Toastmasters - Collected Wisdom

These are summaries of the collected wisdom of contributors to a Toastamsters newsgroup which operated between 1995 and 2008 and ToastmastersPrime, a Google group which commenced in 2008. This is not an official Toastmasters site, but is an edited collection of posts from the newsgroup and the Google group. These groups provide an unofficial means of communicating for an enthusiastic group of Toastmasters from throughout the world.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Entertaining Speaker - The Dramatic Talk

In September 1996, Clara was working through the advanced manual, The Entertaining Speaker. and asked for suggestions for speech #4, "A Dramatic Talk"? The thread was Dramatic Talk

JohnF replied
The project calls for a 10 - 12 minute dramatic speech including narration and dialogue among the characters. You can draw material from your own experience, from your imagination, or something you have read.

Dramatic experiences from your own life can include items along the line of 'I discovered my house was on fire,' to 'The boss called me into his office and gave me S***,' to 'I was invbolved in a bad traffic accident,' to . . . . Whatever you chose, pick something and bring out the dramatic aspects of the story.

Using your imagination means, to me, creating something quite new. In essence, writing your own piece of fiction and then telling it in a way that is dramatic.
If you use something that you've read, pick a story that you particularly enjoyed and that has dramatic effect. Edgar Allan Poe, for example, wrote a very chilling story about being buried alive. Talk about drama!!

I think with this one, it helps to keep in mind that the Entertaining Speaker is also a good storyteller.

Nosmith used material from these two books when I was working on the Storytelling and Interpretive Reading manuals:
The Actor's Scenebook. Scenes and Monologues from Contemporary Plays. Edited by Michael Schulmana and Eva Mekler. Published by Bantam Books.

The New Women's Theatre. Ten Plays by Contemporary American Women. Edited by Honor Moore. Published by Vintage Books.

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Nervousness - it is all bad?

When SkyEagle1 suggested never fear giving a bad performance or a good one for that matter. If you live in fear of blowing your speech, you will blow every speech you do, the difference between nervousness and fear was raised by Jacquilynne in the thread Repeating A CTM in December 2003.

Nervousness and fear are different words for a reason. There are lots of reasons why I might feel nervous before a speech - a desire to impress a specific audience, less than complete familiarity with the subject matter, etc. Some of those result from bad things. But some of them, like the desire to impress, are necessary to elevate a speech from the ordinary. If your speech matters so little to you that you aren't at least somewhat nervous about how it's going to go, why are you bothering to give it at all?

Joy tries to channel her nervousness into energy that makes her performance better.
The one time I competed and wasn't at all nervous, my performance was flat. The problem isn't with being nervous, but what you do with the nervousness. You can let it turn to fear that paralyzes you, or you can turn it into energy for a dynamic speech.

For JohnF a little bit of nervousness gets the adrenalin flowing. There are a whole bunch of physiological changes in our bodies as a result that help us perform just that little bit better.
What we want to get away from is the kind of fear that is debilitating, that causes us to freeze up and not perform at all.

Mark knows that when the stakes are higher, I dig deeper and I tend to do better. When I'm not nervous, it's too easy for me to slack off and do a mediocre job.
I need to get out of my comfort zone and put some terror back in my talk.

In April 2000 the thread was Public Speaking and Matt said when I'm giving a presentation or a speech, it goes fine for five or ten minutes, but then I get this scratchy tickle in the back of my throat and I end up in a coughing fit. Drinking water throughout the speech prolongs it a bit, but not long enough. Is there anything I can do to prevent this?

When Sally suggested if it's a problem of "nerves" getting to you, then practicing in a Toastmasters club would be the way to go. Or, perhaps a throat lozenge, if you could pull that off without looking silly.

Matt followed up with this explanation :
it's not really a matter of nerves. I'm completely comfortable speaking in public. I think it just has to do with my throat being dry. A lozenge might work, but it would kind of make it hard to talk. :-)

Jenny said
If it's not nerves, then perhaps it's one (or a combination) of these common speaking troubles: - you're breathing through your mouth, rather than your nose - you're trying to project your voice by "pushing" with your throat, rather than from your diaphragm - you're speaking in too high OR too low a pitch for you, instead of using your natural tone. - you're speaking too fast (you'll have been told this before, if this is the case) - you're holding your face/jaw/throat too tensely (check if your back molars touch when you think your face & jaw are at rest).
All of these will cause you to strain your voice and throat, and it will become more noticeable the longer you speak.

Careful NOT to drink very cold water (eg the ice water that seem to be ubiquitous at speaking functions!), because you'll make your vocal cords too cold to work well. That's why singers and speakers need to "warm up" their voices, after all.

I have found, too, that eating certain foods can cause a "lump" in my throat that causes me to cough or gag. For me, it's milk products, fruit juices and McDonald's milk shakes that seem to coat my throat and make my voice sound "phlegmy". Better to stick with plain, room-temperature water for the hour or two before you're scheduled to speak.

Frank thought it may also be your breathing method, while delivering your presentation. Which means that your are not including your entire breathing passageway. That includes your nose, throat and diaphragm. If you practice holding in your diaphragm and releasing it when your voice rises to deliver your message, your entire passageway will be filled with air. Thus keeping your throat moist.

This is the same technique practiced in martial arts and dance theory.

In May 2003 Eric had some serious issues with speaking. The main issues being my legs shaking and losing my train of thought. The thread was Speaking and looking people in the eyes

Rick advised in anything that you do, you can't fix everything at the same time.

To improve a process, you should hold a post project review. It's the same idea as the evaluation in Toastmasters. At the end of a 9 month project, with half a dozen people, you pick the 3 biggest issues to work on. For myself, I like to take the biggest problem and eliminate it. When it's gone, I find the new biggest problem.

From your description, I would start with nervousness. I might even avoid the eye contact issue by looking between the people instead of at them. (It's a little less obvious than looking above them.) As your comfort level increases, you could pick out friends. People who you are used to talking to and talk to them. Then you could look at the rest of the audience.

The key is practice. I didn't remember standing up in front of the club for the first three speeches I gave at Toastmasters. By #4, I had learned that I was going to survive. It's a matter of doing it until you are comfortable.

Toastmasters was suggested as a place to practice. Our club has one member for whom English is a second language. We also have one professional speaker. Everyone else is somewhere between those extremes. However, everyone is there to learn and to help the other learn whether they are ahead or behind us on the learning curve.

Hans felt almost exactly the same way when he started Toastmasters a year ago.

There are many, many suggestions and tips and techniques to resolve the sensations and problems you note. The reason for the large number is simple - every speaker has at least two in their pocket, and no two speakers have the same. (What I'm saying: you need to develop your own tricks and techniques and they must fit your needs, personality and the specific situation).

In my case - I've been in front of audiences for over 15 years presenting in the computer industry. I know my material. I know my audience. I am confident. I would get in front of the audience and present - knees shaking and eyes fleeting wandering to avoid fixed contact. I finally got so tired of it that I joined TM.

So here are some thoughts based on my case (and as we say on newsgroups and chat sessions - YMMV or Your Mileage May Vary):

1) The nervous knees now last about 15 seconds - until I have completed the opening grabber. I rehearse that opener until it's totally automatic. After that, I know things will flow.

2) I worked on the nervous knees situation by consciously trying to move the energy being expended to my vocal cords (and then I worked on keeping an even voice). Being in the non-threatening Toastmaster audience helped practise this.

3) My first 'in front of the podium' speech was nerve-wracking and the knees were worse than ever. At one point I simply stopped and took a drink of water just to let me get a deep breath. That helped.

4) The topic & situation you described is one of the more difficult ones to work. You are presenting yourself, not just your speech, for evaluation. This is different from an Ice Breaker, where everyone is simply evaluating your courage to stand in front of an audience, not the content or style.

A year ago I attended a course with a number of colleagues, peers and friends. We needed to do a similar presentation. The two most successful people in the group, and I (all of whom had made several presentations a week for years) fell apart during the presentation. One, who regularly presented multi-million dollar proposals to CIOs, CFOs and CEOs with complete confidence, started hyper-ventilating and had to cut short.

When we discussed this after we felt it was because our objectives were getting confused. We had a topic and should have presented on that topic's objective ... but our internal objective was to impress or realign the opinion of our peers.

5) Fixing on faces during that kind of speech makes me wonder why they have that expression on their face. My solution is to prepare a smile before looking at one - when I look, they acknowledge and very rarely can resist some sort of smile. I know they are responding to my smile and nothing else, which stops me from second guessing myself.

6) If the eyes make you lose it, concentrate on the pimple on the left side of their nostril. Or try to overlay some second vision. Or imagine them in their underwear or wearing clowns noses. There are many tricks you can play with yourself.

7) When I practise or rehearse, I do the first rehearsal in front of the mirror and the second in front of the TV. If you can learn to keep you concentration through that you should be able to hold it in front of an audience.

