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by Matthew Arnold Stern

This is the icebreaker speech I gave at my new Toastmasters club, Money Talks. I wanted to try a different approach and speak about a personal weakness.

I've been in Toastmasters for 15 years. One thing that has interested me is how many people joined Toastmasters because they are shy. (I suppose that if we could all communicate perfectly, we wouldn't need Toastmasters.) The stories these people tell are the same: They were horribly shy from an early age, but they found themselves in a situation, usually because of work, where they had to start talking to others. That's why they joined Toastmasters.

I was also a shy and awkward person. In many respects, I still am. This is my shyness story.

I was shy from an early age. My shyness didn't prevent me from performing on stage in the choir and in plays in school. It was a different situation because I couldn't see the audience, and I pretended to be someone else. Talking person to person was difficult for me. In eleventh grade, I ran for boys' vice president and lost. The probable reason: I was too shy to campaign and talk others into voting for me.

When I went to college, I worried about whether I would make any friends. My mom told me, "You could pitch a tent in the middle of the school quad with a sign that says, 'Please talk to me,' but people will just walk right past you. The only way to make friends is to get out of the tent and meet people."

It was during college when I was forced out of my emotional tent. I got a job as an intern for a computer software company writing press releases. This was my first full-time writing job, and I was very excited about it. The company president was so impressed with my writing that he wanted me to be their public relations representative. He would also make my compensation dependent on how many press releases and articles I can get placed in industry magazines. So, I was in a situation where I had to go out and talk to people.

You've heard the quote, "You got to fake it until you become it." That's what I did. I got out and started meeting people at trade shows. I made a few mistakes at first. I met someone at a magazine who I thought would be interested in my press releases. It turned out that was an advertising rep who was interested in us buying ad space. But I did meet a lot of people, got press releases published, and made a lot of new friends.

It would be another eight years before I joined Toastmasters. That happened because of another work situation: I was being promoted to supervisor. Not only did I need to talk to people one-on-one, I had to give presentations and conduct meetings. Uh, oh. Fortunately, a Toastmasters club met at our company, and I joined. I've been a member of Toastmasters ever since.

Since overcoming my shyness, I feel liberated. As a shy person, I had so many feelings and ideas that I couldn't get out because I was afraid to express them. I felt gagged. Now that I'm free to speak, I can watch my words inspire people, perhaps giving voice to people who themselves are afraid to speak.

If you are shy, you can get out of the emotional tent too. Join a Toastmasters club and learn how you free yourself.


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