Jeanne Guynn had no interest in public speaking when she first joined Toastmasters eight years ago.
“I was so shy and timid that I wouldn’t make eye contact while walking down the hall at work,” she said. TrueNorth asked a few employees, including Guynn, to check out a Toastmasters meeting and report back about their experience. Right away, Guynn was hooked.
“It was the most dynamic group of people I’d ever met. I wanted to be part of it.” Still, she wasn’t eager to get up in front of the room and give her first speech to the group, which is known for helping people improve their speaking skills. “I’d schedule my speech, and then cancel. I probably did this three times before I finally got up the courage to give a speech.” Gradually, she started gaining confidence. A year and a half after joining the group, she was asked to compete in a district-level humorous speech competition where she came in third.
Today, she is well known in the organization as a skilled speaker and storyteller, and she helps mentor new members. She’s also been asked to speak at events for various local organizations, such as Beyond Rubies, a women’s conference at Kirkwood Community College.
This May, she’ll head to the Eastern Iowa Project Management Institute to deliver an original speech called “Grit to Greatness,” which was inspired by the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. She’ll share personal stories of how she used perseverance to achieve her goals, and she’ll get the audience thinking about ways they might do the same.
Guynn improved her speaking skills not just because she attended Toastmasters meetings, but with frequent practice.
“My confidence has grown exponentially through my deliberate practice.” For anyone who may be dreading an upcoming speech, her advice is straightforward. “Rehearse. Record yourself. Get feedback.”
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She said college students often contact the group to inquire about practicing a presentation, and they’re happy to invite them to join a meeting. “It’s about helping people. The product of Toastmasters is self-confidence.” All speakers receive immediate, direct feedback about their delivery, including tips about how to keep the message concise and how to add gestures. The organization has a broad reach — there are more than 345,000 members in 142 countries. In addition to practicing speeches, members have the opportunity to develop leadership skills. Guynn has held many leadership positions in the organization, and recently served as the district director for the state of Iowa.
“I put together a five-year plan to become the district director,” she said about her pathway to leadership. “I’ve always been one to map out a plan.”
Now that she’s achieved many of her goals within Toastmasters, Guynn is figuring out what’s next.
“I’m in the process of thinking through what my next five years look like. I want to develop continuously and chase my goals.” At one point, she strongly considered pursuing higher-level leadership positions in Toastmasters, possibly including becoming the president of the entire worldwide organization. After a recent promotion at TrueNorth, those plans are on hold for now. Guynn, who has worked with the company for 24 years, will be overseeing a team within the employee benefits department. Although she hasn’t served as a team leader before, she feels prepared.
“I have a great network of mentors, and I’m not afraid to make a mistake as long as I can learn from it.”
Now that she’s a pro at inspiring people through her speeches, she’s excited to have the opportunity to inspire a team at work. She believes the skills she’s developed, including her ability to speak in front of people, will help her in her leadership role. Her tendency to map out plans won’t hurt, either.
“I want to help people identify goals and figure out how to achieve them. How do we get you to where you want to go?” Although she still occasionally wrestles with her natural shyness, public speaking is now a source of adrenaline for Guynn.
“When the crowd gets drawn in, and you can see their wheels starting to turn — it’s a rush.”
Quotes on public speaking
• “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.” — John F. Kennedy
• “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
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• “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” — Walt Disney
Books on public speaking
• “Pitch Perfect: How to Say it Right the First Time, Every Time” by Bill McGowan
• “The Art of Public Speaking” by Dale Carnegie
• “Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds” by Carmine Gallo