Toastmaster — August 2011
Change Language:
Love Them Alligators

What is an alligator? An alligator is anything that you fear. Why should you love it? Fear leads people in the direction they should go to achieve the freedom and happiness they desire.

Fear of public speaking is common. When asked to speak, many people mentally freeze and lose sight of what they would have said. Often the most brilliant ideas are never heard, because people with the greatest ideas are too afraid to speak.

How can people overcome this fear? They must attack it in the same manner as they would the fear of flying, skydiving or swimming – win the battle by working through the fears. Fear of flying is overcome by flying; fear of sky - diving is overcome by skydiving. Like wise, fear of public speaking is overcome by public speaking.

In 1967, while selling for Burroughs Corporation, I was asked to present one of the first electronic calculators in Alaska to the Alaska Department of Highways. Someone had read about that amazing fourfunction monster with its row of nixie tubes. While driving to their building I assumed the meeting would include one engineer and one person from purchasing.

I walked through their door only to be ushered into an auditorium with 30 engineers and several people from purchasing. As I fumbled with the machine, my perspiration dripped on the keyboard, my knees felt weak and no words came out. All I managed to say was, “You are intelligent people. I will leave the manual and the machine. You have a week to play with it.”

After the initial wave of shame passed, I visited a Toastmasters meeting and I joined after my first meeting.

The first time I spoke was in Table Topics. My knees wobbled and nothing I said made sense. The alligators won. But that didn’t matter to my fellow members; they gave me tons of credit for standing up. Those people were so supportive they instantly became my new best friends.

Following my first attempt at speaking, I was assigned a mentor to guide me through the steps and handed a well-structured ladder to climb: a manual with short presentations designed to help me master my fears. Toastmasters clubs provide a safe place where caring, experienced individuals help others deal with their fears.

How well did Toastmasters help me? Every time I spoke, my level of fear dropped a little. Then, one day, all of my fears were gone! Now I love to speak. These days, with less than five minutes’ notice, I can deliver a one-hour keynote.

A Record-Setting Life

During my seven years with Burroughs I set national sales records. From there, I went to Comm unications Engineering, where I set more records selling equipment for General Electric – Mobile Radio Division. My exceptional results in selling and sales management opened doors to an extraordinary career helping firms build teams that set national sales records of their own. Had I not lost to the alligators during my presentation at the Alaska Department of Highways – and had I missed Toastmasters – I would not have set any of my records.

Before my involvement with Toast - masters, I was good at selling, but not great. What gave me the strength to become great were those assignments where I was forced to listen. The more I did it, the better I became.

Toastmasters meetings, with their structured roles – such as evaluator, grammarian and Ah-Counter – create perfect paths to master the art of listening. I didn’t know how poorly I listened until I began documenting what I thought other people had said.

A teacher, preacher, leader, salesperson, parent – anyone who must deal with people – is in the business of selling ideas. And the proven key to helping another person change her mind comes from understanding that person’s needs, wants, desires and problems.

Nobody can simply think their way to effective listening and speaking. If you want to get there you must work your way up, the same as I did, and vanquish those alligators that hold you back. The most effective way to do that, at the least possible cost, is Toastmasters.

Nothing else compares.