How long does it take to improve my public speaking?

“How long does it take to improve my public speaking?”

This is a question that we sometimes get asked by our guests.

The time taken for improvements depends on a few factors.  These can include:

  • how much existing public speaking experience you have.
  • how confident you are at present in front of an audience.
  • how much ‘natural ability’ you already have.

The reason that Toastmasters works so well in improving your speaking is for a number of reasons:

  • You get to practice every session (you can even attend other clubs so that you get even more practice).
  • You will receive structured and positive feedback on what you did well and what can be improved.
  • You will build your confidence in a ‘safe’ environment – no-one is going to be negative about you, and there is no pressure.
  • You will learn the ‘mechanics’ of speaking, such as vocal variety, body language, content.

A good analogy is gym membership.  You will get the best results depending on the level of fitness that you have already, and how willing you are to regularly attend sessions.  In short, you get out what you put in!

After being in Toastmasters for nearly ten years, I have observed the following:

  • Everyone who puts the effort in will improve – I have never seen anyone who has failed to make any improvement.
  • For motivated individuals, the improvements happen relatively quickly.  It’s sometimes surprising how quickly people lose their nerves and find their voice.  Many go on to become truly excellent speakers.

Once you are a member you can aim to deliver 5-6 speeches in a year.  In this time-frame, and with regular practice, you will see a great improvement.

Being a Toastmaster is not always easy, but your fellow members will be there to help and encourage you.  All Toastmasters understand how difficult it can be.

However, once you give it a try and you feel your confidence building, it becomes a positive feedback loop.

Why not come along as a guest and see how far you will get?

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From Fear and Overwhelm to Focus and Opportunity

At Shropshire Speakers, we hosted another online meeting on Wednesday April 15th.

One of our more experienced speakers, Mags O’Brien, delivered an excellent speech which is now available on YouTube.

During this speech, Mags draws on her professional and personal experience to share some excellent practical guidance for dealing with uncertainty during the Coronavirus Lockdown.

In the video, you can see how Mags uses skills she has honed at Shropshire Speakers to deliver a well-structured and clear message on camera.

If you would like to learn more about how to present effectively, then why not join us at one of our online meetings.  Please contact us for more information.

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Online Confidence

Become a Confident Speaker

Want to become a confident speaker? There’s no better time!

Do you wish you had greater confidence when speaking to a group or speaking in public? Have you heard about groups which help with this, however you’re a little daunted to go to the meeting and stand at the front of a room full of people and then speak?

Well, the challenges that Covid-19 has presented regarding social distancing and self-isolation, have also given some unexpected opportunities to those wanting to develop their speaking skills and confidence. Here at Shropshire Speakers, a popular public speaking and leadership Toastmasters club, we have had to temporarily move all our meetings online.  The meetings run exactly as before, but everyone joins from home on a video call. If you have any nervousness about being in a room with a bunch of others, what better way to break into this by being able to meet online from a safe space?

What to expect at your first online meeting

At your first meeting you don’t even have to speak, it’s optional. However, you do have the opportunity to take part if you want to, and also listen to others speaking, as well as hear how they are given encouragement and constructive feedback. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see different presenting and speaking styles, with varying levels of experience and confidence.

Toastmasters has an excellent range of programmes, also known as ‘pathways’, which can help structure your progress over time, leading  you through key elements of great speaking including eye contact, body language, vocal variety, speech composition and audience engagement.

People join Toastmasters from all walks of life and for lots of different reasons, but a common theme is that they want to gain confidence to improve their performance when speaking. This might not just be for work, but for social interest or perhaps helping with the running of a voluntary group.

Toastmaster clubs meet all over the world and there are over 350,000 members currently.

How to take your first step

Our local group, Shropshire Speakers, usually meets in Telford, but is currently hosting all its meetings online. The meetings are 1st, 3rd and 5th Wednesdays in the month at 7.30pm to 9.30pm.  To get the link to the new online format simply make an enquiry through the website – www.shropshirespeakers.org.uk.  Alternatively, you may like to try an online meeting via our sister club Ludlow Speakers. Give either, or both, a try, there’s no better time to start building your confidence!

