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 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.

The names "Toastmasters International", "Toastmasters" and the Toastmasters International emblem are trademarks protected in the United States, Canada and other countries where Toastmasters Clubs exist. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home