The Dreaded Thursday - Ben Starling

The dreaded Thursday had arrived and I shouldn’t be here.

Why on earth was I putting myself through this? I could have been home, relaxing. Watching TV. Writing. I’d made a terrible mistake, but it was too late to back out. How had I (AKA Mr Never-Speak-in-Public. Ever.) allowed myself to be talked into this?

7.22pm and my name was called. Applause. Panic. Light-headed, scarcely able to walk, I dragged myself onstage. I shook the smiling Toastmaster’s hand and moments later, with my head stuck above the parapet, twenty-four (I’d counted them) gun-sights levelled on my sweating forehead. That’s when a black hole swallowed every background noise and the room temperature leapt thirty degrees. 

The countdown had begun weeks ago. I’d struggled through a number of roles at King’s Speakers, like Grammarian, Harkmaster, Table Topics. But this was different. I had to deliver a 5-7 minute speech to a packed room. Instead of running (as I’d intended doing for the rest of my life), here I was, and my voice was about to croak and wobble. My chest would lock and I’d run out of air. Like in that recurring-nightmare speech I failed to deliver a quarter century ago. Think gulping goldfish. Think bolting for the door. Think shame.

I hoped no one saw my shaking hand as I placed my notes on the lectern. I took a deep breath but at least I had a plan: I’d stare at a dark patch on the far wall. For variety, I’d study my feet. Imagine that the room is empty, I told myself, like the one I’d been practising in all week.


A minute in, I forgot my lines. But I just about saved the situation by checking my notes. And in those dreadful five seconds (or was it five hours?), no one smirked. The walls didn’t rush in to crush me. In fact, nothing terrible happened at all.

Condemned men can afford to take risks and I’d inserted a few words that bore a distant resemblance to humour. Though delivered too quickly, a couple of people actually laughed. Laughed!

I looked around and everyone was smiling. At me. And the smiles weren’t because they’d deciphered my fluffed joke—they were smiles of encouragement. There was our founder, nodding his support and I could read the thought bubble over his head: you’re doing fine!

When the green light flicked on, I wound it up. I forgot my conclusion without which the speech made little sense. But it didn’t matter because people were clapping. That was when I realised everyone had been in my place before. They knew what it felt like. That we were a team united by a common goal: to improve out public speaking together.

My next speech was a little better, my third (I’m told), was better still. And each time, the fear level dropped.

I’ve visited several Toastmaster clubs and each is unique. Attracting members with speech impediments and social anxiety, King’s Speakers really does set the standard for support and encouragement. Over sixteen months I’ve watched many people battle their demons. And win. And as a club, we’ve all shared their sense of achievement.

Who’d have thought that in a matter of months—not just months, but fun, interesting and rewarding months—the dreaded Thursday would become the highlight of my week?

If they can do it, I can do it. If I can do it, so can you.


My Journey in Toastmasters - Brian Skelton

In May 2005 I attended a 3 Day Speech Therapy course with the Starfish Project which is a non – Profit making organisation that helps people who stammer.

During those 3 days amongst other things I was taught a Breathing technique which helps me to control my stammer it will not make my stammer go away but it gives me control over something that has controlled me since I was a young Boy.

On that Course I met Barry Rix who has become a really good friend of mine, Barry Helps to run the Essex Starfish Support group, He told us about Toastmasters at one of the meetings and how much it had helped him. Barry helped to start Chelmsford speakers. I went to the first meeting in January 2007. 

 I did my Icebreaker on the 7th February 2007 that night I won the best speaker of the night award which I have framed and have it hanging on my wall at home.

There have been a few turning points for me since I completed my CC and CL awards and the night that I was the Contest Chair of the Humorous Speech and Table Topic contest at Chelmsford Speakers was one of them and really showed me how far I had come and how much more confident I was getting and how much I was pushing out my comfort zones.

Until I joined the Committee in 2010 as the Sgt at arms I had not realised how much work that goes on in a Toastmasters club, the meetings once a fortnight do not happen by magic. 

I sighted that the Advance Leader Silver Award would be my biggest challenge if I wanted to go for the DTM award. Which is when I was advised that if I was the President of a Club it would help me if I wanted to be an Area Director? 

I was the Chelmsford Speakers Club President 2012 –13 which was a big step for me to take. I joined Brentwood Speakers and helped to Mentor the club in 2013-14.

I left Chelmsford Speakers in 2014 because I needed to push myself and joining the London clubs really helped me to do that.

I joined Kings Speakers in 2013 which is a Toastmasters club for People who Stammer or have social anxiety. I first went along only intending to do a few speeches and to help out at a few meetings but I found that the club has really helped me a lot I think it is because I am helping other people and seeing how well all the other club members are doing has really pushed me on.

I was the Area 33 Area Director 2014-15 which was hard work and I learnt so much doing this Job and I am continuing to learn all the time I think what helped me as well was that I was new to Area 33 meaning that I had to go and introduce myself to all the Presidents and the members of the clubs in the Area. My assistant Sophie Xu who was a member of St Pauls Speakers in Area 33 really helped me a lot. I also did the HPL project on being the Area 33 Director which helped me to gain the ALS award.


When I was made the Area Director of the Year 2014-15 for District 91 this was an amazing moment I really could not believe it when I went up to collect the award from District 91Director Hillary Briggs I was in Tears.

I also completed the ACG award Helping to mentor new Member Chrystele Scariot from Kings Cross Speakers which was so Rewarding seeing Chrystele grow so much in Confidence and really pushing out her comfort zones. 

Planning and holding a Workshop at Kings Speakers “How to listen effectively” was a Great thing to do and receiving a lot of Positive Feedback was Fantastic.

I am planning on doing the CC Manual again and I would like to do some other things as well. At the Moment I am Area C33 Assistant Area Director helping Tia Atanasova Who is the Area C33 Area Director who I meet at Kings Speakers. 

I did my Icebreaker Speech at Chelmsford Speakers February 2007 and my Last Speech for my ACG August 2016 at Kings Cross Speakers. 

My Confidence has really grown if someone had asked me before May 2005 about joining a speaking club I would have told them to go away and not to be so silly.

I would like to thank everybody at Toastmasters for all there help over the years.
Especially Barry Rix who introduced me to Toastmasters. 

My Favourite saying – If you keep on doing what you have always done you will keep on getting what you have always got.

Brian Skelton DTM
Area C33 Assistant Area Director