Written by Roger Wilson, Club President

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Twelve tips for better presentations

At Shropshire Speakers, we sometimes get enquiries from professional people who are interested in improving their presentation skills.

Perhaps they are already delivering presentations on a regular basis and are looking to improve, or perhaps they have been asked to give a presentation and the thought of it is terrifying for them.

At Shropshire Speakers, we help members to improve their public speaking skills in a safe space, where it’s OK to make mistakes. After all, that’s how we learn and improve. It’s certainly better to make mistakes in front of a friendly group, instead of your management team or customers.

As a member of our club, you can even choose a learning pathway on mastering presentation skills.

Here are twelve short tips to help you cope with nerves and deliver an effective presentation.

1. Think about your audience

When planning your presentation, you need to be aware of your audience and keep them in the forefront of your mind.

  • What will they be hoping to learn?
  • What message are you bringing to them?
  • What’s the best way to communicate your message?

If you start with an understanding of what value your audience will derive from your message, then the battle is half won, and you can move on to deciding how best to present your message.

2. Know your subject

If you have been asked to speak, then it is usually because you are expected to communicate your knowledge to the audience. As far as possible, make sure that you go in fully prepared. This may mean speaking to colleagues, researching online, and going back over your own work.

Being fully on top of the subject will help with nerves, and will demonstrate that you have expertise in your area.

3. It’s all about communication

Remember that the most important objective is to communicate information to your audience. Keeping this in mind can help with nerves because, usually, the presentation is about a particular subject and not about you. If you end the presentation having communicated the intended message, then the presentation will have been a success.

4. Structure the content

When presenting, your task becomes a lot easier if you stick to a structure.

For example, in a 10 minute presentation, the structure would be something like:

  • Introduction (1 minue)
  • 3 – 5 points which support your message (8 minutes)
  • Conclusion (1 minute)

Your presentation will involve you guiding your audience through this structure. At each of the points, you can remind your audience about the message you are delivering.

Finish by summarising the points, reminding the audience of the message, and stating how you communicated the message to them.

5. Open with a story

If you can open with a ‘story’, especially one with a personal touch, then this will help to engage your audience. It might be a traditional story, or even just an personal observation you have about the subject.

This has to be done carefully, and is not appropriate in every situation. You will have to think about whether your presentation would benefit from a story. If you are only speaking for 10 minutes, then your story should be very short, no longer than 45 seconds.

The advantage of a story is that it will engage your audience from the outset. You will pique interest and you’ll actually see audience members stopping writing, and looking up from smart phones.

If you can make it relevant to your audience, even better. If you can get a laugh, then this is ideal, because it will help get the audience engaged. Avoid unrelated stories, jokes or anything boring.

6. Less is more

When it comes to content, less is more. Avoid the temptation to go off on tangents when speaking. Stick to the message. A defined structure will help with this.

7. Use Powerpoint sparingly

If you are a new or nervous presenter, it’s tempting to write out your presentation onto Powerpoint slides, and then read through the slides in front of the audience.

Audiences hate this. Slides should only be used when they enhance your message. Keep slides simple and avoid long bullet point lists. Spend time on making your slides look professional. Large colourful graphics work well.

8. Stick to time

One of the worst crimes you can commit when presenting is to run out of time. You should stick to the time that you have been allotted, or have assigned for yourself. If there is a “question and answer” session, ensure that you allow sufficient time for this. End the presentation when time is up.

Running out of time will annoy the audience and make you look unprofessional.

It is vital to prepare properly, and to run through the presentation with a stopwatch so you are fully aware of timings.

9. Dealing with nerves

If you are nervous or new to presenting, then try the following:

  • Slow down. Don’t rush and speak at a slower pace than you might normally speak at.
  • Speak clearly. Introduce pauses after you have made key points. Avoid using filler words such as ‘um’ and ‘er’.
  • Use vocal variety (i.e. vary tone of voice, and volume). When done correctly this will help with audience engagement, and indicate that you have a interest in the topic.
  • Stand with a confident, balanced posture, and make eye contact with the audience.
  • Don’t turn your back on the audience when referring to a slide.