8) Do NOT let your nerves or shaky knees or your lost concentration discourage you.

9) If at first you don't succeed, try a different approach. If you do find a minor success, [briefly] analyze to see if there is something you can expand ... but don't over analyze.

In February 1996, John's throat tends to close up during public speaking. the thread was Nervous Public Speaker

Peanut suggested having a glass of warm water before you speak and during the speech. Drinking something cold freezes the throat muscles. A glass of warm water, or rather room temperture would relax the throat muscles

Rick D suggested when you feel this happening, take a deep, cleansing breath. Relax and continue.

Pat sings out loud in the car on the way to the meeting. It really helps me. And smile when you get to the lecturn. Someone will smile back, and that can help you to relax.

Joanne suggested the next time you are rehearsing a speech, pay close attention to how you breathe. As a matter of fact, take a deep breath right now. Does your chest stick out and do your shoulders rise? If so, it means that you are not breathing properly. When you do this, your breathing passages become tighter, rather than open up. Your shoulders go up to your neck, causing more tension instead of relaxing you. Too, when you stick out your chest to breathe in more deeply, you are in effect using what oxygen you have available to you in an inefficient manner.

I have been able to transfer some vocal training techniques to assist me with nerves when giving a speech.
First, when rehearsing your speech, take deep breaths, without moving your shoulders. Keep them relaxed. Your diaphragm should expand, allowing you to take in more oxygen. As you're breathing, put your hands on the upper part of your stomach. If, when taking deep breaths, you can feel that area expanding, you're on the right track. As an added bonus, it also goes a long way to getting rid of nerves and relaxing you.

Try this when rehearsing your next speech, and once you become comfortable with this technique, use it while giving a speech. With enough practice, it becomes second nature.

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Things to avoid

In May 2000, Rogermac advised Ktar to NEVER tell the audience you didn't have time to prepare. It reduces their expectations and a few of them will stop listening. Also, when you're an experienced TM, it implies to new members that it's OK to "wing it".
Even when you don't have as much time as you'd like, just go ahead and give the speech anyway. Most times no-one will know you didn't have time to prepare.

This led to a thread Turning off the audience which I started with:

One of the promises that Toastmasters makes is Better Listening, but obviously there are some things that cause us to turn off - for Roger, and I guess for many others is being told that the speaker is unprepared.
Are there other turn offs for you?
Perhaps we could generate a list of the top ten (or one hundred or seven thousand) things to NEVER do if you want to keep the audience on side.
Any thoughts?
Perhaps as a starting point, how do your turn offs rate against:

  • Over dressed
  • Under dressed
  • Holding notes
  • Hiding behind the lectern
  • Using false accents
  • Laughing at your own jokes
Anthony added:
  • Knowing this speaker is _going_ to go 8 minutes overtime.
  • Knowing I am going overtime :-)
For Joy it was
  • Saying, "I'm going to tell you a joke."
  • Taking the "Tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them" rule too literally. When someone says, "I'm going to tell you ..." I feel they're saying I'm to stupid to figure it out, and that definitely turns me off.
  • Too many visual aids, or visual aids that are too small or too poorly placed for everyone to be able to see them.
  • Turning one's back on the audience to read an overhead.

Janis added:

  • Saying "Here's a good joke" or "Let me tell you a joke that shows what I mean"
  • Obviously "winging it" on a topic or speech that should have had preparation
  • Exceeding the time limit extensively
  • Commenting about another speech when it doesn't have anything to do with their own presentation "I'd just like to take a second and say something about Billy-Bob's speech..."
  • Apologizing for every "Um" or other audible pause: "Um -- oh, I"m sorry! Um -- sorry! Well -- oh, that's another one."
  • Rhythmic movement; swaying/rocking; hair twirling: understandable and fixable for new speakers but excruciating to watch for experienced (but unthinking) speakers
  • False enthusium in a presentation;
  • Inappropriate self-deprecating remarks: "I'm not an expert...", "I didn't think of this myself...", "I don't really understand, but...".
  • Nervous laughter at odd moments

JohnF evaluated a speaker once who was constantly tapping one foot beneath the table while he did his speech.

Denis tries to be a low maintenane audience, but does draw the line at

  • Jokes that are not at all related to the content don't do a thing for me.
  • But my big turn-off is any speaker apoligizing or "explaining".
  • Well, "mean" humor is not my favorite either.
  • Any speaker that has a power-point, overhead or other such presentation better be ready to rock and roll right off the bat or I am likely to be very impatient. No delays or glitches! I would rather the speech was without anything then to have an explanation of why "it's out of focus, etc"
  • All the awful things which accompany a microphone in the hands of the unprepared. "Is this on", feedback, juggling acts, "tapping" etc, etc.
    One of the best conference sessions I have ever attended was one where there were several microphones set-up, and we all got to try-out the different styles. This was/is useful skill!

SciFiTwin added

  • "Reading an overhead" period. The purpose of an overhead or other textual visual aid is for the audience to "read" it themselves. The presenter should expand on what's written on the overhead or give examples, but not merely read it to us. I hated that tactic in 5th grade and I still hate it.
  • Failure to make or maintain some sort of eye contact with the group.
  • An evaluator who spends even one precious second of the evaluation telling the speaker about how something from the speech reminded him or her of something from the evaluator's life. ("I liked your choice of topic, Bill. I think we can all relate to a dog getting loose. When I was eight, our dog, Grover, ran away and ...")
  • People who believe that ALL forms of speaking must be done away from the lectern. I can't stand watching people move around aimlessly. There are valid and correct times when one should deliver a message from behind the lectern and it wouldn't be considered "hiding." (I personally think the lectern has ironically become an anathema of Toastmasters rather than the proper tool it is--the most closely guarded, though).
  • People who speak with a sort of waxy transparent sincerity that comes off as hucksterism. Eeew.
  • S--L--O--W, .... D--r--o--n--i--n--g, ... m--o--n--o--t--o--n--e voices.
  • Speeches on topics that are so obscure that no one except the speaker is interested in it, AND he or she fails to hook us into the topic sufficiently to arouse our interest.
  • "Recycled speeches" without some sort of additional value above what was given before.
  • Emcees who make jokes at the expense of others (outside of a roast situation).
  • General Evaluators who feel the need to re-evaluate individual speeches.
  • Table topics respondents who don't answer a question directly, but decide to go off on their own tangent that has nothing to do with the topic.

Carmen is annoyed by anyone who quotes anything, either when writing or orally, that is in another language, *and does not translate it*!!!!! This drives me nuts! I'm flattered that people would think I speak every language and dialect that exists, but I have some bad news for them: I don't.

I used to notice this is University research papers, where I could almost accept it from those cerebral types, but then someone actually gave a speech and did the same thing...

She told us she is bilingual and for her realizing that the so-called "bilingual presentation" is giving different content in both languages (ie. the speaker is assuming that the *entire* audience is bilingual).

JohnF expanded in Canada, the practice is fairly common in federal political circles, where the audience will often have people who speak on of our official languages--but not the other--and vice versa. In fact, it is quite common for the Prime Minister to deliver a speech, doing a paragraph in English, switching to French (presumable to repeat what he just said in English), then back to English for the next paragraph. Any politician addressing a national audience has to assume that not everyone speaks English and not everyone speaks French. In fact, it seems one of the unwritten qualifications for the position of Prime Minister is to be bilingual in both official languages.

That said, I can see where Carmen is coming from with her beef. By covering different material in the two languages, the speaker is leaving out a part of the audience, and possible for a significant portion of the speech.

For Regina, most of the so-called "turn-offs" have come from other distractions in the room. I won't go into them now, just let me say that they may be unique to certain clubs (food service, late arriving members [as Treasurer, I need to take their money], etc.)
As far as speech (or Table Topics) turn-offs go, I could only think of two things that tend to turn me off:
1. Financial services presentations, even when (maybe especially when) it's a member employed in that field who is giving a manual speech.
2. Religious testimonials, or speeches on the topic of religion, new age ideas, or philosophy.

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Visuals - Flip Charts

B.O.B. was looking for guidelines for how big visual aids should be for a small audience of about 20 - 25 people? I will be using several visual aids on a flip-chart and want to make sure the graphics and text is the appropriate size. The thread was Visual Aids and ran in December 2005

Rod advised:
It depends on distance rather than audience numbers, and it's not a matter of size alone - thickness, colour, contrast, and lighting intensity are also important factors. Not all members of your audience will have equal visual acuity.

Red/green colour blindness is the most common, so try to avoid combinations where confusion of these colours might cause problems.

Remember, you're presenting a speech and not administering an eyesight test!

With an audience of 25, the distance from your flipchart to the back of the audience is likely to be around eight metres (25 feet). For this arrangement, my recommendation is to use a character height of at least 40mm (an inch and a half). Avoid thin point markers. Make it easy for your audience to see and understand your visual aids.

