The Fear of Speaking, and Other Vices

Have you heard the story about Jack? He was a heavy smoker, and he became so sick of all of the commercials urging him to quit, that he finally gave up television. Some of the people with whom I work chose a different answer, though; they tried to quit smoking. I knew seven of the people in the program, and they all wanted badly to quit. The man in charge even offered $100 to anyone who actually gave it up. Unfortunately, only two people were able to collect. It's not that they lacked the desire or even the ability, but, this time, it wasn't to be. There are so many vices that we try gamely to overcome. We're told of the evils of cholesterol, so we forego meat and dairy products. To combat a weight program, we join Weight Watchers. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs also bring in a good amount of business.

The vice that I add to this list is one of which we are all aware: fear of speaking. A man called me to find the nearest club. He has a slight stutter, and was once sent to a company class, but he couldn't even introduce himself to everyone at the beginning of the class. He has never asked to be sent to another class, and he knows his fear is holding him back on the job. He was ready to join Toastmasters. Another man joined Southwestern this week. He told us that he would go to conferences, and he would be overcome by his nervousness if he wanted to speak, so he wouldn't, and he rationalized that it was because he wasn't confident of speaking in English. He finally faced the fact that he had felt the same way when speaking in his native tongue, and he was ready for Toastmasters. A man at Shell told me that he was to give a toast at a relative's wedding. He stood up and froze. When he sat down, he felt foolish and forced himself to rise again, but the best he could do was give a quick toast in aramaic. He told me that eventually, everyone must realize the urgent necessity of the ability to speak to groups -- he has yet to admit his own deficiency and confront it by joining Toastmasters.

Take a moment, though, to compare these vices and the organizations that help people overcome them. Why does joining Toastmasters seem to carry better odds than fighting one of the other vices? I can't imagine that people aren't as serious in losing weight or giving up cigarettes or managing their time better as they are in overcoming a fear of speaking. It's not as if speaking is "less scary" than smoking or cholesterol (aren't we tired of hearing that speaking ranks as the number one fear). Then what is it that keeps people like Earl Guidry and Willie Trejo in Toastmasters for 20-plus years?

Consider this: what other organization offers "fun" in overcoming your vice? It's the key that makes Toastmasters work for the individual and for the club; if your meetings aren't fun, then your club is a failure!! It's easy to find new members (most people want to overcome this vice). But answer this: are your club's visitors joining? Do you have trouble keeping active members (and I'm not talking about members who pay dues and never show at meetings)? Fun clubs are getting your new members. If you do sucker some in, they'll leave when they discover that yours is really a torture club. I challenge you to do justice to your club and to its members. Make your meetings fun, and kick that fear of speaking vice right out of your lives!