I’ve always wanted to be a better communicator. Throughout my life, I struggled to speak up because I was afraid of what others think of me and I have low self-confidence.
To stand out in this era, you need to be able to clearly express your thoughts, to think on your feet, and most importantly to be able to engage and influence others. Without these skills, you’ll face difficulties at networking events, job interviews or getting a promotion.
I first heard about Toastmasters at a dinner party 2 years ago. The guy I was talking to had great confidence and he never used “like”, “ah” or “uhm”. On most occasions, I’d start comparing myself to the stranger and think negatively about my ability to socialize (or give presentations). And what usually happens is I get overwhelmed with the negative thoughts and I start to stumble all over my sentences. I become the poor communicator that I wish to avoid.
It’s rare that I feel at ease with a stranger but for some reason, I opened up to him. I told him my desire to get better at presenting and telling stories and he suggested that I join Toastmasters at the University of Melbourne. I asked him what a typical session at Toastmasters is like and he explained with enthusiasm:
- You’ll be called upon to speak about a random topic for 60-90 seconds without any preparation. [If you’re a guest, you can pass but if you’re a member you must do it]
- Experienced members will evaluate your performance and give you feedback. [In front of everyone]
and the list goes on. I felt fear creeping into my brain and my interest gradually waned.
The thought of standing in front of a huge group of students (He said the club is VERY popular) talking about a random topic without any preparation is enough to make my brain go NO! NO! NO! NO! I not only have serious fear of public speaking but I’m also terrible at thinking on my feet. To sum things up, I’ll have a very unpleasant time at Toastmasters. So I took the easy way out. I listened to Fear, didn’t join the club and kept wishing I was a better speaker while I was an undergraduate.
Then something changed in me as 2017 comes to an end. I realized that nothing will change if I let Fear dictate me. I will never grow.
Plus the world doesn’t give a f**k if I’m an introvert or if I’m shy. If I can’t perform in this extroverted world, I lose.
In September, I decided to challenge my good ol’ friend Fear. I went to a couple of Toastmasters meetings to gauge the atmosphere and it surprised me. The people there are so encouraging and helpful; it just feels like a safe place for me to fail. The other thing that motivated me to come back was the fact that most guests share my insecurities and I finally found myself saying thinking: “I’m not alone anymore“.
I’ve given two impromptu speeches (as a guest) so far and I did my first ice breaker speech (as an official Toastmasters member) last week. After the meeting, a few guests came up and told me they could really relate to my story and I was happy to hear that. When I wrote my speech, I didn’t want it to just be an introduction of myself but also to encourage other shy introverts to step up and take control of Fear.
Because why the hell not? Public speaking is scary but it didn’t kill me. Trust me, you’ll survive.
*If you’re interested, read on to find out what my speech was about*
Mr Toastmaster, fellow members and guests, today I’d like to share my story on what is it like growing up as a shy introvert. First, you’ll get to a glimpse of my background, followed by short snippets of my life experiences as a shy introvert and finally I’ll end with techniques I use to cope in an extroverted world.
My name is Su Min Chan and I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The first two languages I was exposed to were English and Cantonese and once I started kindergarten, I became familiar with Mandarin and Malay as well. For some reason, my Mandarin skills never go beyond a 10 year old but my older brother and I could still speak the language if we want to discuss something we don’t want our parents to know. I spent my secondary school years in an all-girls government school and at 18, I pursued my International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma at the International School of KL before moving to Australia for my Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Melbourne. Even though I majored in Psychology, I’ve decided to pursue a career in the fashion industry and I aim to become a part of the ethical fashion movement in the future.
For most of my life, I’ve been known as the shy and quiet one but that’s not always the case. When I was a young girl, I wouldn’t be the one to start a conversation during social outings or family gatherings. I prefer to sit in the corner and observe. Once things get boring, I’d start day-dreaming or make up random stories in my head. In middle school, I became less awkward at parties but I still wouldn’t speak in class. Due to my quiet and reserved nature, I tend to have a small but close group of friends. Much to their surprise, I can be pretty crazy and outgoing during our meetups. Our personalities occur on a spectrum. I’d say I belong somewhere between introversion and extroversion but I definitely show more characteristics of an introvert.
I can get away with being a shy introvert when I was younger, but things started to change once I enter university. I was horrified when to find that tutorial are graded based on how much I contribute and presentations as well as group work are common throughout the semester. As an introvert, thinking on my feet is not my forte and I tend to focus and perform better on individual assignments. On top of all that, good leadership skills are highly regarded when applying for internships or a job. To fulfill society’s criteria for the best candidate, I volunteered to be the secretary of Melbourne University’s Tae Kwon Do club and a mentor to five international students for the student union. I may great at organizing events and providing guidance to a small group of people, but I’m not the best in convincing others to get involved in club competitions or events. Unfortunately for me, the ideal leader in today’s society is someone who is energetic, approachable and is able to influence a group of more than five. The situation may be more challenging for me but I want to work on being a better introverted leader so that I could guide those with similar difficulties.
Pushing myself out of my comfort zone on most days means I experience more anxiety and stress but the following methods have helped me strive. When I’m socializing I make sure to take quick “breaks” in the bathroom. Stepping away from the crowd helps me recharge and gives me time to think about topics to talk about during the get-to-know-you-sessions. I also try to be gentle to myself when things don’t go smoothly. Setbacks and the feeling of incompetence are common but giving myself plenty of positive self-talk has helped me stay motivated. Finally, and perhaps the most crucial, I try to stop worrying about what others think of me. Once you’ve learned to let go of that, you start growing and all you feel is empowerment. These three countermeasures have not only helped me reduce stress and anxiety but they also gave me motivation to seek challenges.
I hope I’ve used this time well to introduce myself. For the shy introverts in this room, know that it’s never too late to start challenging yourself. I urge you to find ways to help you cope and you’d be surprised at who you can become!