the room, turned to face my club members and found that I couldn’t see anything but a white haze. As I gave the perfectly memorized speech I was worrying, “How am I going to get back to my seat without falling down or bumping into someone?” Fortunately the room was configured with a head table and two side tables. I brushed my hand along the backs of the chairs and found my seat. After about half an hour my vision started to return.

I was terrified that day but I refused to give up. The memory of the pain in my daughters’ voices kept me going and the support of my Toastmasters club kept me growing.

Three years later I ran for the position of division governor in my Toastmasters district. In front of 200 people I gave a campaign speech. As I walked back to my seat I thought, “Hey, this is fun.” The best gift, however, waited for me when I got back to my seat. My younger daughter, Tammy, was sitting there with a huge smile on her face and said, “You nailed it Mom.”

Every time I speak I am thankful for the challenge that shook me out of my complacency, the support that helped me grow and, most especially, the validating gift of my daughter’s smile. The box of fear, the thorns of guilt were gone. I was free.

Posted Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Marty Taub