Think about your career. What is the hardest thing you have to do? Writers will tell you it’s writing, and I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I’m talking about something else. In any career, there’s the part you love, and then there’s the other stuff that makes it possible for you to do what you love. Sometimes being successful at the other stuff is what will make or break your dreams. (By the way, this is actually true for any career, not just writing.)
For writers, a huge part of the “other stuff” is speaking in public. Book signings, conferences, panels, radio interviews – the stuff you dream about when you envision any level of success and the stuff you have to do if you want to become successful. And yet fear public speaking (glossophobia) is the number one phobia in the nation (even surpassing fear of death). So what do you do when you have to do the scariest thing in the world? You join Toastmasters.
(By the way, if the word Toastmasters conjures up an image of a bunch of stodgy stogie-smoking businessmen drunkenly congratulating each other over the congealing remains of a second rate dinner in a third-rate hotel, first – kudos on a vivid imagination, and second – you couldn’t be more wrong.)
About a year before my first novel DEATH ON TOUR was accepted for publication, I joined Get Up ‘N Go Toastmasters in Austin. My new job required me to give presentations to small groups, and I was petrified. I hoped Toastmasters could help, which it most certainly did. I went from absolutely quaking-in-my-boots petrified to confident. Don’t get me wrong – I still get nervous before a big event, but now I know I can make it through, and it will not only be all right, it will be fun. More than that, I now feel more comfortable when I’m meeting new people or when I’m participating in meetings. I’m able to speak up, give my ideas, and express my opinions in front of 5 or 50 or 500 people, something that was difficult and sometimes impossible for me before. I’ve learned that it’s possible to give and accept feedback in a way that’s both positive and motivating. Because of Toastmasters, when DEATH ON TOUR was published, I was ready for my first author panel at Malice Domestic, for my first book signing, and for my first launch event. Because of the confidence I gained in Toastmasters, I was able to embrace these wonderful opportunities and meet new people who have since become friends.
Three years after my first Toastmasters meeting, I’ve published a second novel (DEATH MAKES THE CUT), I have a third one (DEATH RIDES AGAIN) in production, and I am still getting up at 5:30 every Monday morning so I can make my weekly meeting. Yes, it’s dark outside when I leave my house, but I never miss if I can help it. Who could pass up a chance to hear fascinating and often funny stories (because that’s what speeches are), laugh with friends, and be challenged to become better once a week over coffee and breakfast?
No matter what your profession, Toastmasters can help you with the “other stuff”. Try a club near you (they don’t all meet at 7:00 a.m.), and if you don’t feel right at home, try another. Each club has its own vibe and its own goals, and there is one out there that is right for you. There’s no better way to get better at the other stuff – and if you’re confident about the other stuff, you can focus on your favorite stuff.