For graphics, make sure that the important features are clearly illustrated and avoid non-essential detail. Visuals are support for your message - they're not the message itself. You can explain detail. For example, on a graph, label an axis with a large 'P' rather than the word 'Price'.

Keep each visual simple. Rather use a larger number of visuals with less information on each. Use different colours to differentiate ideas, items on lists, etc.

You can check the effect by looking at your flipchart under incandescent lighting from a distance of eight metres. Fluorescent lighting is closer to daylight and doesn't have the same effect on colours as incandescent lighting. Colours at the red end of the spectrum (reds, oranges, and yellows) sometimes become difficult to read. If you can't read your text easily and instantly, change size, boldness, and/or colour.

Once you've planned your size and chosen your markers, if you need to go 'live' on your visuals, set out your chart in feint pencil on the chart beforehand. It's then a simple matter to write boldly over the pencilled letters (which are invisible to your audience).

Rick added:
Standard fluorescent lights are just as different from sun light as incandescent. Incandescent lights are heavy in the red end of the spectrum and light on the blues. Fluorescent lights are the opposite. Warm fluorescent lights have more reds (but they aren't as energy efficient). Full spectrum fluorescent lights do a good job of imitating the sun.

I haven't seen any problem seeing reds and oranges if they are dark enough. (Dark yellow is brown.) Printed material under fluorescent lights could be had to read because they don't have a lot of red component. Actually, the human eye can see the least detail in the blue range because we have the fewest blue receptors in our eyes. However if this is causing a problem with your graphics, reread Rod's paragraph on simple and bold.

From the 1984 edition of the _Technical_Presentations_ manual, the Supplement says, text should be half (13 mm) and inch for every 10' (3 m) away the back row is. It also suggest no more than three colors except for pictures. It suggests limiting text to seven lines of seven words.

John F suggested if you have a marker that has a short edge and a long edge, use the long edge for writing as this will produce thicker lines that are easier to read.

Joy warned never, never use yellow or other pastel colors. They can't be read more than a few feet away.

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Project 8: Visual Aids - technology

Visuals are more than gestures and PowerPoint.
To check out postings on either of these, use the labels below. You may also want to check out other references to Handouts and Flipcharts.

In July 2006 there was a discussion on vsual aids entitled Speech or Presentation.

Where technology is involved, Rod recalled one of the more valuable lessons concerning preparation. Ask yourself what are the things that can go wrong, and what will you do under each set of circumstances. Power failures, computer system failures, microphone failures, all kinds of equipment failure, noisy environments, minor flooding, contaminated food giving everyone 'the runs' during the afternoon sessions, VIPs arriving late or not showing up...

Many of these things may never happen, but knowing what you would do if they did provides a lot of confidence.

I didn't realise I was learning this lesson at the time (I was only 11 years old), but I was given a splendid example of this at a Scout camp. Patrick Moore, the astronomer, was coming to talk to us about the stars. Being in England, it was cloudy and wet and no stars were visible. We went into the barn, where Patrick told us that he's show us some slides of the stars. After the third slide, the projector lamp failed. Fifty years ago this entailed dismantling the projector to fit a new one, but Patrick had both a spare and the tools to change the lamp. About 10 minutes later, there was a huge lightning strike and all the power went off. Patrick produced a torch and a couple of candles. Our Scout leaders found some more candles, and Patrick held 30 small boys absolutely fascinated as he spoke to us about the stars. Even after all these years, I can still relive the experience. I thought I had only learnt something about the stars that evening. It took at least 20 years for me to realise that I'd learnt more than that.

The light output of the projector should be a function of image size (usually measured on the diagonal). It's also very strongly influenced by ambient light levels. If the lights can be dimmed in the conference room, well and good, but this often causes the speaker to disappear into the shadows if the projector lacks the necessary output illumination.

I remember one District conference held in the Grand Hall of a Golf Club. The room had a very high ceiling (about eleven feet at the sides, plus the apex) and was mostly glass facing the outdoors from floor to ceiling on two and a half sides. The thin vertical blinds only covered the bottom six feet to prevent outsiders from looking in. No problem at night, but during the day you might as well have been outside. The projectors and TV monitors that we planned to use couldn't be seen during the day, so we spent the entire previous night with ladders and trestles, taping black plastic sheeting over the glass.

The best option is to use a projector with a lot of illumination power so that it can project bright images above the ambient lighting in the room.

On the other side of the coin, too much power can wash out the projected images on a small screen. Modern projectors can adjust brightness and contrast within limits, but often this isn't enough and it may be necessary to adjust the original images in PowerPoint to suit the circumstances.

Whenever possible, check YOUR slides on the projector/screen combination in the room in which you will be presenting under the likely lighting conditions, and do this well ahead of your presentation so that you have time to make whatever changes are necessary to your slides or choice of equipment.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Powerful PowerPoint

In July 1998, Matt was looking for suggestions for using PowerPoint or other visual aids in a presentation. His concern was encapsulated in the thread title Slides inhibit presentation style - suggestions

Joy has seen and heard hundreds of speeches but only a very few where visual aids were really an asset as they often detract from the speech. If not all members of the audience can see them or read them those people lose part of the effect of the speech. They also cause the audience to look away from the speaker, thus destroying eye contact.

Murf raised doing a presentation on budget performance and explaining the 'figures' 'trends' etc. without the use of charts and graphs. Give them a test afterwards and see what the recall is.

For John F like any other kind of talk, we should be able to do our presentation without the visual. We never know when our projector is 'going to take early retirement' in the middle of a presentation.

The information on our visuals should give the salient points we want to cover and/or important supplementary information. A picture is worth a thousands words.

When we prepare our visuals, we do need to ask if the visual adds to our presentation, or just takes away. If it doesn't add, then we should just dispense with it.

In Mike's opinion many users of visual aids underestimate the intelligence of the audience and spend much too much time pointing at them rather than trusting the audience to realize that the number at the bottom, labelled "Total Expenditure" is, in fact, the total expenditure.

My other gripe is the use of visuals as a set of notes. I think that what put on the projector should reinforce by complimenting, not merely repeating, what you say. I see far to many overheads that are speaking notes rather than visual aids.

Eric recalled a presentation where he came to the room early, checked all the wiring connections etc. and did a dry run with no problems. When the real presentation began, they turned out the lights so that the audience could see the screen better. The room was pitch black - I couldn't see my fingers in front of me to type on the keyboard! I learned a lesson that day on what 'being prepared' meant.

Rick gives the audience a couple seconds to read the overhead before you start talking. So, I put the overhead up and skim it before going on. Then I go on looking at the audience instead of the overhead.

I have seen some visual aids which are useless. These are visual aids that have too much text or they are too small. That is one reason I like projected visual aids. If you have a well done slide, you can get a big enough projector for the size of the room you are using.

In May 2001 Denis posed a question about the number of slides to show in a 30 minute presentation. The thread was PowerPoint Question.

Rod suggested two very important things to bear in mind. The first is your message. If you succeed in getting that across, then the number of slides you used to achieve that goal is irrelevant. The other important thing to remember is that YOU are the presenter. The visual material is just support.

Fred doesn't think one can make a hard and fast rule. He has found that in sales training the number of slides varied widely from subject to subject. When the subject matter was technical more slides were required. When the subjects were things like the psychology of sales, or closing, the number of slides dropped dramatically and the explanations became longer.
A one hour session could vary from 20 to 40 slides.

If the slides "start to get in the way" and we seem to be changing them for the sake of changing them, then there are too many! They should facilitate and not hinder the communication of the message.

I always left lots of room on the page for the listener to make marginal notes to 'personalize' the message. This, also, tends to reduce the slide count.

I think that you must find a comfort level for yourself ensuring that the slides truly help rather than becoming an end in themselves.

Rick said not all slides will be displayed for the same amount of time. Some slides may simply indicate that you are moving to a different point and may be up for 10 seconds. Other slides, may be up for a while.

Jim's rule of thumb is that you should never put a slide on the screen for less 5 seconds. If the slide is shown for less then 5 seconds then it's not worth showing at all.

Ian said YOU are the presenter - use it to suit your style but be careful.
Use more of YOU, pictures and don't show slides with lots of points on them, if you do that the audience will read rather than listen to you.

In October 2003 Sky Eagle started a thread "Speaking Tips - Visual aids"

With visual aids it is necessary to be able to speak with them, but you need to be very careful with how you use them because they can detract from the speaker EASILY.

The general rule is to NEVER use any text smaller than 28 point.
Simple backgrounds are always best, rather than the loud ones. Personally I'd rather see something sedated that fits the topic and not a bunch of loud colors. Busyness is not a good thing either. When in doubt, just going with a simple color scheme and something like bars on the outside is best.

And on that topic of busyness, you only want your main points on your slides and not the whole speech. The slides (overheads or PowerPoint) are meant as a guide to the audience and not as a crutch so you don't have to remember your whole speech.

