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Unplugged: The freedom of speech
By Scott Wudel on April 17, 2017
Allbritton overcomes fear of public speaking, becomes hired storyteller
The fear of public speaking is common. No matter how well you may know a subject, sometimes the mere idea of getting in front of a group of people can be terrifying.
Crystal Allbritton, a project manager in Enterprise Information Technology, understands. As a teenager she had to overcome the same fear. Years later, she would go on to serve on the Board of Directors for Toastmasters International, an organization synonymous with public speaking.
“With Toastmasters, I learned it was not about selecting the right word. It was about having a dialogue with your audience and being an effective storyteller,” Crystal says. “You can touch people’s brains. But if you don’t touch their hearts, it won’t resonate.”
Before joining CPS Energy last year, she collected frequent flyer miles as a traveling consultant. Her thought-provoking presentations helped build organizational alignment with companies challenged by changing business objectives. Her secret was replacing tiresome analytics with insightful stories to motivate employees to take action and deliver better business results.
“It doesn’t scare me to get in front of a large group of people and give factual information,” she says. “That’s the science of speaking, but statistics alone will bore them to death. You have to be able to tell them why the facts matter. That’s where the art of storytelling comes in.”
In high school, Crystal was required to take electives like drama and debate. With little notice before her first tournament, she was asked to prepare for a Lincoln-Douglas debate, a one-on-one competition sure to challenge fragile confidence.
“It terrified me,” Crystal remembers. “I was afraid to make a mistake. I had this level of perfectionism. I knew I had to commit everything to memory. What if I miss that one key word?”
Crystal survived the first round. Four rounds later, she was winning over the crowd and becoming the tournament champion.
“I remember the feeling of knowing immediately if what I said was effective,” she recalls. “I saw their body language. I knew on the bus ride home that I was hooked. But that I had a lot to learn in order to feel confident as a public speaker.”
Rising through the ranks
Her speaking skills would later become valuable as a member of the U.S. Army’s Chaplain Corps. She joined Toastmasters to improve her skills. Over the years, Crystal not only learned how to tell a story but how to coach and mentor others. She quickly moved from club and district leadership to the organization’s international board of directors, becoming the youngest female board member in Toastmasters’ history.
“For somebody in their early 30s, it was a great opportunity,” Crystal says. “I was a consultant, but I didn’t get to own anything. This was my baby and I led a team of more than 1,100 volunteers. Our accomplishments were a direct result of what we did or did not do. I didn’t get paid anything, but I met some great people and got some great experience under my belt leading people.”
Crystal says she still enjoys participating in Toastmasters clubs. There are at least 70 clubs around San Antonio and she encourages others to join one.
“The club gives you a supportive environment to stretch your comfort zone and increase your skills without risking your job or your ego,” Crystal says. “You might walk in afraid, but you’ll walk out empowered.”