Penny Kennett


My London son, newly engaged, told me over Skype that he was getting married to his lovely bride to be in her home town of Limerick (Ireland) in August the following year. Once I had recovered from my excitement, I asked him, impulsively :” Can I give a speech?” He teased me by saying at once “On NO account are you to give a speech, mother!”  then he laughed and countered with “I would be honoured if you would speak, Mum”.  A heartbeat later though, I tried to bargain—  you’ve got a year” he deadpanned. Yikes. But it was On, witty or not. I had a year.

First port of call, my friend Nick. “Toastmasters!” he prescribed,. “You couldn’t ask for a more forgiving audience; and their feedback is kind and useful. It’s your best bet. You’ll get to know how to stand, where to put your hands, how to move as if you are confident.” I wanted to do my boy proud. I had a year, I reassured myself.

Google told me where the most conveniently located club was; I showed up on the night, to check out the Orakei Toastmasters Club. Not without a great many nerves! The welcome continued in person; my hand was shaken. I had heard about the formal structure so that wasn’t a surprise, but along with structure, the speeches were upbeat and quirky. The biscuits at half time break were Tim Tams! How special was that! By the time the final bang of the closing gavel I was set on this Club to help me with my quest; I joined up.

Members of the club supported and encouraged me to speak, rostered me onto speaking slots and the feedback came thick and fast over the months; formally, informally, at breaks, after the meeting, responding to my determination to go from a gibbering wreck to fairly competent. By the time of my leaving I had given six speeches, including a couple of wedding speech drafts, taking into account the feedback on the speech, my delivery and the raising of the champagne glass to the happy couple. The club were great sports, acting as wedding guests with real bubbly.

Once in Ireland, a kiwi Toastie from way back, gave me feedback and encouragement the night before the big Day. By the time the wedding unfolded my nerves, amazingly, were in hand – I just wanted to report back that I’d done my club proud, as well as my son! The speech itself went so well; people laughed more than I expected  (lovely Irish relatives)! The parts that were best received were the heartfelt anecdotes (he was such a very cute little boy) but as one or two people suggested writing in a few funny anecdotes I’d had a go at that and they went better than I had expected. Afterwards the compliments came in two camps- what a proud mum you obviously are (oh yeah); and, you’ve done a bit of practise for this speech haven’t you (little bit). My son was very happy and proud.

Back home, I couldn’t wait for club night to share the achievement.

Alongside the club’s support has been my slowly growing confidence in myself, speaking in front of a group of people, all looking at me and listening closely!  Once I got back from Ireland, job done, there was a lovely bunch of people to listen to, and help flourish in the same way, and lots more thinking-andtalking-on-the-spot experience. Outside of the speaking-in-front-of-a-group experience, I do take pride and heart from my hard won experience the realisation that the more often and more frequently you do a scary thing, the less nerve wracking it becomes. And then, also, the more rewarding!