My first introduction to public speaking was when I went to a speech competition back in Ireland that my dad was competing in. It was May, 1980, and this was not to be a good evening at all. We arrived at the hotel in Dublin where the competition was being held, and it was in a very rough area of the city. In the hotel, there were signs everywhere that said, “Ladies, watch your handbags”- a sure sign that there were pickpockets prowling in the area. The evening was memorable for three things: the beer was bad, my dad did not place in the competition, and my coat was stolen and my wallet and car keys were in the pocket.
I will sum up my first public speaking experience with the saying, “As you slide down the banisters of life, sometimes the splinters are facing the wrong way!”
Fast forward another 18 years, and this time I am doing public speaking night classes at a local community college. My engineering job requires me to regularly present information to upper management. I am not comfortable; in fact, I am terrified. I am so stressed that I do not get to sleep well the night before I present, and I am presenting poorly. I am so worn out with lack of sleep that I cannot answer questions even though I have the detailed knowledge in my head.
During the presentation skills night classes, I learned a lot about public speaking. At the end of the class I was knowledgeable on the subject but it was not an end point. I needed a forum to put my knowledge into practice, and hone my skills. As someone who has been training technical people on presentation skills, I encourage trainees to take the initiative to join a public speaking club as I did over 12 years ago, and strive for excellence. When you “slide down the banisters of life”, you can sometimes choose which way the splinters are facing! Public speaking excellence is a choice, and in many cases, a means to get noticed in a very positive way.
This article focuses on cost effective ways to grow your presentation skills knowledge and confidence level to where it becomes a habit. Toastmasters International is a worldwide public speaking organization with thousands of public speaking clubs that are run by its members. The cost is about $60 for the first 6 months and about $40 every 6 months after that. Most clubs have weekly meetings which last an hour. Is a $60 investment to develop yourself into a great speaker, reduce your anxiety when presenting, and set yourself up for potential promotional prospects worth it for you?
What are 13 key benefits?
1. It is cheap, structured, and it works
2. You can turn up as frequent as your schedule permits (I do a lot of out of town travel, so I attend whenever I can)
3. Different clubs have different meeting times ranging from early morning, lunchtime, evening, etc.
4. The meetings are designed to give people as much opportunity to speak as possible
5. You get assigned a mentor
6. Attendees at meetings are assigned duties ahead of time (duty holders describe their duties at a meeting, this is used as another opportunity to help people get comfortable speaking in front of others)
7. Prepared speeches or presentations are generally 5 to 7 minutes in length (there are typically two or three speakers who present speeches that they have developed and practiced)
8. Your prepared speech can be a workplace speech or presentation that you want to get feedback on
9. Every prepared speaker gets a formal evaluation where you will be coached on what you do well and one or two things to focus on for improvement
10. There is a table topics part of the meeting to help speakers speak “off the cuff” for a few minutes
11. There is an “Ah Counter” to indicate when distracting filler words are being used such as ah, um, so, etc.
12. There is a “Posture Monitor” who indicates when nervous gestures are being used
13. Additional benefits from joining a Toastmasters club is that the club structure is designed to build leadership skills and listening skills
How do I find the most suitable club?
1. Go to http://reports.toastmasters.org/findaclub/ to locate a club in your area (you can even search by zip code, day of the week, time of day). Note: some clubs are listed in the “Club Status” as “closed” which means that the membership is confined to a specific company or organization (most are identified as “open to all”)
2. It is critical to visit several clubs to determine which one will provide most value to you
3. Search for clubs that have been in existence for several years and preferably have a membership base of over 25 members, and have over 15 people turning up at meetings
4. Ask them how many Distinguished Club Program (DCP) points they received out of 10 in the previous year. DCP is a formal measurement of criteria that can indicate how strong a club is and how successfully its officers are managing it. A total of 7 points or higher can help identify stronger clubs
5. Choose a club that best fits your needs as a speaker, and your character. Some clubs are somewhat formal, others are more relaxed and incorporate a lot of fun
6. When you are close to making a final decision, visit the club numerous times to make sure it will meet your needs and that your time is going to be invested in the best possible way
7. Ask the club officers who would be an exceptional mentor (get the best, this is a huge benefit to have someone knowledgeable keep you focused, give you feedback, and help you set and achieve goals)
What do I need to do to accelerate my progress at a Toastmaster club?
1. Turn up at meetings
2. Decide how often you want to speak…prepare, prepare, prepare…and speak often (I chose to speak monthly at first)
3. Set goals with your mentor and complete them on time
4. Listen to evaluators, learn who the exceptional ones are, and do not be afraid of asking for the best evaluator when its your turn to deliver a prepared speech
5. Go to Toastmasters educational sessions outside the club (local conferences etc.)
6. Enter competitions where you can push your capabilities and get comfortable speaking in front of larger audiences and people you do not know
7. Use the club to find your speaking niche; it’s a safe place to push the boundaries and learn from your mistakes
Why have I continued to maintain membership in Toastmasters for 12 years?
1. I have fun at the meetings. My dad had the same experience, he stayed in Toastmasters into retirement; it became one of his hobbies
2. Mentoring people gives me great satisfaction; watching people change from stressed speakers to exceptional confident speakers is an invigorating experience.
3. I use my speaking time to get feedback on the effectiveness of my content, speeches and humor that I will use in presentation skills training and keynote speeches.
4. Videotaping my speeches helps me produce training materials and also allows me to critique myself later on.