Public Speaking: the power of Toastmasters

Public speaking: talking from the front of the room to a group of people, some or all of whom may be strangers -for many people the most petrifying experience imaginable.

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters since 2002 and last year completed all the requirements to receive the top TM award, Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).  Among other things, this means I’ve given about 100 (mostly) short speeches, each of which was evaluated by another member.

When I joined I was already a semi-experienced speaker and I’d long long ago left the knocking knees behind.  Furthermore, because I’m a writer, pulling together 700 words on a topic of interest to me was no problem either.

But many folks start here:

I joined for five reasons:

  • I am a terrible memorizer and could not leave my “brilliantly crafted” script behind.
  • I feel quite passionate about some of the things I wanted to talk about and have a tendency to burst into tears at in impassioned moments. This is mortifying.
  • I wanted an excuse to organize the nebulous snippets wafting inside my head, because I often don’t know what I think until I’ve had to write about it.
  • I wanted to choose my own topics. As a writer for hire, I’m usually assigned them.
  • I wanted live feedback from warm bodies. When someone reads my written stuff I’m rarely present so I have no clue if they understood my message, if they liked it, where it caught their attention and where it lost them.

After the first ten speeches (which is unfortunately when many people quit their clubs) I had improved on all counts, but had just begun to understand how much PRACTICE good public speaking requires. The advanced manuals offer such a variety of speaking assignments that I’ve been able to expand my skill repertoire into new realms.

Toastmasters’ magic formula includes constructive feedback after every speech. If you’re not speaking, you’re evaluating. This has improved not only my speaking, but also punched up my writing. In some ways you learn even more doing evaluations than speaking because you can clearly see in others what works and what doesn’t.

The memorization thing? Speaking without notes is 100 times more effective than reading a speech, even if you stumble some. It’s so much more direct and communicative.  Think Barack Obama v. Hillary Clinton.

I gave up on memorization after one horrible experience in a humorous speech contest when I was talking about meeting men as an older single woman.  I had dressed up in a hideous baggy dress, rouged my cheeks and put on a Dolly Parton kind of wig.  I delivered my first memorized paragraph, then totally forgot/skipped over the next two paragraphs which were to have set the stage for the action. The audience was baffled and thought the memory lapse was part of my senior citizen schtick.  So no more trying to memorize for me… instead I practice and use a few notes. It’s still a “growing edge.”

The weepy thing? It runs in my family – we’re a mawkish bunch. I try to avoid topics that are sure-fire tear-jerkers, even though they’re sometimes the most persuasive. I take a deep breath when I’m blind-sided by the sudden prick of tears, the constricted throat and the high squeaky voice. In desperation, I extract a length of toilet paper from my sleeve and mop my eyes with a flourish which usually defuses the situation.

Public speaking is such a crucial skill that it should be a requirement for high school graduation. And after that, a year or two in Toastmasters to give you the necessary practice.

It’s never too late! There are thousands of clubs across the country and around the world. Find one near you here. Toastmasters is CHEAP, it’s 80+ years proven, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

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One response to “Public Speaking: the power of Toastmasters

  1. Are you sick of me yet? I’m commenting like made today.

    Strangely enough, my husband is, at this very moment, attending his speakers’ club. Although I find it most interesting and sincerely enjoy listening to other speakers, I have no desire whatsoever to do it myself. Nothankyou. I admire anyone who does it well and understand the thought, effort and practice that it takes.

    I’ve had to address a crowd on several occasions, one of which was recorded on video. Just thinking about it makes me cringe and run for cover under the nearest duvet.

    I enjoyed the video, especially as I didn’t initially realise it was an actor.