If you happen to be speaking about a subject you are passionate about then great! Try to ensure your natural enthusiasm comes across, because the audience will pick up on this.

10. Set-up any tech correctly

Make sure that your tech is going to work. Try to test connecting your laptop first, and making sure everything works. Bring spare cables, batteries etc. Bring backups of presentation files on external USB drives.

If your slides don’t work, or something fails, your stress levels will rocket and you run a risk of ruining the whole presentation.

Remember that slides should be used only if they add to the communication of the message. Sometimes you don’t need Powerpoint slides.

No matter how much testing you do, tech can still fail. Ensure that you can carry on with the presentation even if your technology dies.

11. Practise

Everything becomes easier with practice, and it is important that you practise your presentation. You can practise in front of a mirror, record yourself on your phone, or practise in front of friends, family and colleagues. Practise with a stopwatch so that you are fully aware of timings.

Practising a solid opening will help to settle your nerves when it comes to delivering the presentation.

12. Come along to Toastmasters

Finally, if you want to super-charge your presenting skills, then come along to a Toastmasters meeting and talk to the members. They’ll be happy to encourage you and to pass on advice which is specific to your presentation.

Conclusion

Presentations are a fact of working life, and being able to present effectively can really improve your career prospects. Toastmasters is an organisation which promotes effective public speaking and leadership skills. Anyone wanting to master the art of presentations should come along to a Toastmasters club and find out how we can help!

For anyone wishing to learn more about effective presentations, including some of the points made here, I recommend reading “Persuade on Purpose”, by Eric Fitzpatrick.

Matt Hegarty

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A Year in the Hot Seat

I have just completed a year as Area 39 Director and what a great experience it has been. Being part of the District Leadership Team has been educational, inspiring and fun. I have learnt a huge amount about how the district works and seen all the effort that goes into supporting Toastmaster clubs and members.

Visiting different Toastmaster Clubs

The best part of the Area Director role for me was meeting so many Toastmasters in the five clubs in Area 39. I loved hearing different speakers as I visited each club, seeing how members carried out their roles, meeting their committees and discovering the distinct ‘personality’ of each club. I was met with friendship and smiles, heard some fantastic speeches, and did a lot of evaluations!

Year in the Hot Seat
Area 39 2019 Humorous Speech winners

Running Speech Contests

Another enjoyable aspect was running the Area 39 speech contests in October and March. I loved seeing how Toastmasters from different clubs stepped up to take on roles in each contest or just came to support their contestants. It was also a similar experience at both Club Officer Training events which I co-organised with Mish Barad, Area 42 Director, as members from clubs across our two areas came together to meet each other, share best practice and learn new skills. Hearing the buzz and energy being generated in each break-out group was wonderful.

Successful Clubs

I was delighted that two Area 39 clubs chartered this year: Walsall Speakers in September and New Street Speakers in March, thanks to the hard work and commitment of their leadership teams. Their success and Shropshire Speakers gaining 10 Distinguished Club Points have contributed to Area 39 ending this Toastmaster year as a President’s Distinguished Area. What a wonderful ending to the year.

Area 39 2019 International Speech and Evaluation Contest winners

By Jill Ming, Area 39 Director for 2018/2019

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What is Toastmasters Like?

When I am asked ‘what is Toastmasters like?’, I always suggest that someone comes along to one of our meetings to find out, because it was not at all what I expected.

What made me want to try Toastmasters?

About two years ago I complimented a business colleague after they delivered a totally compelling 60 second pitch at a networking event we attended. They not only spoke for exactly one minute, but they clearly communicated what they did, how they could help other business owners and what business connections they were seeking. They did this without notes, without nerves and with just the right touch of humour – I was impressed. I asked how they did it and they simply said that they went to Toastmasters!

