A recent This American Life podcast broadcast a piece I’d missed when it first went out a year ago. It’s the remarkable story of how Ricard Pierce, a prison inmate, transformed his terminal shyness by enrolling in Toastmasters (yes, they have chapters that meet behind bars).
He tells how he gave his ‘Icebreaker’ and ‘Get to the Point’ manual speeches in front of other inmates, and realized that his own self-evaluation was much harsher than how members of the audience perceived him.
After the speech, Rich was really hard on himself. In his self-evaluation, he wrote down three words– “Horrible, needs practice.” But his peers were more forgiving. “Excellent job,” they wrote. “Great progress, very good eye contact, very welcoming.” They called him “Winning and funny.” One inmate said they should have storytelling every Saturday night on the cell block with Mr. Pierce. Another told Rich he had nothing to fear. He was just as good as anyone else. Rich had been nervous, trembling even. And no one noticed.
Listen to ‘Act 3’ of the episode that starts 31:30 into the program.
I’ve seen this so many times. Speakers who are nervous, panic-stricken even, think everyone picked up on how they feel. This is usually not the case.
The best advice is to forget your own feelings, fake it till you make it, and listen to what other people tell you for a true appreciation of how you were seen. Formal evaluations are one of the hidden benefits of Toastmasters, as Rich discovered.