Fighting the Dragon

by Rich Rodgers
(Del City, OK)

"You think you are smart? Why don't you do your work? Are you going to amount to anything?"

My 12th-grade teacher seemed to be screaming at me. She was standing right next to me as she humiliated me in front of my classmates. Her piercing eyes were staring at me for an answer. I couldn't answer, but let her continue to humiliate me. I wished she had called me aside and asked me why I don't do my oral reports.

I would have told her, "I was terrified to get up in front of people and speak."

That opportunity didn't present itself. All my life I had a fear of public speaking. If I was called on in school, I would simply say, "I don't have my work!" I would get an F for not doing my oral report. I didn't participate because of fear.

This fear, I call a phobia, has lasted all my life. Some say the No. 1 fear is public speaking. It affected my advancement in my jobs. If I moved up the ladder, I knew I would have to speak in front of people. That wasn't going to happen! Being retired, the window of advancement is gone.

Fighting this fear was like fighting a dragon. Every time I said, "No" the dragon grew.

I went to a local Toastmasters meeting. An interesting thing they did was called "Table Topics." With Table Topics TM, the Topicsmaster gives members who aren't assigned a speaking role the opportunity to speak during the meeting. The Topicsmaster challenges each member with a subject, and the speaker responds with a one-to two-minute impromptu talk.

Father's Day was the weekend before, the Topicsmaster asked different questions about fathers to four people.

Then the unthinkable happened: The lady in charge of the Table Topics TM asked if I wanted to speak about the influence that my father had on me. The nice thought: I had a choice! I could run out of the room and never be seen again. Or I could smile and say, "No, thank you!" Or I couldn't believe it! The word came out of my mouth, there it was, I said "Yes!"

I got up and spoke for one minute and 25 seconds. I know my heart was racing, my throat was tightening, and other things just didn't seem right physically. I did speak about my Dad and his influence on my life. To my surprise, I received an Award for Best Table Topics. I couldn't believe it. It was my first time there, and yet they were so nice to me. And I lived to tell about it!

Now I have been in Toastmasters for 1 1/2 years. I have been telling everyone that I can about Toastmasters. Six months ago, Oklahoma District 16 Governor awarded me the District 16 "Toastmaster of the Year." I was surprised and thrilled.

I can truly say, "Toastmasters changes lives!"

Toastmaster International is a nonprofit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience.

You can find Toastmasters Club close to you online:

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