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.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Correcting an urban myth in a speech

In December 2006, when a member gave a speech based on an urban myth, Synapse sought group advice on how to handle it. The Area Governor, who was at the meeting, checked and found a page which refuted the claims. This split the comments into two parts, the role of the Area Governor and the way to correct misinformation. In this post, I will focus on dealing with the misinformation.

Re: "Snopes Speech" what to do as AG with inaccurate content?

Synapse summarized the dilemma with:
It is not our role to "police" content, but with egregious examples - what is our role as a leader, an audience member, or just an intelligent human being, to correct misinformation?

Unless the speaker is intimidating people from the club, my opinion would be that commenting about the content of a speech is the realm of the evaluator, or possibly the club president, but definitely not the AG.

My suggestion is either leave it alone or if you want to bring it up, speak to that person privately and in a "diplomatic way". If you do that, do it in person or by phone--not by email. Regardless of your tactful approach, the person may get defensive anyway. So my advice, before you decide to talk, decide on your purpose why you want to bring it up. And make sure that you are expressing your own personal opinion.

I approach speeches like this by giving an alternate view, either in the table topic that night, or in a speech the next week or so, making sure it is not an attack on the view, but an "alternate perspective".

Synapse, the original poster, returned with:
If we say nothing about content when it can be proven to be a farce, what does that teach our members? It teaches them it is okay to be liars and cheats. It's okay to be intellectually dishonest, because no one will have the guts to call you on it. It's okay to mislead people into foolhardy and harmful actions. I won't sit by and do nothing. We owe it to our members to be willing to alienate people who are not willing to exercise the power of the podium with the respect it deserves. We can't sell out everything in the name of "preserving membership" and keeping everybody happy. I'm not saying we have to completely fact-check every speech, but we have to draw the line somewhere.

Many things taken as factual are debatable. At one extreme, there are the facts' accepted by different religions and doubted by others. Many millions of people accept as a fact that Christ rose from the dead and it would be difficult to 'prove' otherwise. Even within the Christian community, the creationists have one view, based on 'facts', and the evolutionists have a different view, also based on 'facts'.
Scare stories about butter, red meat, GM foods, cellphone radiation - you name it - all have their devotees.
Many new-age healing technologies are supposedly based on 'facts' and 'scientific research'. Even accredited scientific research is based on a 95% probability that the results were not purely chance (which means a 1 in 20 probability that they may be invalid).
Louis Pasteur was laughed at and ridiculed by the medical fraternity for saying that many diseases resulted from the action of microbes.
Semmelweis struggled to have is views accepted. The concept of 'iron ships' was considered ridiculous, notwithstanding that Archimedes' principle was well known at the time.

If someone chooses to propound a viewpoint in Toastmasters that clashes with the beliefs of others, I believe that is their right. If another member chooses to refute that view, that, too, is their right. Robust debate and the challenging of 'established facts' is, in my opinion, a very healthy state of affairs.

This is a "slippery slope" situation. The number of topics and opinions are too great for us to address each one. What if the topic had been global warming? What if it dealt with recent US presidential elections? Opinions, "facts" and emotions run high on both (or all) sides. Where do we begin or stop "corrections?" We should evaluate the speaker based on project objectives. If I felt a speaker had presented incorrect information in a speech, I would address it in a human manner at an appropriate time, either during or after the meeting.

it needs to be handled in a way that fits with the club culture. You could ask to be booked as a speaker to present the other side.

I'd handle this personally, one-on-one. You can present it in a friendly way. If you want to point it out in a soft-pedal kind of way, go along the lines of "Hey, I was trying to find out more about your speech and came across this at Snopes. Well golly-gee!"

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