Posted by: Diane | January 13, 2014

Public Speaking

I’m giving my 20th speech tonight at Toastmasters tonight.

As I prepared this past week, I started to think of the first time that I spoke in front of an audience – I remember it very well…it happened in Grade 4. There were a lot of things that I struggled with in elementary school (particularly Math)  but I was a good speller so I decided to give a speech about my experiences in Spelling Bee contests.

spelling bee 2

My mother was a teacher so as I was practising my speech, she suggested that I hand out a little spelling quiz to the class and begin the speech, as if everyone was participating in a real Spelling Bee contest. I was a bit hesitant to be so creative but I decided to give it a whirl – I mean, if I could stand up and spell words in front of an audience, I figured I could speak too. “Little Miss Independent” didn’t want any more help from her mom so no opportunity was given to edit the final product before I went to school.

That was a big mistake.

When it was my turn to give my speech, I confidently walked up to the front of the class and handed out my prepared spelling test. Not a minute passed before Jimmy Knowles yelled from the back of the class, “This is funny – you’re giving us a spelling test and you can’t even spell good!”  On the top of the handout sheet, I had printed, “Spilling Test” and when everyone saw the mistake, they began to snicker.

I was mortified and my face turned beet red. I didn’t know what irony was at the time but I sure knew how embarrassed I felt. Forty-plus years later as I think about that moment, I realize that the teacher was trying to help when she responded to Jimmy by saying, “The proper way to say that sentence is,’Diane can’t spell well, not good.” Of course, her response just made matters worse as the entire class laughed at me.

I was so flustered that I ran back to my desk, put my head down and cried. THAT was my first public speaking experience – not too positive but very memorable.

Despite this negative speaking premier, I still wonder why public elementary schools curriculum don’t place more emphasis on this important life skill.  I have tutored high school students who would rather fail a major assignment then get up in front of his/her classmates and verbally present information. Jerry Seinfeld made light of this fear of speaking when he was quoted as saying, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

I am so thankful for what I have learned about public speaking and leadership from my Toastmasters involvement. The ability to “think on my feet” during Table Topics, the discipline of preparing speeches, the opportunities to mentor other members and the excitement of speaking contests have exposed me to new ideas and given me greater confidence in other life situations…

…and I’ve never spelled, “spelling” wrong again.

spelling bee


  1. You have come so far little girl….what a beautiful bouquet of experience and full blossoms you have become! Thanks for sharing part of your journey from shame to success…and paving the way for others to travel the road ahead!

  2. Beautifully put, Carolyn!
    Diane is quite the example!

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