A Stranger comes calling! 29th May 2014

What would you do if there was a mystery guest at Toastmasters? And you didn’t knowVox Populi Toastmasters _silhouette_with caption that he/she was in the audience until you were in the middle of your Stage 6? Even worse, what if you hadn’t had enough time to prepare the night before and your knees were a little shaky and your nerves were a little raw?

Just picture the scene before you. You’re at a typical Vox Populi club meeting. The topics session has been animated (if a little heated).The Poetmaster has given a sensitive and thought provoking recitation of one of Heaney’s finest poems. You grab five minutes in the toilets to try (desperately) to rehearse the speech you should have rehearsed (at least twenty times) last night. You’ve just got to the tricky part of the speech (the part with stats- gets me every time) during your rehearsals in the toilets and you can’t remember what comes next.

You curse, you rant, you kick the wash hand basin.  Then the toilet flushes in the cubicle next to you and a woman you don’t recognise, emerges from within. She is perfectly manicured and immaculately dressed. She regards you with beady eyes from behind her Christian Dior glasses… and says nothing. Simply washes her hands, dries them carefully, then picks up her handbag and leaves.

You don’t see her again until the moment when you are standing at the podium about to deliver what you hope will be a touching account of your struggle to get elected in the European Elections (tongue in cheek).

There she is, sitting at the back of the audience, hands carefully folded in her lap, beady eyes taking in everything. You feel the first beads of perspiration begin to break out on your forehead.  That woman is putting you off. You feel like asking Frank or Colette to forcibly remove her from the room – at least until you’ve delivered your speech.  But then what would Merrilyn say? That’s no way to treat our guests!  You try to focus, to conjure up your muse and ask yourself, mustering up all the courage that you can – what would Barack Obama do in this situation?

And then you do what you were born to do, you ad lib. The whole thing. From start to finish. Forget the stats, you can make those up as you go along. What matter if your heart is racing and your palms are sweaty. Surely no one can notice that you are rocking the podium from side to side as you lean against it for support.

Your voice is resonant, your posture is striking. You raise your hands in a triumphant gesture and declare yourself …..elected! The audience erupts in a round of thunderous applause (Dan even wolf-whistles :) ) You’ve completed your stage six and you are victorious.  Bring on CC10 and Toastmasters glory!

Then out of the corner of your eye, you notice that woman again. Almost imperceptibly the corners of her mouth are turned upwards in what appears to be …dare I say it… a smile?

Imagine how you’d feel if you learned that that mystery guest happened to be…..a recruiter from Toastmasters International who was talent scouting the next BIG THING in Toastmasters! If you were nervous before, you’re ten times more nervous now!

And so my Dear Reader, bear this in mind, the next time you neglect to put the practice in before  your next big speech…………….you never know who might be in the audience listening to you, so put in the hard slog the night before, the rewards could be more than worth it :)

Gemma Shannon – Vice President, Public Relations