Make sure the slides can be read - that the text of the slides isn't similar to the color of the background.

Rick said don't just check the colors on your desktop monitor. It's best to check it on the projector as the display may vary significantly.

Rod added If a font you've chosen from the computer on which you created the slides isn't available on the one you're using to project them, the system will make a substitution, which may not be what you want.

I use a particular font to illustrate that some fonts are easier to read than others. If the font is substituted, the example becomes meaningless. Therefore I embed the font files in my presentation. This is an option on the Tools menu, under >Options >Save.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Will Toastmasters help?

In this blog so far I have dealt with tips and resources for members of Toastmasters. A common question to the group is from potential members who ask Will Toastmasters help me?

Here are some responses from members on the list that may help readers who are asking the same question or help focus Toastmasters when they are asked the question.

In July 1998 Victor found himself feeling choked up while I do public speaking. It is almost the same feeling when you are crying and have to speak at the same time. It sometimes happens also when I am not doing a speech. I like to help people with diseases, etc.; and, I voluntarily do this work. This speaking problem is preventing me from doing this.

The thread was choked up/public speaking problem; please help if you can

Carmen replied:
you are not alone. Stats have shown that many people would rather go to war than have to speak in public.
There are a few things you can do to help yourself:
- perhaps seeing your doctor about your symptoms when you speak is a good idea, if only to rule out a physiological problem.
- join a local Toastmasters club in your area. There, you'll meet all the right people who can help you with how you feel, simply because they've gone through it before themselves. One piece of advice: attend a few different club meetings before you decide, so you can pick the best club for you, as we're all different.
- one of the most important things you can do is *be prepared*. Often the anxiety we feel about speaking comes because of a feeling we'll make a fool of ourselves.
There are two ways around this:
a) convince yourself of this truth: your audience *wants you to succeed*. I don't know anyone who thinks to themselves "gee I hope this guy forgets his speech!" We're all on your side, and we *want* to hear your message;
b) by being prepared , I mean knowing your material *cold*: this means about 1 hour of preparation time per minute of speech, more if you need it. Say it over and over and over again until you don't *give* the speech, you *are* the speech!

There are probably some specific voice exercises you can do as well, but I don't have much knowledge about those and so I will bow to the greater knowledge of my colleagues...

of course, always keeping a glass of water on hand while you speak would probably help.

Congratulations on wanting to speak in spite of your fear, Victor! Very often that's the first step to overcoming it.

To Fsadamo Victor sounded like one person I know who attended a Toastmaster speechcraft. She had been involved with several community activities and spoke in front of people. Outwardly, she looked fine, but inside, she was always torn up.

The first speech a Toastmaster does is the Icebreaker speech. Basically talking about yourself. Usually the speech is 4 to 6 minutes. When she did her first icebreaker she simply said "My name is xxxxxxxx and I'm here to get help" and then she sat down. She talked for only about 20 seconds.

After about 2 years later and after being president of our club and Area Gov., she did a 2nd Icebreaker. She spoke for more than 12 minutes. Now we can't shut her up .

My very first experience in front of a group was teaching general chemistry lab as a teaching assistance. This was in Florida in September -- very warm day. My teeth were chattering as if I had been out in the freezing cold. I wish I had considered Toastmasters then, but, regretfully, it took me 30 years before I joined a TM club. Don't wait that long before you join a club.

Carmen gave some very good advise, particularly seeking out a Toastmaster club. I would also offer the following. First, as Carmen mentioned, be as prepared as possible, but for some people, like myself, I can't memorize a speech and then present it. I can practice a speech from an outline, but I have always messed up by trying to keep on track of the prepared speech. My wife, OTOH, is just the opposite. She needs to write the speech exactly as she will present it, but she doesn't necessarily memorize the speech. What she does is simply practice and practice and practice the speech until she becomes comfortable with herself. I'm amazed when she then gives her speech -- particularly when she is competing in speech contest.

I hear her practice the speech, I also know that she does make mistakes when she does deliver the speech to a group and therein lies the second bit of advice. As prepared as you can be, you may forget something or someone in the audience may throw you off. Just continue. Perhaps you may simply pause to regather your thoughts and then continue. You may also forget a whole complete section of a speech. That's okay. The audience doesn't know your exact speech (unless it is your spouse ) so, if you forget something or you simply mess up in your thoughts, simply pause for a moment, gather your thoughts and continue.

The audience will not know you messed up -- that's the beauty of speaking in public. You can mess up, but no one will ever know -- except if you apologize or otherwise let the audience know. You don't have to apologize for making mistakes since the audience won't know.
Also, don't memorize a speech exactly.

Just practice until you can "speak from the heart." When you speak with "passion" and you know your topic, you will be more comfortable, less nervous and make fewer mistakes -- but remember those are your mistakes, there is no need to let the audience know

For Joy the beauty of Toastmasters is that you have the opportunity to try at every meeting. Gradually it does get easier and you get more relaxed. Once that happens, the throat should stop closing up, and you can start to enjoy it. Almost all clubs are very understanding if you have a severe problem (for instance, if you can't talk a whole minute in Table Topics). If you happen to find a club that isn't, look for another club. The repeated practice, in a safe environment, really does help.

In March 1999 Isjay started the thread Will Toastmasters Help? He had a tremendous amount of difficulty in public speaking because of nervousness. My job requires a good amount of negotiating and some salesmanship and I do very well in small groups (2-5 people), but when I need to do any kind of formal presentation to a larger group I become overwhelmed by nervousness and anxiety. It's so bad that I become dizzy, my voice becomes very weak and shaky, my hands shake and I'm unable to think clearly. I often find myself going to significant lengths to avoid public speaking, and the problem has definitely impacted my career.

Will Toast Masters help with this kind of fear of public speaking, or do I require more help than TM can offer?

Joy reported that it has helped everyone I know of who has given it a try. As a visitor, you may be asked to introduce yourself and tell why you are there at the beginning of the meeting, and asked if you have any comments about the meeting at the end. Some people just say "No" or "I enjoyed it" as their comments at the end. That is perfectly acceptable. You will be able to observe what goes on in a meeting, and will probably be asked if you would like to participate in Table Topics (impromptu speaking). Many visitors just watch Table Topics, but others will participate. Either is acceptable.

Some people find Table Topics the most intimidating part of a meeting because you have to think on your feet. Ideally you are supposed to talk from one to two minutes on the subject you are given. However, it is permissible to change the subject. Many people speak for much less than one minute their first time. A woman in one of my clubs has belonged for three or four months now, and just managed to speak over a minute for the first time last week.

Prepared speeches are evaluated in a supportive, encouraging manner. The speaker is told what he or she is doing well, and is given some suggestions for improvement.

There are also techniques for controlling nervousness. We have a saying in Toastmasters that we may not get rid of the butterflies, but we can help you teach them to fly in formation. You will learn that some nervousness is a good thing that, properly controlled, can make you a more dynamic speaker than you would be if you weren't nervous.

If you join Toastmasters and take advantage of what is offered, you will always be glad you did.

Paul added Toastmaster's can definitely help you. You may think you are unique, but there are thousands of people just like you, in fact, the majority of successful Toastmasters had the same problem as you, to a greater or lesser degree.

The first thing to do is contact a Toastmaster's group in your area, tell them you would like to attend a meeting. There will be no pressure on you to participate, just get a feel for the meeting and what it offers. If there are several groups, visit several, since each TM group has it's own dynamic and "culture", but all are supportive. Just remember that everyone in the group had the same problem as you did. The TM website will help you find a group.

If you do decide to join, you've taken the hardest step: after that, you'll find that you will become more confidant, and improve at your own pace. Nobody is going to throw you to the wolves, you'll gradually build your confidence and ability, with a lot of positive support from others who have been in your shoes not so long ago. Check this bulletin board often. You'll see quality, committed people helping each other all over the world.

The hardest thing to do is to make the commitment, and that's the only thing you'll do completely alone. After that, everyone is here to help.

Mark always remember this when he gets up to speak:
The people who are listening to you WANT you to do well. Don't worry about pressure, just slow down and take a breather. If it is really bad (before you get into TM) warm up your audience with a good humorous story... I imagine you wouldn't mind sharing a joke with close friends or family, so create that atmosphere yourself!

When Rick first joined Toastmasters, I was told I did a good job on my first speech, but I don't remember any of it. I blocked out the time from the introduction until part way though the next speaker.

Toastmasters isn't a magic wand, but it will help. You will make improvements. You may not notice them until someone points them out, but the improvements will be there. Joy mentioned that table topics can be intimidating. It is the part that will help you with negotiating because it helps you to think on your feet. I can think of several people who could only make it to the 15 or 30 second mark for table topics when they joined. Six to nine months later, they would get a hard topic and handle it like a pro.