Naively I thought Toastmasters clubs were elite groups of after-dinner speakers, who were likely to be suited, stuffy and always ready to perform. Therefore, not likely to welcome a self-confessed introvert with a life-long fear of speaking in front of large audiences! My business colleague reassured me that I would be given a warm welcome and that I could come along with her as a guest, to see for myself.

What was Toastmasters actually like?

No-one was suited and no-one was stuffy, but everyone was very friendly and down-to-earth. I was under no pressure to take part unless I wanted to, but I ‘dipped my toe in’ by saying a few words in a very gentle warm up session to introduce guests and members. The meeting was very well-organised and even followed an agenda, but also managed to stay relaxed and supportive throughout. The people delivering prepared speeches each received their very own evaluation from another club member and there were also other participants feeding back on different aspects such as timings and grammar. There was an opportunity for other members and guests (again, only if they wanted to) to have a go at a bit of impromptu speaking – talking for a couple of minutes on a given subject topic – the range of topics that people covered was fascinating.

The most surprising aspect of the evening for me was the emphasis on the importance of ‘listening’ rather than ‘talking’. Everyone was there to learn, not show-off, so the focus of the meeting was all about evaluation, development and self-improvement.

After one meeting, I was hooked – here was a safe and supportive environment in which I could build my public speaking confidence at my own pace. Public speaking is a skill that needs to be learnt and practiced, so finding the right place to do that is so important. I haven’t given any after-dinner speeches, but I do now volunteer to speak and present at networking events, seminars and conferences!

So, what are you waiting for? I look forward to seeing you at our next meeting!

Kay Heald, Vice President Public Relations, Shropshire Speakers 

Kay also runs her own HR consultancy, Kay Heald HR and has been a member of Shropshire Speakers and Toastmasters for over two years.

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Nervous Speaker

Nervous speaker

Would you describe yourself as a reluctant or nervous speaker?

A couple of years ago, this would certainly have described me! When I had to speak in public my mouth would go dry, my hands would shake and my voice would catch in the back of my throat. Not helpful when you’ve been asked to give a presentation to a packed auditorium or deliver that speech at a family event!

Public speaking was something I used to conveniently side-step and avoid where possible. However, as my business grew and developed, I wanted to tackle those nerves, so I could talk about my business with more confidence to more people.

So what did I do?

I didn’t want to invest vast sums of money in intensive (and intimidating) presentation skills courses, so I simply asked the best public speaker I knew how they became so good!

Their answer was surprisingly simple, they said they joined their local Toastmasters Club, Shropshire Speakers, and haven’t looked back.

So, this is precisely what I did too. I attended the first couple of meetings as a guest to see what it was like. The format was structured, but friendly, with opportunities to participate if you wanted to. I really liked the way people could practice their speaking and listening skills in a safe and supportive way, at a pace that suited them.

I have now been part of Toastmasters for two years, a worldwide non-profit educational organisation with over 357,000 members, in 16,600 clubs in 143 countries. The remit of the organisation, since it began in 1924, has been to help people from diverse backgrounds become more confident speakers, communicators and leaders.

Next year I am looking forward to taking part in my first Youth Leadership Programme, which gives teenagers similar opportunities to develop their public speaking skills.

If you no longer want to be a nervous speaker and want to improve your confidence in speaking to an audience or delivering an excellent presentation, please do come along and give Shropshire Speakers a try!

Kay Heald, Vice President Public Relations

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Hat trick!

Hat trick of Competent Communicator awards

Jonathan receiving his Competent Communicator award from President Sam

November has been a ‘hot’ month at Shropshire Speakers with a hat trick of educational achievements. Three of our members – James, Lindsey and Jonathan – have all completed their Toastmasters Competent Communicator awards. Each has delivered ten speeches in which they have developed their speaking skills. Beginning with an icebreaker speech, they have learned how to research and structure their content, use their voice, gestures and movement to best effect, and finally how to persuade and inspire their audience.

