My journey to the lectern

Well, like many people… Public Speaking was a challenge, and I sat with it for a very long time. I hated orals at School. Funny enough, I was okay in a meeting, but addressing a crowd was the problem.  So, I sat with the challenge, hoping it would just disappear or just miraculously flip into a positive. I always knew there was something called Toastmasters, but I never even wanted to read an advert about it, because I knew that it was way, way out of my league.

Until…well, you see I am a church girl, and when things come from the pulpit, I tend to listen, make sense, and hopefully take action. So, in his sermon, the priest preached on working on areas for development (weaknesses); he stressed that if we focus on our own weeknesses, then we have no time to be jealous of the strengths in other people. This came at a time when the calling to be an ordained priest was getting louder, but it fell on deaf ears because, well, when you are a priest, you must PREACH…and well, that’s public speaking right!?

So, I went home, and I really thought about the sermon – it stuck with me… Two weeks later, I googled “Toastmasters Club in Port Elizabeth” and Algoa Toastmasters popped up. I contacted the VP Membership, and there I was, sitting at the Caritas Centre, in Newton Park, Port Elizabeth. I put on an extremely brave face. The members were extremely friendly. It was a speech contest, and I found myself daydreaming of me, speaking like them…then reality hit… “No Mel” I said to myself, “…that’s just not you.”

I was encouraged to visit again, and I did. There I was again, sitting with my brave face. The lady next to me, Angie Kivido, encouraged me to take part in Table Topics. I was terrified, but she was so friendly towards me. I felt I didn’t want to let her down. What was I thinking? I didn’t even know her, but didn’t want to disappoint her. Well, I did it, and it was okay.

I signed on the dotted line 2 months later. I kept asking myself, “Mel are you nuts?” Mel never replied to that silly question! LOL!

My first speech was the ice breaker, and because I had watched so many speeches, I had an idea of how I wanted to introduce myself. I met up with my mentor, Marianah Lourens, and she believed in me from the word go. I thought she was nuts, she had never even heard me speak. She just had this positivity about my speaking… The only other person to believe in me like that was my biological mother. So, I thought, okay, let me give it my best shot. I did, and it went well. I had some cue cards, and a few ums and ahs. Mimi Makupula came to me after my Ice Breaker and said, “Melissa, you don’t need those notes, you are a natural speaker, I am excited for your journey”… By this time, I concluded that Algoa Toastmasters was full of crazy people – first Angie, then Marianah, now Mimi is telling to stop using notes!

Fast track to 3 years later, a couple of Best Speaker Awards at club level, Best Table Topics, and 3rd at Area Contest. Yes, I definitely see myself competing at District… I still do ask myself, “Mel, are you nuts?” Mel never seems to answer that silly questions… Maybe that should be my next speech!

It has been a marvellous journey, with all the positive support – it’s just full of people who believe in you, until you start believing in yourself. Not a day goes by with out me telling people about Toastmasters.

So, now that I have reached the lectern, I never use it… NOTES FOR WHO?!

Melissa Awu