If there are several clubs in your area, visit several. Like people, each club has its own personality. Choose a club that will fit your needs and you feel comfortable with.

In March 1999 Ken had been in sales for the last twelve years, but still gets a little nervous in front of large groups. Can Toastmasters help me refine my group presentations? The thread was How can Toastmasters help me?

Terry had been a Toastmaster just over a year (brief membership in the past). Yes, Toastmasters has helped me sharpen my speaking skills and helping to build confidence before large groups. The largest group that I presented to was over 250 (a graduation speech). Toastmasters helped my face that kind of group.

John F joined Toastmasters,because I wanted to improve my speaking skills. Along the way, I got side-tracked into developing my leadership skills through Toastmasters instead, but that's a story in itself.
Remember, people join Toastmasters for a variety of reasons--ranging from learning to speak in public to developing self confidence.
There is a place in Toastmasters for you.

For Greg with ten years membership, mostly with my very familiar club setting, I find the "nervousness" an essential ingredient to the performance "sport" of public speaking. It's a matter of pumping up the natural hormones to a higher than normal level.

Joy agreed. At the one contest where I wasn't nervous, my performance wasn't my best. However, Toastmasters can do a lot to help a speaker control and channel that nervousness so it is an asset rather than a destructive force, which it can be to a beginner.

Paul agreed, too: "Nerves are your friend"; because that adrenaline rush is a natural reaction to any stressful, that is, "important" activity. In my former career as an actor, I learned that the only difference between a "pro" and an "amateur", in terms of effective performance, was in how they dealt with their nervousness. Everyone gets nervous, but "old pros" intuitively know how to channel that excess energy into their performance, making them seem dynamic and "larger than life", at ease and "in command" of their audience; while others diffuse that energy through nervous mannerisms and uncontrolled movement, gestures, etc. The key is practice and familiarity with the material and the situation.

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Things that make you go mmmm

In January 2002 there was a discussion on umms and ahhs and more specifically the use of audible devices. the thread was Things that make you go ummm.
First, a disclosure. On many occasions I have opposed the use of audible devices in posts to the group. This summary should be a test of my ability to summarize impartially. I will try to put more emphasis on the benefits of using an audible device.

I started the post with a couple of hypotheses that may or may not be true:

Most people only ummm or err when they are nervous. The gradual reduction of this habit in a Toastmasters club before a friendly supportive audience will not be reflected in their speaking outside this comfort zone. True or false, from your experience?

Highlighting the umms and errs with bells, or even counts is more likely to stop the person speaking than cure the habit. True or false?

Joy responded:
As we eliminate these crutches, we gain confidence, so we are not as likely to resort to them in another setting. Also, as we eliminate them, we become more aware of them and work to avoid them. If we are speaking in another setting and let one slip in, we probably notice it, and make an effort not to repeat it.

As to losing the member rather than curing the habit, Joy thought this depends on the individual. For a new Toastmaster who is extremely nervous, it is probably true at first. However, after gaining some experience, and some confidence, most people learn to take the bell in stride.

Gene would hate to get belled as it would interrupt my speech. (The audience is also going to hear the bell.) I would be especially ticked off in those cases where I *deliberately* um-ah.

Evaluations and the Grammarian's report are the places to comment about um-ahs. "I noted that, in a few places where you had complex sentences, you um-ahed more than usual. Perhaps simpler sentences?"

If the speaker really has trouble with um-ahing, then maybe something special could be done, but it usually isn't necessary.

Rod had never been at a meeting where a bell or any form of audible device was used. Most clubs here have an 'Umm, aah counter'. I don't know the reason for this. It may be that most of the audience want to listen to the speaker without disruption or it may be simply tradition.

If what the speaker is saying is so interesting and they grab my attention to the extent that I don't notice the ums and ahs, then the count is of academic interest anyway and the hesitancy may as well not exist.

In one of the clubs I visit regularly there is a member who still uses many ums and ahs. He is now on the advanced programme, has plenty of experience, does not lack confidence and makes regular presentations to international conferences and committees in his line of work. For him, his use of these verbal crutches is similar to stuttering. Like stuttering, it's a dimension of the problem that is beyond the normal capability of Toastmasters to cure.

To which Dana replied Or maybe, he just hasn't had the benefit of the bell?!!!!!

Denis believes that verbal hesitancy is a manifestation of nervousness. I have seen many speakers reduce their UM's without anything more than practice speaking.
If speaker reaches certain point, comfort zone travels with them!

He absolutely detests AH bells and find AH counters to be unhelpful!! They would certainly cure my attendance at the club that employs them!

New members who have visited our club discuss visiting other clubs with bells and counters, they have trepidation about their speaking, their appearance, etc. - I know the bell exacerbates this anxiety.

Instead he has suggested to members that a second evaluator focus only on the AH's & UM's in the speech. Specifically the evaluator looks at WHEN the speaker commits the UM. Is there a pattern? Is it during bridges, transitions, etc? This report is delivered privately. Also this AH evaluator will talk about if the verbal hesitancy was a barrier to the message.

This has been well accepted by our members and also seems to be helping those folks who have more of a problem.

So in sum, don't count unless you are also ready to report on when.

Rae does not recall any advice being provided on how to avoid verbal fillers in seven+ years .

She has seen many "confident/experienced" speakers still use quite a bit of uhms and ahs. In fact, I have just finished a two day workshop lead be a very confident/competent speaker that had far too many uhms for my liking. I felt that they were distracting. Yet at the same time I felt the workshop was very effective and I doubt that anyone besides myself even noticed the uhms.

Re skill transfer, Rae believes that experience/skill/proficiency in one area will cross over to another area of a person's life. Working as a therapist we illustrate that factor frequently. You often have to illustrate the connection or the sameness to the person though. Personally, I have managed to almost extinguish ahs and ums at least from prepared presentations. The odd one slips through on Table Topics. They rarely pop up when I make a presentation at work at a staff meeting.

She only has club experience with counting the Ahs and receiving a report at the end of the meeting. This was helpful for me. It did not stop me from talking. Our club in recent years has changed the practice of presenting an award for the most Ahs, which reinforced negative behaviour, to that of presenting an award for the most improved. I believe that this has been helpful.

I have seen responses in this group in the past both supporting and against the use of bells, sounding devices, tapping a spoon on water glass and even clapping. From a Skinnerian behavior modification approach I believe that the best way to extinguish or remove a negative/distracting habit would be to reward the improvement and not to punish the lack of change or continuance in the habit. I have found it just as effective to actually count the ahs in another speaker. It forces you to listen and makes you more aware in your own speech.

Bob has visited a number of clubs that do the ah/um notations differently. At my home club, we drop marbles into a can. That will get your attention (personally I think it is too distracting, but I have virtually eliminated them from most of my prepared speeches).

Another uses a mechanical counter (you can hear the click if it is quiet enough) to a third that only counts the ahs/ums. What I find is that in the clubs where there is an acknowledgement at the time of the ah/um, there is a great reduction.

However, in the 3rd club where they only count, it seems as though they are more prevalent. I think that the mechanical counter is the least distracting, but still is audible enough to notice. I would prefer to go in that direction, where they are noticed, but not to the point that it takes away from the presenter.

The whole theory behind why we um and ah is that supposedly it is an unconscious mechanism. Bringing our attention to it when we say um or ah (by bells, or clickers, etc.) takes the behavior out of the unconscious and into the conscious where we have more control. So theoretically, just bringing it to our attention is enough.

A bell or clacker can get us in the habit of being conscious when we say these fillers, at first usually right after we say it, then with practice before we say it. At that point, we can choose whether or not to use the ah or um. (that's the theory at least) The tough part, I think, is remaining diligent enough to spot the ums and ahs before they happen (like going on a diet, it's the discipline that kills you).

I think the major determinant of whether a person is comfortable with a bell or clicker is how well the person can resume a speech after being interrupted. Comfort with the audience, topic, etc. can play a part in this but some people are just better than others at handling interruptions.

Personally, if I trust my audience, and I'm highly motivated to improve my ability, I can take small interruptions like this in stride. But take away the trust (maybe someone has a hidden agenda) and suddenly my comfort level plummets to zero.

Rick found just counting and reporting number of Ahs of no value.
I belonged to my first club for almost a year in spite of the weekly embarrassment of having the most or second most ahs. Knowing that I could get 15-20 ahs into a 1 to 1:30 minute table topic did nothing to help me improve.
I then joined a club that used a clicker. The first meeting it was very distracting. Soon, I got used to it. In a couple months, my ahs were getting close to zero.
It was having the feedback right when the ahh or you know occurred that allowed me to eliminate them.

In the majority of cases, ums and ahs can be dramatically reduced through awareness. This requires a level of confidence since when the mind is focused on feelings, the audience, words, gestures, facial expressions and a myriad other things, it's difficult to concentrate on everything at one time. Audible devices create this awareness but, in my opinion, the negative aspects of the interruption outweigh the benefit. Although I've never attended a meeting where such a device was used, I feel that it would focus attention on hesitancy that may be trivial and unnoticed by the audience as a whole. It is not necessary completely to eliminate ums and ahs.