All three acknowledge how Toastmasters has helped them to learn new techniques in public speaking and build their confidence when addressing an audience. The results speak for themselves: James has developed his training business, Lindsey was a speaker at TEDx Telford in September, and Jonathan is our friendly Vice-President of Membership at Shropshire Speakers welcoming guests to the club and putting them at ease.

Hats off to James, Lindsey and Jonathan for their fantastic achievements.

 

 

 

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A double win and runner-up

Kyle wins the Area 39 Table Topics contest

Kyle wins the Area 39 Table Topics contest

Toastmaster Kyle Heath has made club history by becoming the first member of Shropshire Speakers to win a double placement in three successive speech contests. His entry in the Humorous Speech contest ‘Breaking the parents’ code’ took him to first place in the club contest in August, along with winning the Table Topics contest.

His next challenge was to compete in the Area 39 contest in October against the best speakers from the three other clubs. Speaking outside your own club is a different experience with new faces in the audience and your fellow competitors an unknown quantity. Kyle won the Table Topics contest and was runner-up in the Humorous Speech contest. As the first and second placed winners went through to the next level, Kyle duly marked 3 November in his calendar and renewed his speech rehearsals.

Kyle's double runner-up achievement at the Division E contest

Kyle’s double runner-up achievement at the Division E contest

The Division E speech contests were held in Warwick on 3 November and attended by over 40 Toastmasters from across the East and West Midlands. The competition was tough with the six best speakers who had made it through their club and area contests vying for a place in the District 71 final next May. On this occasion, only the winner of each contest would go on to the District final. Kyle put on his best performance yet of his humorous speech and did a great table topic about his love of skateboarding. We were delighted when Kyle was declared the runner-up in both the Humorous Speech and Table Topics contests, beating four of the other contestants. Jenny and Jill were there to support Kyle who should be very proud of his achievement.

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Grammar Cakes

Grammar Cakes at Shropshire Speakers

Shropshire Speakers is one of 400 UK public speaking clubs affiliated to Toastmasters International. However, there is so much more to Shropshire Speakers than just delivering speeches. As a member of the Club, you are given the opportunity to develop a whole range of different skills by taking on different roles at each meeting. One of the best ways to hone your listening skills is to be GRAMMARIAN for the evening.

The Grammarian has two roles, one is to introduce new words to members to help increase their word power to enhance their speeches, the other is to comment on the use of English during the course of the meeting. Throughout the meeting the Grammarian is responsible for listening carefully to everyone’s word usage. They are responsible for writing down the language and grammar usage of all speakers, noting incomplete sentences, mispronunciations and grammatical mistakes, as well as particularly good examples of descriptive language. When they gain confidence, Grammarians are encouraged to look out for and report back on examples of:

  • Anaphora– repetition of a word or words across two or more successive phrases eg “There is a time for thinking. There is a time for speaking. And there is a time for action.”
  • Alliteration– using words starting with the same letter or sound together in a group eg “totally tropical taste”
  • Simile/metaphor– saying one thing is like (simile) or literally is (metaphor) something else eg “I was like a kid in a sweet shop” or “Public speaking was my Mount Everest”
  • Onomatopoeia – formation of a word from a sound associated with it eg quack, spit, purr, hiss

and

  • Hyperbole(hy-per-bo-lee) – deliberate exaggeration for emphasis or humorous effect eg “There must have been a million people in front of me in the queue”

At our last meeting, Club member, Denise Beaumont, was an excellent Grammarian and gave a deliciously sweet twist to the Grammarian role by producing a freshly baked batch of ‘Grammar Cakes’ to help illustrate different grammatical devices that we can all use to enhance our speeches. Denise commented, “I feel I learn a wealth of information in the short time we get together and always feel learning should be filled with as much creativity as possible! The cakes are a note of thanks to the group for the inclusion as well as an edible education”.

We are hoping that Grammar Cakes can become a regular feature of the Shropshire Speakers’ meetings!

If you have yet to visit us, why not come along for FREE. We meet on the first and third Wednesday at Ramada Telford from 7.15pm and there may even be freshly baked ‘Grammar Cakes’!

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