Have you ever experienced one of those moments where you wish the ground would open up and swallow you? A heart-thumping, cringe-worthy moment of utter humiliation and embarrassment? 😳
Apart from an excruciating moment a few years back when I was a dancer in ‘Copacabana’ on Cromer pier, and I turned to raise my arms up facing the 400 odd audience, at the precise moment the rest of the dancers turned to face the back, nothing springs to mind.
Who is old enough to remember Star Trek? I wasn’t a huge fan, but I do remember how Scotty would transport the crew back up to the ship from a transporter platform, atom by atom when they needed rescuing. I could have done with this last Thursday evening.
My first meeting ‘in person’ with Toastmasters started rather well. For those that don’t know, this is an organization of speakers where you get a chance to practice speeches and talking in public. I had attended a few zoom meetings and surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it.
But how different it was in person!
There were about fifteen of us sitting the mandatory 2 metres apart, with the Master Toastmaster who hosted the event standing at the lectern with his gavel. Despite how formal this may sound, the members are all very warm and welcoming and I didn’t feel nervous.
The introductions went well; we took it in turns to stand from our seats and following the theme of the evening ‘fresh starts’, introduced ourselves with a few words about our most recent fresh start in life.
After a brilliant talk by the main speaker of the evening, which was engaging, funny and a great example to learn from, we took a break.
What followed next was ‘table topics’, which is where you stand up in front of the audience and are given a topic on the spot to talk about for 2 minutes. It is the longest two minutes I have experienced; I can tell you! There is a ‘timer’, someone who sits with a stopwatch and a traffic light system, switching the green light to amber when there is 40 seconds to go, and then red when it reaches the final 20 seconds.
I watched the first couple of volunteers stand and ‘waffle’ there way through their topic, and decided it looked far too scary for me. I sank deeper into my seat, knowing I didn’t want to volunteer, not this week anyway; stage fright had me in its grip.
But then an elderly lady stood at the front and the topic given to her was “tell us about a fresh start in a career as an author.” An unexpected sound came from my mouth mumbling something along the lines of; “I wouldn’t mind doing that one!” I was speaking to myself… so I thought.
At the end of the lady’s speech the table topics master stood at the front asking for another volunteer, and a few who had heard me mumble, decided to volunteer me to go next. I froze in horror.
“I think Nikki said she’d go,” someone said.
“Only if I can have the same question that was given to the last lady.” I feebly muttered back.
“Come on,” they all said, already clapping. “Give it a go.”
I stood there at the front, leaning on my walking stick and to my horror, was given a brand-new topic.
“Talk about your fresh start of becoming a bank robber.” She said. I froze, staring at everyone’s faces with their looks of expectancy; the clock was already ticking.
“Er… I don’t know what to say.” I said, feeling the heat now rising to my face. I had sympathetic smiles coming at me from all directions. The group of 15 suddenly felt more like 50.
“Can I have another one please?” I asked, fumbling around with my stick awkwardly.
The topic master read out another. “Tell us about your new job as a zookeeper.”
Another tumbleweed moment. My brain panicked and whilst I could picture lions and tigers and monkeys, I remained mute. Making a complete ass of myself.
The only place that Scottie beamed me to, was to a memory back in the past. I was once forced to sing in front of the class at school, and they all sniggered at my atrocious out-of-tune voice. Then there was the time when I played the part in the school play as a belly dancer, and I was ridiculed for the smallness of my chest in the beaded push-up bra. (Pah! If they could see me now!)
There was nothing I could do, and feeling embarrassed I took a step towards leaving.
“I’m sorry… I can’t.” I said. Worried that I may just cry if I stood there a second longer.
The Master Toastmaster called me back and asked if I could talk about the previous topic of being an author. I paused, looked at the audience and they all nodded. So, I retook the stage and started talking.
It still felt like the longest two minutes imaginable, but somehow I got through, confidently talking about my experience of writing ‘’Catch Me if I Fall”. I managed to salvage a little dignity and possibly sold a few books in the process; so, all’s well that ends well.
It was a very uncomfortable moment, but being the determined individual that I am, I will seek a way to improve on the table topics section. I was given some positive feedback and told that they couldn’t wait to see my ‘icebreaker’ speech which will be a prepared 7- minute talk to introduce myself at a future meeting. Let’s hope I can keep my ‘cool’ and deliver a good one. (Did you see what I did there?)