Reducing them to non-noticeable and non-distracting levels is fine in most cases. I'm in full agreement that identifying the 'when' aspect is particularly valuable.
There are some pathologies where the syndrome is so deeply ingrained that a 'cure' is beyond bells, counters, video or the Toastmasters programme. These may require the attention of a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Kelly wouldn't recommend ringing a bell for novice speakers.

Umms can be caused by a multitude of reasons, nervousness, insufficient preparation and sometimes plain inexperience.

New speakers often have the impression that it is important to never stop speaking, so rather than take a few seconds to gather their thoughts they will try to fill up dead air with ums and ahhs. One exercise that I used while in speech and debate in High School, was to tell novice speakers to simply pause if they couldn't think of anything to say, sure at first there were a lot of pauses, but soon as they developed their skills to think on their feet, increased their vocabulary and learned how to prepare, the pauses would disappear.

Table topics is also a great way to help with the ums, since it improves your ability to think quickly on your feet, so that rather than having to fill dead air with filler words, you can quickly think about what you want to say next.

It's also important to emphasise that time seems to expand when you're giving a speech. What may seem like an incredibly long and noticeable pause to you is often unnoticeable by the audience, and if noticed usually quickly forgotten.

In her club they leave it up to the individual. In either case we count ums, but we will ring a bell if the speaker desires it. Some people like having the cue others find it distracting.

In April 1997, Sharon was looking for suggestions on what we could use in place of a little clicking device (in the shape of an alligator) that is quite loud. Members feel this can be embarrassing to the speaker (pointing out in front of everyone that they goofed) and they often lose their train of thought, so asked what other clubs use for a 'clicker.' The thread was Ah Counter

Dave would never draw attention to ahs and ums as the person is doing it. We have a fine system, whereby each member is charged 25 cents for each ah/um, up to a maximum of $1 per meeting. As President, since I need to speak at every meeting, I get to pay my share of money to the fund!

Mike uses a bell to call attention to ahs during all portions of the meeting except formal speeches and yes it does cause a few butterflies every time it is rung, but I would not do away with it or the clicker or what any other device a club might use to call attention to the ahs at the time that they happen.

The first 6 months of my membership it seemed as if the bell was going off constantly while I was speaking during my function or during my participation in table topics but it then it subsided and after a year in the club I rarely have to pay our fine of $0.05 per ah, this was true even during my stint as President.

I would suggest that your club needs to look at what works in helping people improve in their reduction of ahs and do what ever it is that furthers that end. We explain that this is the function of the bell and since people are there to improve their speaking skills they accept and even encourage it after they start seeing their own improvement.

Bill also felt the noise device was counter productive and did away with it some years ago. We also quit reporting huge amounts of Ahs on our speakers. What we do now is to report only the first 3 Ahs and if a person has three we say at the end of the meeting that they had their limit. There is no purpose in reporting 14 ahs and embarrassing someone. In our club the goal is to not be mentioned at all in the Ah masters report.

Jeanette lost potential members because they were afraid of or too intimidated by our AH bell. We know these because we asked them about their impressions of our meetings, and this is what they told us.

At the beginning of table topics, Rick announces that the are optional for guests. The same thing could be done for the clicker. When the grammarian describes the job, s/he could mention that it's a tool for the more advanced speakers that are working on their audible pauses.

For Alex, other than walking through the door the first time, the ah/um counting is the next scariest thing a guest encounters. Of course, we'd *never* ping a guest, even if they volunteered to speak.

But the benefits of this "tough-love" are clear. At our club we tend to be lenient to new members. A few pings early on (say up to a max of 5) and let the new member be self-policing. It's a little scary at first, but with the rest of us pulling for them, they pass through that period and become ah-less.

Once a Toastmaster become more experienced, the 'pinging' becomes more regular. It worried me as a guest, but I'm 99.9% um/ahless now even outside of the clubs I belong to.
Yet, we should make every effort to impress on the guests that whatever method we use (visual, audio, end-meeting-report) is all part in parcel of becoming a better speaker.

John F has seen a variety of ways that clubs handle the whole Ah counter business.

I visited one club that had a nice loud beeper. Every time you said 'Ah' the counter would hit the button and you'd hear a loud 'Beeeep.' Not much different from your clicker. The advantage to this method is 'immediate feedback.'

Other clubs handle it a bit differently. The Ah counter simply keeps track of the Ahs, Ums, Er's, etc. on a piece of paper. At the end of the meeting the Ah counter gives a report. For Example: The person with the most Ahs was Joe Bloggins with 46. Jane Doe had 15. And so on. This way, you don't lose your train of thought, but you lose the immediate feedback too.

Steve felt clickers, bells, buzzers, and other noisemakers for such purposes should be banned from all Toastmasters Clubs. I have been to Clubs where such devices are used, and (believe you me) if I never saw Toastmasters before in my life, I doubt that I would've become one.

Dara has a clicker and uses it during table topics, evals, and other speaking. But we do not use it during prepared speeches. I really like how we do it like this, but it doesn't distract the speakers or listeners, but when people are talking in general it helps.

Bill considers the bells, clickers and other devices not only to be rude but down right sadistic. After 17 years in this organization I can say that if that became a practice through out our organization I would be forced to leave and could no longer recommend it to potential members.
Sadomasochists derive great pleasure from watching others squirm when the bell rings or the clicker sounds and many even enjoy the pain themselves. Keep in mind that these are the same people that learned to quit smoking by putting a rubber band on their wrist and snapped themselves when they thought about smoking. They believe firmly in the "No Pain, No Gain" philosophy and I really doubt that any amount of reason will change their minds.

On the other hand it is imperative that positive people not fall into their negative trap and allow this rude teaching technique to infect other clubs. Positive reinforcement has always been the hallmark of our group, I hope it remains that way.

Mike thought it would be better to videotape (if possible) the speech for the speaker to review at his/her leisure, and also use the video tape for evaluation purposes at the request of the speaker.

Rob has never been a fan of the "ah" counter and our club has not done it at all. If individual speakers want to have their "ahs" counted, we leave it up to them and they can coordinate with their evaluator. It should suffice to have the evaluator simply point out to the speaker that he/she either had a lot of "ahs" or very few. The exact number is of no benefit in my opinion.
And a CLICKER?? I think that is COMPLETELY out of place. It's like ringing a bell every time you mess up. Is that what Toastmasters is about? Keeping track of how many times we screw up? I certainly would not go to a club that had that type of emphasis. If someone starting making loud clicking noises with every "ah," it would be the first and LAST time I ever went to that club.

The "ahs" and "ums" naturally reduce as the speaker gets more and more practice and more confidence. Let's encourage that. Let's lose the "ah" counter mentality.

Jeanette's club used a small bell and dropped that in favor of an AH Log book, in which we record the number of ahs and other verbal pauses for each speaker. At the end of the meeting our Ah counter announces the winners--the people who did not commit any verbal pauses.

Those who did can check the book privately afterwards, plus track their improvement over the course of time.

Gary uses a clicker and it work quite well. It if draws attention to the speaker that they are speaking incorrectly, then it is worth the annoyance, and if they can't keep their train of thought, then what are they going to do in a real speaking engagement where there will be a lot more interruptions than just the clicker.
Our purpose is to teach better speaking habits and prepare ourselves to speak properly in public, handling all interruptions and annoyances.

David believes Ah counting to be instrumental to the program. The bell (in our case) must be used constructively and never during prepared projects. I like to ding the first obvious ah and then ding intermittently when I think the speaker has settled down a little. We have many people with their pet filler those should be hit a little harder. Noise is immediate; actual counts after the fact are of questionable value. I like to say "Toastmasters with more than one ah are:...

Rick disagreed that the clicker shouldn't be used during prepared speeches. The clicker showed me that most of my speech was well rehearsed, but I got clicked during the transitions between points. I started to work on the transitions and the ahs when down there too.

For Kathie, the purpose of the clicker is not to embarrass the speaker. Many years ago, I learned to speak without my pronounced Texas drawl. This is done in a "start/stop" method, the purpose of which is to train your ear to hear yourself use phonetic substitutions.

The same principle applies to the ah horn/clicker/buzzer. It points out the infraction so the speaker can train his/her ear to hear the ah. When you're aware of them, you can eliminate them. I know most Toastmasters hate the Ah horn, but it does serve a very important purpose.

Cassandra described a series of different approaches.

In one (great) club they have a detailed grid system. There are spaces for each participants name and tally spaces under headings like uh, um, ya know, repeated words, elongated words (Sooooooooo, ) and several others. The challenge to the Ah counter is to listen carefully and, though they are not a stuffily serious group, everyone applaudes and admires the ah counter who really does the job.

