How Toastmasters helped me overcome social anxiety

I’m socially awkward.

I experience social anxiety- particularly in new social settings.

Going to parties is the worst, because I just don’t know what to do with myself and feel completely out of place.

Can you relate?

I didn’t join Toastmasters to help me overcome my social anxiety- I didn’t even know Toastmasters would help me be more comfortable in a variety of social and business situations. Facing my social anxiety in Toastmasters was a completely unexpected and wonderful bonus!

I didn’t even realize how much my social anxiety had improved until recently. I reflected on what changed and that is when I realized, that what changed was me, and what changed me was Toastmasters.

When I started in Toastmasters I felt really uncomfortable talking about myself. I was confident in my abilities but I was still uncomfortable being me. Not Chrysta the blogger, or Chrysta the accountant, or Chrysta the hostess- just Chrysta.

The first speech we give in Toastmasters is a speech about ourselves. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote that speech. And finally, I hurriedly threw my speech together the night before because I just couldn’t figure out what to say about me.

As I continued in Toastmasters I discovered, with the support and encouragement of my club, that I gave the best speeches when I was genuine, honest, and 100% Chrysta.

That’s right, people actually like me for being me.  People from vastly different backgrounds with very different interests, liked me.

People like me.

Whoa.

It may seem strange to suggest that learning people actually like me as a revelation, but it was.

I’m a nerd.

A geek.

I’ve never enjoyed sports and many other mainstream interests. I’m thrilled to curl up with a movie or book.

I’m a homebody.

I’m an introvert.

I’m a Trekkie!

It wasn’t that I thought I was unlikable- most of the time I just feel different. I’ve always felt out of place in social situations and found it difficult to get comfortable just being me.

Toastmasters may or may not be for you, so I’ll try to share some of the insights I’ve learned in Toastmasters that helped me face my social anxiety.

How Toastmasters helped me overcome social anxiety

be_yourself_by_pradocierra-d3j2ksrImage source

Be passionate

I am friends with every member of my Toastmasters club because we all get to know each other really well. What I love about getting to know my fellow Toastmasters is hearing what they are passionate about. When I’m passionate about something and I share it with others, I shine.

Be genuine

When I started out in Toastmasters I chose topics I thought my audience would be interested in. Sometimes they were interested and sometimes not, but either way my fellow members didn’t connect with me when I wasn’t sharing some part of myself. That, my friends, is as genuine as it gets.

Be vulnerable

I used to be so afraid of making a fool of myself in social situations. In this, Jennifer Lawrence is my hero. She trips at the Oscars and she laughs it off and we all laugh with her- it’s endearing.

 

In Toastmasters I’ve had a lot of practice making a fool of myself in the most supportive and encouraging environment. We all make fools of ourselves, sometimes and it’s often our vulnerability that makes us relatable.

Be unique

“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” ~Oscar Wilde

One of the many reasons Toastmasters is so fun is because each member of my club is different and we all have something unique to share. I’ve learned my contribution to Toastmasters, and the world, is my own experiences and perspectives. My voice is unique and beautiful. No one else can tell my story.

Be uncomfortable

The encouragement and motivation from my fellow Toastmasters gave me confidence to keep trying new things, keep putting myself out there, and to embrace and love myself just as I am. Every time I get up to speak I am learning, growing, and becoming more comfortable doing things that used to make me quite uncomfortable.

Have fun!

In Toastmasters I’ve learned that when I’m having fun, other people are having fun with me. Whatever attitude I adopt is like an invitation to my audience to share. I can choose to have fun and so I will- now won’t you join me?

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  1. Chrysta, I have Social Anxiety and am looking to join Toastmasters after seeing your post. Did you also have the physical symptoms of Social Anxiety? If so, were those alleviated somewhat as well? Just curious since I have strong physical symptoms when experiencing my anxiety. Thanks, Jim

    • Hi Jim,

      My social anxiety has certainly affected me physically, emotionally, and energetically. Are there specific physical symptoms you want to know about?

      In general, I would say Toastmasters will help with any symptoms of social anxiety. At least it did for me. Toastmasters gave me so many opportunities to connect with other people in a comfortable, friendly environment, and helped me feel a lot more comfortable talking about myself to a group of people.

      Good luck to you, Jim! All the best!

      Chrysta

      • Chrysta, the physical symptoms that usually afflict me are the pounding in the chest, nausea, sweating, and cold clammy hands. I’ve been able to avoid Public Speaking over my life for the most part but maybe giving Toast Masters a try in what seems like a safe environment might be beneficial in overcoming Social Anxiety? I went to 1 meeting a few years ago then told myself that since Public Speaking wasn’t really required in my job that maybe I didn’t really need it. But maybe this is exactly what I need.

        • Thanks for elaborating, Jim! I do think Toastmasters can help you, and I recommend checking out several meetings in your area. Some Toastmasters meetings are more structured and serious, others are more relaxed and fun. Find a club culture that feels comfortable to you and, within that group, you are likely to find a warm, friendly, and comfortable environment to connect to others!

          Toastmasters is good for overcoming social anxiety because your participation in the group is structured- you don’t have to socialize- you take on roles and give speeches with the guidance from the manuals and your mentor. This makes it extra-comfy to step outside your comfort zone!

          Chrysta

          • Thanks Chrysta for the encouraging words and for sharing your success in overcoming Social Anxiety! Jim

  2. Congratulations Chrysta, on your success eliminating social anxiety by putting yourself out there and participating in Toastmasters! Despite the fact that it can cause anxiety initially, I too find that the more you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, the less of an issue social anxiety becomes. Keep up the great work and thanks for setting such a wonderful example for others to follow!

  3. I can totally relate. I just feel physically sick and light headed around crowds and people I don’t know. I might take up public speaking per your experience. Maybe that’s what I need to get out of my shell. My wife just gave birth to our son recently and I want him to have a more positive role model. I’d like him to learn from his old man confronting his fears. Thank you for this great post. It was rewarding on so many levels.