The Habit of Courage

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“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
– Anais Nin

Most people come to Toastmasters to overcome their fear of public speaking. So at Toastmasters meetings, what you’ll see – among other things – are demonstrations of courage. Standing in front of a group of attentive listeners makes most people feel vulnerable. It also adds a burden of responsibility, expectation and opportunity. This can be overwhelming and downright scary.

In Toastmasters, members acquire the habit of courage through encouragement and support. Just as Outward Bound programs teach the habit of courage by putting people in life-threatening situations, Toastmasters is a sort of “Inward Bound” program. As with sky diving or rock climbing, speaking before an audience becomes easier the more often you  do it.

”Our members often face an internal demon that paralyzes them with fear. But we discover that when the fear is faced and conquered, we are propelled into a life with larger ambitions,” writes veteran Toastmaster Michael Landrum in an article titled “The Habit of Courage” in the Toastmaster magazine. He recommends the following four tips to alleviate that internal demon:

  • Become “other-conscious.” Don’t focus on yourself and what the audience might think. Instead, replace your self-consciousness with other-consciousness. Try to focus on your audience! Find a single person in the audience and make eye contact with him or her. Stay with that person long enough to deliver a full sentence or complete thought. If you take responsibility for the audience’s understanding of your message, you will soon forget your sweaty palms and knocking knees.
  • Anxiety feels worse than it looks. If you can refrain from calling attention to your fears and anxieties, nobody will know about them. “It’s a classic case of fake it 'til you make it,” Landrum says. “Act confidently, and soon enough you’ll feel confident.”
  • Make it look easy. The audience wants to hear the speech, not worry about the speaker. Be humble: This is not about you – it’s about your speech! Your ideas and thoughts, and how they benefit the listeners are the most important part. Deliver these with grace, style and enthusiasm, but avoid ego-building enhancements. A speech easily delivered is gladly received.
  • Let yourself be encouraged. Don’t be self-effacing or overly modest. Embrace the supportive atmosphere of a Toastmasters club and nourish visions of success! “Learn to give yourself the benefit of the doubt that you so easily would extend to anyone else!” Landrum says. “Persistence is the most useful virtue of the human heart. You are never beaten until you admit it.”

Consider the example of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was by nature timid, introverted and terrified of speaking in public. But because she was married to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she had to speak in public often. She faced her fear and became one of the great speakers of the 20th Century. Let her words inspire you on your journey:

“You can gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along’… You must do the thing you cannot do.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

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