In another (strong, vibrant) club they silently count ah's and report them at the end of the meeting without fines or outraged speakers claiming barbarism. This process has served them well for many years- though at one point in their 50 year history, they did have a huge (size of a freestanding lecturn) box that faced the speaker with a light shone whenever the speaker misspoke.

Another nearby favorite club does a (quiet) fining process and makes it clear that if you want to pay the fine, do. If you don't want to, you shouldn't reach for the quarters. And this hasn't scared off so many people that the club folded at any time in the past 45 years.

In my club we use a clicker. We don't click guests or icebreakers, but everyting else is clicked, unless the person requests that we refrain. We announce the scores at the end of the meeting and the "winner" gets to take home the ceramic "wide mouth frog" While we laugh, joke, and keep things "light," we agree that we are all there to improve our skills. Overlooking each others bad habits doesn't serve that goal. We are kind, suportive, and HONEST with each other. If someone hears the clicker as they speak, they can immediately put in the corrections.

We encourage each other to breath, or stop talking and collect thier thoughts, rather than continue to "verbally trip, stumble, or freefall." The positive reinforcement comes when we encourage people to continue doing EXACTLY what they are doing- showing up and practicing, becuase we know that WILL work. Also, we posiitvely reinforce improvement, which can only be measured by comparison.

George suggested using a small light to indicate Ahhs. This light would be situated so only the speaker could see it and would be as unobtrusive as possible. I'm thinking something like a night-light -- small enough to not cast a shadow on the wall behind the speaker, but bright enough to be seen by the speaker. This would also keep from distracting the audience with an audible click.

Don't use the light for the Toastmaster's first few speeches -- maybe the first 5 or so. This way, the beginning speaker can concentrate on those butterflies and not be distracted by an Ahh light. However, after a few speeches to "get into the swing of things," the light could be used as a subtle, and immediate, Skinner Training Device.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006


In May 1999 Arif was preparing for an evaluation contest and sought ideas on what makes a good evaluation. The thread was Evaluation Contest. These tips can be used equally effectively in routine evaluations in the club.

Arif had already these factors in mind:

1. How well did the speech convey the message to the audience?
2. Did the speech have a good intro. , body, and a powerful conclusion?
3. Speaker's eye-contat?
4. Speaker's body-language?

Terry suggested when pointing out areas needing improvement, be sure to suggest ways to make those improvements.

Joe recalled his time as a target speakers in a contest when more important than anything else, a good evaluator builds the self-esteem of the speaker. Emphasize your feelings as well as mechanics. Were you inspired or motivated by the speech? Did the speech make you feel good or did it anger you? Avoid trite phrases such as, "I look forward to hearing your next speech.

Joy added Vocal variety is something to listen for, as well. Incidentally, regarding eye contact, I have noticed that most speakers favor one side of the room with eye contact. You might watch for that, especially if the speaker is especially good, and you're having trouble coming up with suggestions.

Denis suggested
Voice: vocal variety, projection, pace, pauses as being appropriate to subject and setting.
Movement and gestures: appropriate and again big enough for a bigger setting. think about stiffness or any sign of apparent nervousness. Did movement add or detract from presentation.
Eyes: Did speaker connect with all the parts of audience or did speaker lose part of room -- again based on size of audience.
Avoid any tendency to repeat the speech, and winning evals I have heard do find suggestions for even the best speech and speaker!

He also recalled the conflicting feedback he recieved as a rtarget speaker in a contest
The first evaluaor said; "I like your eye contact, you really connected" , second evaluator said: "try not to stare at people during your speech"

In another eval contest, one evaluator said of test speaker; "I loved how you worked the stage and involved whole audience, later evalator said, " you were all over the stage and made me lose track of message"

So, remember we all see different things differently.

In December 2004, Chris sought ideas for an Evaluation Workshop.

The most common mistake Mark sees is in thinking that the evaluation is about finding what's wrong with the speech. This leads very nice, but well meaning, members to say, "I can't find anything wrong." This is pleasant, but unhelpful. Other members, who are not afraid to point out flaws, wind up giving scorching evaluations. This is both unpleasant and unhelpful.

The evaluation is, in my opinion, about finding where the speech can be improved. For some speakers, there were be a struggle to decided which two or three points to raise. For other speakers, it will be a struggle to find two or three points. However, I firmly believe that all speeches can be improved.

Focusing on how the speech can be "better" also ties in to the incremental progress approach in Toastmasters. For someone who reads from a verbatim script, the "better" suggestion is to use notes. For someone who relies heavily on notes, the "better" suggestion is to memorize an outline. We wouldn't normally go from a person reading their Icebreaker speech to completely discarding the lectern in Speech #2. We usually ease members into more advanced concepts and techniqes.

For the very advanced speaker flying with notes, who suddenly goes blank and spends many painful seconds trying to get back on track, the "better" suggestion is to have the notes available. There's nothing in the slightest bit wrong in the occasional use of a well prepared note.

In April 1999 the thread was Effective Speech Evaluation, and the biggest mistake Denis sees is the evaluator repeating the speech. The evaluator should only repeat enough specific points to highlight a point of praise or a suggestion of improvement. This repetition should happen sparingly.

The club should get in the habit of always stating member goals and project objectives, just before speech. This will help focus the speaker and the evaluators and get everyone on the same page.

Jenny words all the positives in a way that gives the speaker the credit and makes it seem like this is a permanent, far-reaching trait. Conversely, the negatives should be worded in a way that doesn't assess blame and makes it seem like a temporary trait.


Positive: You spoke so eloquently and gave us such wonderful word pictures, as you always do. Negative: This speech was not as well-organized as usual. (instead of "YOU were not organized", or worse, "YOU are NEVER very organized")

Positive: You have mastered the art of gesturing! (a very permanent thing)
Negative: Try (add your tip here), and the signs of nervousness will be invisible next time. (temporary, won't be there forever).

There's nothing wrong with saying "This was a good speech" - but why not give the speaker the pride of personal accomplishment by saying, "YOU gave a good speech".

At the same time, there's no white-washing the negatives; it's just a way of wording them so that the sharp sting is dulled and there's hope of improving the next time. After all, if you were told "You have a nervous mannerism", it would seem like a permanent, hopeless problem - why make the effort to change? Instead, by saying, "Ear-pulling happened during times of nervousness - here's my tip for controlling nerves...", you acknowledge the problem, indicate that it's temporary and offer some hope for fixing it in future speeches.

An added caution - don't lie or make up stuff! If you've never heard this speaker or if this speaker, in fact, ALWAYS makes the same mistake, you can hardly say "This is not your usual way". Use your best judgement, and try not to sound like you're using a "technique".

In July 2005, the heading was Evaluating.
Nigel suggested telling the speaker how you connected with the speech and how it connected with you, without having to give your own story. "I enjoyed your speech about car racing because that has been a life long ambition of mine". Point out some good points about the speech "You gestures were great, for example when you said "zoom" and used your hands to relate the speed of the car". Try and pick a point where the speaker improved from the previous speech. "I noticed you used notes on your last speech, but this was without notes and it seemed like it was more natual because of that".

Pick one or two points to improve on and why. "I would like you to use more pauses in your speech. "Rather than ready, set go, try ready........set........ GOOOOOOOOOO to give a more dramatic start to the race". I would also like to see you move from behind the podium so you can connect more with your audience".

Finally, give another good point, a reinforcement. "Your vocal variety has improved greaty over the last few speeches, and I'm really looking forward to your next one".

Try to avoid commenting on the content on the speech too much. Your job as an evaluator is to examine the delivery, but be sure to follow the guidelines in the manual to make sure the speech achives the goals that are set out. Basically, did the content fill the requirements.

A few days before the meeting, find out who you are supposed to evaluate and ask them what they would like you to look out for specifically. Find out which manual speech they're doing so you can check the requirements rather than have to do it during the meeting.

John S offered some ways that I am likely to start an evaluation, but in each case they are in response to the speech, not prepared before hand.
Your comments on yak racing took me back to a childhood visit to Mesopotamia, but I think that the way you brought the subject to life was more vivid than my memory of the actual trip. I liked .... (but only if the speech topic was about yak racing - or adapted to suit the actual speech and your actual experience - this is the only time your experience is mentioned. Too often I have heard evaluators expounding their greater knowledge)

I've often wondered where the quote of the week people get their pithy sayings from - nicely encapsulated phrases that say it all in 10 seconds. To me, your statement .... deserves to be on an (which may or may not exist.)

I've never believed in evaluations where the expert (me) tells the student (you) what you did wrong. To me it is a chance to watch closely and decide which of your techniques I can incorporate in one of my future speeches. Well tonight I got three: the way that you ...., your use of ..... and .... (particularly useful when evaluating an experienced speaker - but all Toastmasters have experiences, just different ones. You can tell that to

Thank you for the inspiration. (or laughs, or information) What made it inspirational to me was .... And then end with something like: Again thank you. Tonight, I have decided to do something about it.
In each case, I hope I would convey the impact that a speech had on me, an important part of evaluation.
But never try to upstage the speaker with your greater knowledge, even if it is valid.

