My Turn: BAM! Fighting Off the Fears

My Turn: BAM! Fighting Off the Fears

Toastmaster really cooks in “Emeril” taping.

By Doug Palmer

Photo Caption: Doug Palmer’s appearance and interview on “Cooking Green with Emeril” aired on the Planet Green network in July 2008.

There are many words that one might associate with Emeril Lagasse: Celebrity chef, restaurateur, New Orleans and, of course, “BAM!” are a few that come to mind. But for me, I will always associate Emeril with one word before any: Toastmasters.

You see, it was during the taping of an Emeril television show that I realized I had finally and successfully managed to overcome my fears of public speaking, and all because of Toastmasters.

My experience with Emeril began when my wife, Debi, applied to be on the show “Cooking Green with Emeril” on Discovery’s new Planet Green network. The premise of her application was that with three boys and a husband, she didn’t have enough time to think about cooking green, so she needed Emeril’s help. After meeting with the producers and auditioning in person, she was selected to be on the show!

I was hugely excited when I learned that my wife would be cooking with Emeril and making her TV debut…until I learned that the producer wanted to feature a day in the life of the Palmer family, which meant a TV crew would be spending a day taping at our household – and interviewing me.

I had been attending Toastmasters for a while, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for Emeril. 

Facing Fears
Prior to joining Toastmasters, I had always had a fear of public speaking, which at times was a big obstacle when it came to social engagements and business opportunities.

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back – and prompted me to join Toastmasters – was when I had actually declined to be the best man in my best friend’s wedding because I was afraid of giving the “Best Man’s Toast.”

Since joining Toastmasters in 2006, I have gradually become more confident and relaxed in front of an audience, and a few months ago I was put to my first test. I was a groomsman in a wedding party – not the Best Man – and then the unexpected happened at the rehearsal dinner: The groom’s mother asked me if I’d give a toast…in 15 minutes!

I was a little nervous, mainly because I didn’t have anything prepared,. but also because this was the first time outside of Toastmasters that I was asked to talk before a crowd. But I thought back to all those Table Topics sessions in my Toastmasters club and realized I’d had 15 seconds – as opposed to 15 minutes – to think of something to say. So I prepared the toast by creating an opening, body and conclusion, knowing that if I had a good opening I would be fine (just like in Toastmasters).

And that is precisely what happened. I had a good opening and kept the room engaged. In fact, the toast went much longer than the quick lines I’d planned, and I received lots of “good job” comments afterward.

Moment of Truth
I was proud of this personal accomplishment, demonstrating I could overcome my fears by applying my Toastmasters skills.

But was I ready for “Emeril”?

The answer was yes. I actually found that I was not nervous at all! In fact, I looked forward to the TV interview.

During the interview I felt confident and spoke with assurance. The producer asked me questions such as, “What is it like having your household become green?” and “What is your daily routine like?”

I was able to answer these questions without my voice cracking, and during the interview I didn’t think about how scared I was – but rather, I focused on saying the things I thought were important. And I did it all without choking in fear.

While I don’t envision competing in speech competitions or traveling the country giving self-help seminars, I now am much more confident speaking in front of groups and presenting information. And though I am not completely cured of my fear of public speaking, I’m extremely happy that I have controlled my fear – and for that I say: Thank you, Toastmasters!

Doug Palmer, the CEO and founder of Palmer Financial, is a member of the Locke and Key Toastmasters club in Bethesda, Maryland.