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Shy No More: David Maloney Speaks His Mind With Help From Toastmasters

by Christian Patterson

Photos by Christian Patterson

For many people, a fear of heights or a phobia of spiders is not a cause for panic. Even dying is not at the top of their list of fears.

Holding that number one spot for many people is public speaking. Just the thought of a sea of staring eyes brings angst to many.

For much of his life, David Maloney, who is an executive at an internet technology start-up in Bristol, Va., couldn’t imagine standing in front of an audience and saying anything that wouldn’t betray his intelligence. He couldn’t explain why he feared public speaking, but the anxiousness was all too real.

“I don’t know what it was for me to literally lose my breath control when I’d be in a situation talking to people,” said Maloney, 46, who sports a well-kept beard streaked with gray, a wide, toothy grin and two bushy eyebrows.

But he does know what cured him: joining Toastmasters, the international organization devoted to eradicating the fear of public speaking.

“I don’t know what it is, except that Toastmasters has helped me get over it.”

Growing up in a small town in British Columbia, Canada, Maloney was an introverted child and didn’t quite fit in. He relished time in his comfort zone, sorting out code for hours on end. “I was the fat kid who sat in the corner and read books all the time. I had a good group of friends but was never a popular kid,” said Maloney.

His days as a self-professed computer nerd began when he was nine and his parents bought an Atari 800, one of the earliest personal computers.

“It was an old personal computer with 48K of RAM. It had a keyboard and plugged into an old CRT TV and had a tape drive. You put in a cassette tape with your program on it. There was a game we got for it called “Smokey and the Bandit.” The goal was to drive from New York to LA as quickly as possible while stopping for gas along the way and not getting stopped for speeding. He discovered the source code for this game. “At the end of the source code it had descriptions of the vehicles. I changed my vehicle so that instead of a top speed of 100 mph I could go 900 mph. Instead of a 15-gallon fuel tank it had a 1,500-gallon fuel tank. I could go at top speed, out-run the police and I never ran out of gas.”

He won the game, of course, but thought: “Now what?”

His yearning to learn coding began there.

After graduating college, Maloney moved to Denver to work at an IT firm. Along with coding he was responsible for talking to important clients to discuss business and contracts. Whileworking with computers may have been easier for Maloney than public speaking, he recognized the importance of his presentation to others.

“Especially when anything was on the line. I would kind of get the sweats. I would lose my breath and it just wasn’t comfortable for me. In front of a room of people, forget about it. It was not something I saw myself doing or wanting to do.”

In 2011, Maloney’s boss invited him to a Toastmasters meeting. Intrigued, but slightly reluctant, he joinedhis boss and his life was never the same.

“My initial thought about Toastmasters was a bunch of boring old guys in suits doing fancy speeches after dinner at a fancy soiree that I could never afford to be at. That did not sound appealing to me.”

He discovered that his preconceptions about the organization were wrong. He found a healthy and supportive environment filled with individuals who suffered from the same stress that he felt about public speaking.

Maloney said he enjoys all the activities at club meetings designed to improve his stage presence. The positive reinforcement he receives from fellow members is very helpful, he said.

“I was in my first club for a few years and was making progress and then I felt like I had figured it out,” he admitted. He stopped attending meetings but several months later he noticed that in a business session with clients his remarks included a number of “umms” and “uhs,” which he had gotten rid of while a Toastmaster.

“I said what’s going on here. I realized it’s like any other skill. You have to practice and keep it current, or you lose the skill,” he noted.

Soon, he was back in Toastmasters.

“Toastmasters forced me to get up in front of a room of people, but in a room full of people who were doing the same thing as me. They were in the same shoes as me. They were there to learn to be better public speakers and they gave me encouraging feedback. That gave me confidence.”

His newfound self-esteem led Maloney to accomplish many goals. He has competed in the District Humor Speech competition and won. His newfound skill set also gave him the confidence to leave his 22-year long IT job in Denver and relocate to Bristol to join Wize Solutions, a new IT consulting firm that opened.

Since arriving in the area, he’s moved from behind the scenes working on sets and light design for community theater productions to performing in a production of “The Crucible.” He thought he’d get a part with three lines. Instead, he won the role of Reverend Hale, which offered several long monologues.

“I got thrown into the deep end. I thought the director’s crazy. She knows this is my first show. It’s her fault if I bomb,” he said, chuckling.

In a production of “Miracle on 34th Street” he was forced on very short notice to replace a sick actor who had the judge’s role. He had to memorize his lines as the play was unfolding. A friend later told him he couldn’t tell any difference. “I said, ‘Yes,’ I fooled them,” he said, pumping his hand in victory.

He has an upcoming show in June which is currently in rehearsal.

In December 2020, Maloney completed the final steps to become a Distinguished Toastmaster which is the highest ranking that Toastmasters offers. The task took him nearly 10 years to complete.

The plaque recognizing the achievement now hangs in his office, a badge of honor for a former introvert who no longer fears standing in front of a crowd.

Still the computer nerd, but no longer the shy, quiet type.

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