In 2015 I began to seriously pursue my dream of being a police officer. I knew I had to overcome my tremendous fear of public speaking to be successful in law enforcement. I also knew it might hinder my performance at required interviews.
That summer, I asked a presenter at a workshop I attended how he became such a smooth and confident speaker. He suggested I look into joining a local Toastmasters club. On a Friday morning in August, I went to a meeting of the Shop Talk Toastmasters in Lancaster, California. The club regularly hosts 20 to 25 members at their meetings, and I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to men and women brimming with wisdom.
But fear set in immediately. How would they receive me? For an instant, I considered bolting out of the room. But I stayed for the meeting, and my fears could not have been more unfounded. Shop Talk members are friendly and welcome everyone with open arms. At one point, I was invited to participate in what I thought would be a dreadful experience: Table Topics. I remember barely squeaking out my response: “I’ll pass.” I felt so ashamed of myself. Yet during the meeting, I began to receive the club’s famous “love notes” written on ballot forms. The notes were filled with comments about how brave I was just for attending—and expressions of thanks for doing so. That’s when I knew this was the place for me!
Meanwhile, I began the arduous process of testing with various law enforcement agencies. Soon I was scheduled to complete the oral board interview with the Los Angeles Police Department. Shop Talk President Ellie Kay, an Accredited Speaker, told me the club could conduct a mock interview to prepare me for the board interview. My hopes soared at the idea of doing a “dry run” to help me face potential hiccups in my interview responses.
Ellie and Vice President Education Ann Vanino, CC, went above and beyond to prepare both me and the club for this mock interview. They wrote detailed notes with specific guidelines on how the interview should be conducted, plus agendas for four mock interviewers and a list of possible questions I might be asked. They also printed feedback sheets with an LAPD logo that would be given to each club member in attendance so I could get additional feedback.
I was extremely nervous, but I answered every question they threw at me without a hitch.
Before the mock interview started, a member escorted me out of the room while the Toastmaster briefed the interviewers and other members. When I was escorted back in, I treated the event like it was the real thing, greeting and shaking hands with everyone on the panel before I sat down. I was extremely nervous, but I answered every question they threw at me without a hitch. At one point Ellie even whispered to the others in an effort to rattle me. The entire mock interview, from start to finish, lasted about 15 minutes. I thanked the panel and exited the room.
Afterward, I received a highly favorable evaluation in addition to 15 feedback forms from members who watched, each filled with compliments or little tidbits of advice that were extremely helpful.
The mock interview made the real one a breeze. I successfully passed on every count, making me eligible for the next step in the process of becoming a police officer.
I also know that my improved leadership and communication skills will help me be a successful officer. I’ll draw on these skills when speaking to large groups, handling crowd control, de-escalating heated situations and interviewing witnesses when performing crime scene investigations.
My club’s help in preparing for job interviews is just the kind of out-of-the-box experience Shop Talk Toastmasters gives its members. I find it truly heartwarming when I think of what they did for me. And now I know: This is what Toastmasters is all about.
Anthony Bailey, CC is a member of the Shop Talk Toastmasters club in Lancaster, California.