I went through a totally humiliating experience this week. Worse, it was entirely self-inflicted. And just for good measure, it was in front of people I respect and admire, even though I don’t really know them very well yet.

It happened during a meeting of my new Toastmasters club. I was giving my first speech to the group – one that’s known as the “icebreaker” and that’s meant to help new members get comfortable with speaking. It also lets the rest of the club get to know them a little better, as it consists basically of a person getting up and talking about him- or herself for a few minutes.

As an experienced Toastmaster, I’ve given plenty of speeches, but I wanted to go back to the basics and give an icebreaker speech at my new club. The theme of the meeting was “Remembering,” and I started my speech with the same opening I used in my icebreaker when I first joined Toastmasters back in 2004. (How’s that for remembering?)

A few sentences later, however, I forgot. I went totally blank, and forgot what I wanted to say next. And what I wanted to say after that. I mumbled a few things, trying to stall while the words or ideas came back to me, but they never did. Finally, I acknowledged to the group that I totally lost what I wanted to say, that I was completely flabbergasted and embarrassed, and that I’d like to stop there, sit back down, regroup, and perhaps try again after the next speaker.

Everyone was fine with that, but I felt like I had committed a mortal sin. Not that I’ve never gone blank during a speech before. Actually, that happens more often than I care to admit. But what my Toastmasters training has taught me is that if you just take a breath, relax, and don’t panic, the words – or similar ones – will come back to you. I’ve also learned that you should never memorize a speech. Instead, you should practice and practice, and simply know it well enough that if you forget the exact words you were going to say, you’ll still be able to get the idea and your main points across.

None of that helped, however, although I was able to complete my speech a little later, after scribbling down a few key words and phrases as reminders before going back up in front of everyone.

It turned out not to be a total fiasco. My evaluator was kind and supportive, and several people came up to me after the meeting expressing interest or asking questions about some of the things I had mentioned during my speech. One of them also gave me information about a writing group that I plan to check out.

Other lessons I’ve learned, in Toastmasters and in life, helped me to recover from the experience instead of being devastated by it. Among them are two quotes that guide me through a variety of trials and tribulations: “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” and “This too shall pass.” Also, whenever I do or experience something mildly unpleasant, somewhat embarrassing, or downright humiliating, I always find comfort and reassurance when I remind myself of one basic truth: “This will make a great speech someday.”

Or blog post.

May 26, 2017
©Betty Liedtke, 2017

Have you ever gone through a humiliating experience that turned out to be not so bad after all? Maybe it even resulted in something positive or exciting. If so, I’d love to hear about it! Please be aware, however, that all comments will be moderated and approved before appearing on this blog, in order to protect all of us from unwanted spam.