In a recent performance review discussion with my manager, she suggested that I do some work on my presentation and public speaking skills. Mine are adequate, but I think I'm more distinguished by my lack of fear of public speaking than by great skill. As a child, I was actually terrified by public speaking, and would do almost anything to avoid it. This fear was slowly ground out of me by stints on the high school debate team (I was terrible at debate), Constitution team, and various other academic competitions that required impromptu speaking; class presentations in college; and teaching during grad school. In the middle of my first year of grad school, I stepped onto a stage in a 150-person lecture hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus to deliver a pre-exam review. I looked into the lemur-like eyes of a full house of undergraduates desperately hoping that I would impart to them in the next three hours the knowledge that they had failed to acquire all semester. The atrophied remnants of my fear sighed heavily and slunk off somewhere down Telegraph Ave., never to trouble me again.
Anyhow, there was one obvious place to go to get some training for my fearless semi-competence: Toastmasters. People have been recommending to me that I do Toastmasters for years now, but I've always found some excuse not to do it. But my employer has their very own Toastmasters chapter, that meets right here on campus, so I decided that I would bite the bullet and go visit a meeting today.
The meeting started with someone giving a pre-prepared speech, which we all got to evaluate. Then there's this thing called "Table Topics", where someone comes up with a topic, and everyone who wants to can give a 1-2 minute speech on this topic. Our topic today was "reincarnation," and what immediately sprang to my mind was my character in the Legend of the Five Rings game I'm currently playing in, who has been repeatedly reincarnated. So, I began my speech with, "I don't believe in reincarnation, but I do play role playing games." I then managed to give a reasonably concise explanation of what a table top roleplaying game is, what Legend of the Five Rings is about, and how my character discovered that she was reincarnated. And then wrapped it up by observing that playing RPGs is sort of like being reincarnated, because you get to experience being many people. All in 1 minute 58 seconds.
At the end of the meeting, everyone voted on their favorite table topic speech. I was the winner. I got a ribbon and everything! Not too bad for my first try!