In high school, Encinitas resident Savannah Broderick avoided public speaking whenever possible. Broderick’s hands became clammy in front of a crowd. Her voice cracked.
“It was a huge fear,” she said. “When the teachers made us go and talk in front of class, I’d speak as little as possible.”
Yet, Broderick, 21, is now the president of a local Toastmasters club. The unlikely transition from wallflower to gregarious public speaker began when the MiraCosta College student was looking for extracurricular activities that would bolster applications to four-year universities.
Her mom encouraged her to try out Toastmasters. She was apprehensive, but figured it couldn’t hurt. Initially, her only goal was to earn Toastmaster’s “competent communicator” designation by successfully giving 10 speeches, ranging from a persuasive talk to a speech testing her voice, volume and timing.
“In the beginning, if words that came out of my mouth made any sense, I was the happiest person in the world,” Broderick said.
For her, the key to gaining confidence was embracing the unknown, the uncomfortable. She simply got up there and started talking during Toastmaster meetings, rather than overanalyzing the situation.
“I realized, I get an adrenaline rush, not knowing what to do, stepping up and learning on the fly,” Broderick said.
After three months in Toastmasters, a role as sergeant at arms opened up. More and more, Broderick liked the club, so she stepped in. Then, she moved up to the vice president of education. By eight months in Toastmasters, she had completed her 10 speeches. But rather than stopping there as originally planned, she became more involved.
When the club’s president stepped down, she took the reins last summer. As president, she oversees weekly meetings, along with other organizational responsibilities.
“I had to step out of my comfort zone a lot, whether it was giving a speech or when they needed me to step up for this officer role,” Broderick said. “It was good for me.”
And recently, she was in charge of putting on a speaking contest with other North County Toastmaster clubs. Now, her goal is to serve as the area governor for five local clubs.
Many others have also turned to Toastmasters International to conquer fears of talking in front of a crowd. The 89-year-old organization, dedicated to improving public speaking, everyday interactions and self-confidence, has 292,000 members.
In her experience, Broderick said, most Toastmaster clubs have few people in their 20s, with fewer serving in officer roles.
“I believe I’m the youngest in my club by 10 years,” Broderick said. “They were surprised when I told them I’m only 21.”
But she emphasized that Toastmasters offers a lot for young people, especially those just getting started with their careers.
To that end, Broderick said being president of her club has improved not only her public speaking ability, but also her leadership and interpersonal skills. An accounting major, she’s confident knowing both numbers and people will give her a leg up when searching for future jobs.
While Broderick has made a lot of progress, she emphasized that she still has a lot to learn.
“I’m not saying I’m perfect at this, but so far I’ve learned some important life lessons …the importance of communication, being diplomatic, organizing thoughts quickly and jumping in,” Broderick said.
To find a club near you, visit toastmasters.org.