Laugh Lines: Their Most Embarrassing Moments
Brave Toastmasters share their speaking calamities.
By Beth Black
Whether it happened before joining Toastmasters or during a club contest, a bad speaking moment has affected all of us. Perhaps an incident left you feeling humiliated, and you avoided public speaking for years as a result. Or maybe it was something you could laugh at later that day. Eight Toastmasters from the LinkedIn Members’ group take the opportunity to remind us how brave we are when we stand up and speak:
A common fear is that the fear will win. Paula Foster of Chiltern Speakers, in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, describes a pre-Toastmasters time when she lost the battle:
“I was a student in community college, and my guidance counselor somehow coerced me into entering a speech contest. Speaking was not something I enjoyed, but buoyed by his seeming confidence, I proceeded. Even in our practice sessions my stomach was tied in knots and I never felt comfortable.
The day of the competition arrived and I was confronted by my other competitors, who included students who had been involved with that contest organization for years, including the current and past state presidents. I felt overwhelmed. We had five minutes to speak – I took maybe two minutes. And then we had a Q&A session with the judges. I felt the blood drain from my body and I proceeded to faint.”
Often, our memory can be our worst enemy. Allan Rees-Bevan of the Magnificent Mosman club in Sydney, Australia, describes his personal memory-related disaster:
“I took a break from Toastmasters for four years after moving to Australia from London. Late last year, I was doing some work in London and went to visit my old club where I had been president and still knew a lot of friends. Much was made of the visiting ‘past president’ and I was given a Table Topic later on in the meeting.
Well, I completely blanked and became a nervous wreck. It was horrific! When I eventually stumbled back to my seat, all embarrassed, my good friend leaned across to me and whispered, ‘We need to get you back in Toastmasters!’ Needless to say, I rejoined as soon as I returned to Sydney, and got back into the swing of things. What did I learn? Public speaking is not like riding a bicycle. You need constant practice to stay confident.”
We might suffer through those speech experiences when we forget more than that next line. Carolina Moore of the VYP Strip View Speakers in Las Vegas, Nevada, shares her worst-nightmare moment:
“I have never been called shy. That is why, in 8th grade, I was selected to give a speech at the Junior High Assembly in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. The day came, and at the assembly, my advisor sought me out. He asked, ‘Are you ready?’ Suddenly, it came to me...I was supposed to give a speech! I had completely forgotten, and had no notes, no ideas...and no time to come up with something. Only minutes later, I was called up to the lectern. I got up on my very shaky tip-toes, and said into the microphone, ‘Uh.... (always a great way to start a speech). This is Teacher Appreciation Week, so be sure to appreciate your teachers. Thank you.’ That mortifying lesson in preparation stays with me to this day!”
Upon seeing the competition, a speaker can panic and – even though he has practiced extensively – take a wild spontaneous leap only to discover a terrifying abyss. Glynn Germany, of Albuquerque Toastmasters club in Albuquerque, New Mexico, found this out the hard way:
“In high school, I was scheduled to speak at a band banquet. After the speaker before me stole the show with a heartfelt, emotional tribute to our band director, I panicked, thinking my prepared speech would never stand up to comparison. So I ad-libbed. In the process, I somehow managed to suggest the band director’s children were illegitimate! I’ll never forget the look of pure venom his wife shot at me.”
Pratfall Makes Her Point
Then, there are the times of pure physical comedy. Who doesn’t love a little clothing-related slapstick in their speech? Better yet, who owes Table Topics a debt of off-the-cuff gratitude? That would be Cyndi Wilson of the Midtown club in Basking Ranch, New Jersey:
“I was giving a speech to my club. I tend to lean toward the dramatic, and I was using the entire the speaking area. I got my foot tangled in my pants leg and – boom! – down I went. I heard this loud gasp as I was lying on the floor asking myself, ‘How do I recover from this?’ I had been talking about how children try to get their way, so I lifted my feet into the air and starting kicking as if I were having a temper tantrum. I eventually got up and continued my speech! Only one person knew that I actually fell; all of the other attendees thought it was part of the speech!”
For some, timing is everything. It certainly is to Ron Parpart, of Collins Club in Melbourne, Florida, whose introduction set off a frantic scramble to be inspiring:
“When I was lt. governor marketing, my district governor walked up to me before the district executive council meeting and said that our inspirational speaker had to cancel, then asked if I could give the inspirational opening. ‘Of course,’ I replied. She then walked to the lectern, banged the gavel, opened the meeting, and introduced me for the inspirational moment. Time elapsed: about five seconds! Now that’s Table Topics! The best part was, I performed an impromptu inspirational message and no one knew the difference!”
Despite all the risks, most Toastmasters will agree that it’s still better to speak than remain silent out of fear. Laura Fritz of Sudbury Raytheon club in Sudbury, Massachusetts, can vouch for that:
“I have been called a ‘shy extravert’ because I like talking to small groups of people I know. Once a month, my boss used to call a staff meeting of the whole company – more than 50 people. One person had to give a report from my group. My co-worker would give a report full of wrong information that would often land me in trouble. However, I felt that any trouble I was getting into was better then having to speak. Thanks to Toastmasters, I can now speak out. I have a voice.”
Beth Black is an associate editor of the Toastmaster magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.