Mark believes that a good evaluation is really a two to three minute motivational speech. You want the speaker to be deeply inspired to make changes and also to be eager to give their next speech. It is your time to shine, but not to outshine!

Use all the good speech techniques you've learned in Toastmasters and elsewhere. They say that in giving a powerful presentation it's all about the audience, that's every bit as true for an evaluation. Use the methods that will reach your audience.

Anthony rephrased that to "remember that a good evaluation is really about providing productive and useful feedback to the speaker.

As your evaluation skills develop, you will find that an evaluation also provides you with an opportunity to present a speech (the evaluation) that is good practice and a learning opportunity for future evaluations and speeches.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Finding new members

In August 1999 Bear belonged to a club that is struggling to keep pace with the constant attrition of members lately. We have a wonderful core of highly motivated members, and four of our 17 members are DTMs.
One of our problems we have only a few newer members that are working on the basic manual. We need ideas to spark the club up. The thread was getting new members

John F suggested a mall display, which he described as a set up display a club can place in a mall or similar public location. Usually, a club will arrange to have a couple of members man it at times when traffic is a bit heavier (like lunch time or weekends) to answer questions.
Even when it is not manned, there is information on it about Toastmasters.
Clubs book it, usually quite a while in advance because it is fairly popular, from District Public Relations.

It comes as six panels, three on top and three on the bottom, and it's hinged so that it is free standing.

It's large enough that a table will fit nicely in front of it.

The panels themselves are designed to be more eye catching than informative. The purpose is to attract visitors, who will then talk to the Toastmasters manning the display. Also, additional information pamphlets can be kept on the table in front of the display, and handed out to interested visitors.

Joy is the club telephonbe contact and fields quite a few calls, as our club is listed in the white pages with my home-business phone for the only Toastmasters listing in the county. I am usually here to answer the calls, and return them as soon as I can if I'm not here.

I pass along information about other local clubs if our meeting is not convenient for local callers, and if they are from farther away, I refer them to the appropriate Area Governor.

One caller said he was in a city about 25 miles away, and by the time I finished telling him about our meetings and offered to give him an Area Governor's phone number, all he wanted was directions to our meetings. I think true enthusiasm is the best sales tool there is.

Craig is also a telephone contact and has a copy of our District's club directory and can usually provide direct contact with any number of clubs in the enquirer's chosen area. I also try to impart the personal achievements I have drawn from Toastmasters.

Eric's experience is that the best way to "hook" a prospective member is with a great meeting. All the PR work, the flyers and telephone contacts, will only serve to get the guest in the door, but if they don't like what they see then they're not coming back.

What makes a great meeting: good speeches and evaluations, people having fun, things running smoothly and on time, guests welcomed and included in the meeting. Advanced speeches and professional calibre speeches tend to intimidate guests; my experience is that they like to see speeches by people that are only a couple of speeches into their CTMs (these speakers are not too far ahead of the guests) and hear evaluations that say how these speakers have improved in just a few months.

In August 2001, the thread was Where do YOU find new Members

Four out of my five of Moira's contacts were people known to me that I spoke to about Toastmasters by word of mouth. I also joined because a friend invited me.

I place Toastmasters leaflets in every single public speaking book I can find at the library every time I visit - some of these books are seldom taken out. I also place leaflets in books on PR, business management etc. It only takes a few minutes, and it has paid dividends in terms of at least three new members over the years.

When I was building my club I spoke to the people whose numbers were listed, telling them that we were actively recruiting, what type of club, when and where we met and promised that we'd nurture all contacts. That assurance, together with the actual work, netted us several new members - people like to refer enquiries to clubs where there is an assurance that the potential members will be kindly treated.

My doctor is a personal friend who has rooms in the same area as the one in which our club met and I always gave him a current copy of the Toastmaster magazine with a pasted contact number sheet with five tear off strips. I popped into his rooms at least once a month and at that time belonged to four clubs, so it wasn't a big deal. The club got at least one new member from that effort.

By April 2002 the web was more popular, and Dale started the thread New members from web with this question:
How many visitors, who then become new members, are clubs receiving from people searching on the web for a club, and then turning up to meetings?

Eric asks guests how they found us; a couple of years ago the answer was typically that they saw our flyer in the local library, but now the answer is more likely that they found us through the World Wide Web. We tend to have guests at every meeting.

I think the best way for clubs to be found is through links to the Toastmasters International and District websites. Someone searching on "Toastmasters" will find the TI site pretty fast, and from there they can narrow down a search for a club by continent, country, and in North America by state or province.

When someone gets a barebones listing of clubs in a specific city or town they'll probably check out those with websites first since these have the promise of more information being available.

Jim's experience is that members usually find out about TM from someone they know, but they then use the web to learn more about TM, and to find a club near them.

The web in another tool we can use to promote TM, but it is only one tool. There are other tools that we can and should use, the most effective being tell our friends and coworkers about TM.

When people show up from the Interenet Renate actively encourages them to visist the other clubs in the area and find the right "fit".

Most of Dan's guests are drawn by our local PR. There are posters everywhere and weekly listing in local papers. We are planning a mall kiosk later in the month so there will be some face-to-face contacts. The greatest building tool still remains the meeting. We genuinely welcome guests and fill them in on what happens at the meeting. There is no push or shove towards membership. Extend the invite to the next meeting and let them open the door to talking about a membership. They are told of the benefits and the program. They buy versus us doing the sales pitch.

Regina is starting to see at least one guest per meeting who has found our club through And more of our guests are joining now, too. I think that people who find clubs through Toastmasters International's web site's club listings are ones who are really looking for Toastmasters. While the people who find us through announcements posted in public places and in newspapers are also legitmate prospects, those who have gone through the Toastmasters International web site have had the opportunity to get a thorough background on what Toastmasters is before coming to a meeting.

John K found the Web seems to work well as there is an element of anonymity involved at the initial contact stage. After a couple of e-mails back and forth, we are able to reassure the potential guests that we are not a bunch of cranks and that we always welcome visitors.

In January 2004, the thread was Rebuilding a club and Mark outlined his plan:

I suggested a series of monthly Open Houses (held on the first meeting of each month from March through June). These meetings would be publicized through electronic means (our club website), through the club newsletter, and by printed flyers placed in strategic areas (nearby library, local bulletin boards, city Chamber of Commerce, etc.). These advertisements would encourage invitees to bring their checkbooks, as we would offer a small discount for first-time guests joining our club.

The Open Houses would be informal meetings, with the members bringing refreshments. The core of each Open House would be a 8-10 minute keynote speech about the benefits of Toastmasters membership. Then two or three club members would give 2-3 minute testimonials of the benefits they received from Toastmasters membership. We would give guests time at the end of each Open House to ask questions. In short, the entire Open House would be a club promotional meeting.

Each visitor would receive a handout package containing partially filled-out membership forms, including pro-rated dues (a visitor would only need to add personal information to complete the form). The meeting would end 15-20 minutes early to allow for guests to complete the paperwork and join the club.

Those visitors who wouldn't join at their first meeting would get a follow-up note by regular mail. In this note, our club President would thank them for their attendance and would personally invite them to attend the next Open House.

Bill reported on his club, which is sponsored by a company.
Contact the Human Resources Dept. immediately. Let hem know there is Toastmaster training available for employees. Also suggest that managers specify Toastmasters training on annual goals for employees when it is relevant to their jobs. Also let the training folks know about the program.

To help sell these initiatives find out if competitor companies sponsor Toastmaster Clubs. I found out all of our major competitors and partners sponsored clubs, so it made it much easier to say "Toastmasters is a good thing to have here."

Have experienced Toastmasters come in and provide Testimonials on what Toastmasters has done for them. Contact your Area Governor or other District Officers to help out.

Consider running a SpeechCraft - we ran two last year and signed up 5 new members. We also hold "All About Toastmaster" info sessions twice a year. One of members was on vacation in Calgary last July - we are in Ottawa - and took the time to deliver this one-hour info session to our Calgary site. Within 2 months they chartered with 26 members. We also survey - and talk to - our members to find out what is working and what is not. For example new members were not getting any feedback for Table Topics, so we added a Table Topics Evaluator. This has led to the Table Topics Master mentioning tips prior the topics deliveries, and everyone has improved. I may never win Best Table Topics again :-).

Because we had so many new members, and they were somewhat reluctant to start, we held an Ice Breaker seminar. This generated enough interest that we had two meetings just for Ice Breakers, with one of these meetings being a First Timers meeting - every role, except evaluators, was done by someone for the first time. Last year we had 14 Ice Breakers in total delivered.

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