by Elena Brenna

Dr. Yelena Balabanova overcame fear of failure to gain Toastmasters’ hardest to earn Designation: Accredited Speaker!

If you’re an expert in your field, do you need Toastmasters to speak about your subject? Why does someone who has earned the right to place “Ph.D.” after her name want to earn a DTM, and then go on to add the AS – Accredited Speaker?

I spoke with Dr. Yelena Balabanova to discover “the why” behind her journey to accredited speaker. Yelena has her doctorate in music. She is a concert pianist, an award-winning Steinway Artist, a music teacher and, since 2009, a Toastmaster in neighboring District 2. Many of us in District 32 met her as she prepared for her 2019 accredited speaker tryout.

She traveled to clubs in both districts, with her electronic piano, delivering her presentation on the Keys to Creativity. With feedback from many Toastmasters, she shaped a presentation that earned her the coveted AS. (Learn more about the Accredited Speaker program here.)

The Toastmasters “seal of approval” enhances the marketability of accredited speakers and enables them to reach a broader audience. More than that, Yelena says, “I’ve learned a lot through the accredited speaker process. Why we want to get up and speak in front of people may seem obvious, but getting through that process gave me a deeper understanding of techniques, of meaning, of purpose, and audience response. It was not like taking one step up – it was more like ten steps up.”

From Fear to Confidence

What brought Yelena, who had so many years of experience as a performer and teacher, to Toastmasters? Fear. Yes, she struggled with “stage fright.”

Yelena says, “Essentially, performance anxiety and stage fright are fear of failure. That was my biggest problem for many years, since childhood. I would get very, very nervous. I was still able to perform and get through it, but I was suffering a lot.”

She explained, “The way I was trained in classical music involved a lot of criticism and it was 100% negative. Toastmasters helped me rebuild my self-esteem and confidence, in a big way. It’s such a positive and encouraging group. I would say the core of the Toastmasters philosophy is encouragement. That helped me to stand firm on my feet instead of feeling shaky.”

When Yelena first heard about the Accredited Speaker Program, she never imagined she could accomplish the feat. “My biggest challenge is that English is my second language.” She immigrated to the US in 1994 as an adult, speaking no English. “I had to work extra hard to turn my accent from an obstacle to an asset.” Her Toastmasters mentors gave her advice she credits for part of her success.

The Value of Feedback: Would You Like that Regular or Advanced?

Yelena appreciated the variety of feedback she received from each type of club, even if much of the feedback in regular clubs would boil down to: “You’re already so good.” 

“Advanced clubs focus more on improvement and less on telling you how good you are,” she explained. “They offer more suggestions for improvement.” 

“However,” she added, “there is always one person in a regular club who gives you extremely valuable feedback. It’s very worthwhile, presenting to all types of clubs, on so many levels.”

There are many advanced and specialty clubs to explore in District 32. Professionally Speaking is one of the advanced clubs that offered Yelena suggestions for improvement and positive feedback in her quest to achieve the AS credential. On October 22, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm (Pacific Time), she returns to present at one of the club’s educational meetings. Her new presentation – “5 Core Principles and 1 Exception to the Rules of Crafting a Great Speech” – focuses on advanced speaking techniques. During the second half of her presentation, Yelena will coach two or three Toastmasters who have volunteered in advance to provide short speeches.

Yelena says, “The pandemic has changed everything, but the one thing that remains constant is the strength of your message. That’s what this presentation is about: how to strengthen, sharpen and make that message effective.”

To attend this presentation, register here. Sign up soon; the number of virtual seats is limited!