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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Toastmasters Conferences

Toastmasters ConferencesCome to Conference!

A remarkable event happens each May in Toastmaster Districts 71 and 91 in the UK and Ireland: members and guests from across the land converge for conferences and great things happen. Thanks to the incredible efforts of volunteer conference teams, an exciting programme of workshops and keynotes are assembled for our delight, culminating in the district finals of the evaluation and international speech contests. Oh – and did I mention the partying?

I was fortunate to attend both district conferences recently and came away informed, invigorated and inspired. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect is meeting fellow Toastmasters from clubs across the land. Everyone is friendly and of course it’s hard for Toastmasters not to talk so it gets pretty noisy during the breaks!

Toastmasters Conferences

We have fun too!

At the District 91 conference in Bracknell, I particularly enjoyed Glen Savage’s workshop on storytelling with his ‘secret sauce to sizzling and successful speaking‘, Clinton Wingrove’s talk on super-teams and the power of the word ‘respect’, and of course Toastmaster CEO Dan Rex’s keynote on leadership. The speech contest was a cracking event with some stellar performances and two amazing winners in Fabio de Sio (1) and Eric Skates (2).

The following weekend in Cork, District 71 put on a packed three-day event with more excellent speakers. My highlights were former District Director Luanne Kent’s workshop on body language, James McGinty’s ‘Table topics for the terrified‘ which had us conjuring up as many uses as we could think for – a brick, and Simon Bucknell’s powerful keynote address. The first and second place winners of the speech contest, Deirdre Linehan (1) and Anne Dooley (2) were superb, and the high standard of the other contestants was inspiring.

Norwich in Norfolk will be the location of next year’s District 71 conference on 9-12 May, and District 91’s will be in Ashford in Kent on 4-5 May. If you have the opportunity to attend, I urge you to take it and join the exuberant, lively and friendly world of Toastmasters conference.

Find out what it is like to attend a Toastmasters International Convention.

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A Toastmaster’s Journey

Toastmaster's journey

One of the main benefits of Toastmasters is that there is a structured plan for learning and development available to all members.  This includes practical tasks specifically designed to improve Public Speaking and Leadership skills.

Toastmasters is currently in the process of transitioning from the long-standing educational plan to a new, more flexible plan called Pathways.

Here is a short interview with one of our members, Sonya, who reflects on her Toastmaster’s journey.  In just over a year, Sonya has completed both of the first structured learning plans:  Competent Communicator and Competent Leader.

Please introduce yourself and tell us why you joined Shropshire Speakers?

My name is Sonya and I have been a member of Shropshire Speakers since January 2017.

To begin with I wanted to be a better Speaker and to be able to gain more confidence in this area.
I found the club online and it was located just around the corner from where I lived.  I went to the club out of interest to see what they were all about.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of attending the club?

I think the first thing that you need to overcome is the fact that you think you can’t do this, when really you can, and then to actually get your foot through the door and push yourself forward, and start attending these meetings.

What do you feel have been your main achievements during your time with Shropshire Speakers?

During my time at Shropshire Speakers I have managed to complete my Competent Communicator Award.  This comprised of ten structured speeches up to seven minutes long, which I enjoyed doing. I have continued on to complete my Bronze Award which was also obtained while I attended another Speaking club in Ludlow.

This brings me to where I am now. I am ready to receive my Competent Leadership Award which has now been completed.  It has been a focused journey and I have met some really nice people along the way.  I now look forward to continually moving on, and to see the new start of Pathways.

Find out what it’s like to be a Shropshire Speakers Club President.

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Youth Leadership Program (YLP) Legacy

Youth Leadership Program

Have you ever wondered why they don’t teach public speaking and presentation skills in school?  Aren’t schools supposed to be helping the younger generation to become work-ready? 

Well, it transpires that they have specific targets for academic subjects that they must meet and exceed if they hope to secure their funding and position in the league tables.  Instead of this being a bad thing – I see it as an opportunity for Toastmasters to give back to the community.

Toastmasters International provides learning materials to Toastmaster members who would like to deliver the Youth Leadership Program to local schools and youth organisations.  It consists of 8-10 weekly sessions of approx. 90 mins and culminates in a Showcase event where the children can show off their new skills to their friends, family and teachers.

I have been fortunate to have run a successful series of these programs at different schools in the Telford area.  In fact the last school I went to was so impressed they asked me to come back and do it all again with a new group of children.  I ask for the quiet kids and the disruptive kids as they are the ones who need to find their voice the most.  Often these kids are also the most able and it’s a real treat to see them develop this life-skill right in front of my eyes.

The parents and teachers are blown away at the transformation and the kids themselves are surprised and happy that they have overcome something so significant (fear of speaking in front of others, or fear of not being heard or included).

The Youth Leadership Program agenda is packed and fast-paced. The things we cover in the YLP include chairmanship, listening skills, evaluations, responsibility through meeting roles, speaking techniques like vocal variety, body language and gestures, stagecraft, preparing and delivering content, choosing topics, structure, getting to the point, humour, storytelling and grabbing the audience’s attention.  Often the children will ask to speak in assembly or join a debating team afterwards, as they get a real taste for it.  We even had someone join the Youth Parliament afterwards!

If you know of any schools in Telford that might be interested in running the program, then let us know on 07973 490150.

Sam Warner, Youth Leadership Program Co-Ordinator 

 

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Competent Communication

competent communication

The Competent Communicator is the first public speaking certification offered by Toastmasters. When you become a member, you receive a book called Competent Communication, containing 10 speech projects, each outlining a speaking skill to practice via a prepared speech at a Toastmasters meeting.

Competent Communication Speech 1: The Ice Breaker

The goal of your first speech is to just get up there and kick off your speaking practice and benchmark your skills. To make the experience a little easier, the topic is something you know very well – yourself. This is a slightly shorter speech (4-6 minutes instead of the usual 5-7 minutes) and can be about anything related to you.

Topics could include a holiday you went on, a turning point in life, influential mentors, and favourite hobbies.  You could even talk about how you ended up in a Toastmasters meeting!

Competent Communication Speech 2: Organize Your Speech

For your second speech, you focus on the organization and clarity of outline. Make sure to include and practice an opening and conclusion, and have no more than three clear points in between.

Competent Communication Speech 3: Get to the Point

Your third speech should have a key message – state your key message early and use your material to provide supporting points, and reiterate your key message in your conclusion..

Competent Communication Speech 4: How to Say It

For this speech, you focus on the actual words and delivery of your speech, including word choice, sentence structure, and rhetorical devices. Typically speeches involve topics that lend themselves to evoking the senses (the smell and taste of food, or the colours and sounds of a big event).

Competent Communication Speech 5: Your Body Speaks

Now we turn to your body language during your speech – posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, and stagecraft.

Competent Communication Speech 6: Vocal Variety

Next up, you practice varying your voice in terms of voice pitch, pace, and pauses. Vocal variety is a great way to keep your audience engaged in your speech.

Competent Communication Speech 7: Research Your Topic

It’s a great chance to pick a topic you don’t already know, but that you are interested in. For this speech, you want to make sure to back up arguments with research and evidence and share that evidence to make your speech stronger.

Competent Communication Speech 8: Visual Aids

Many of our presentations do include a visual component – often a PowerPoint presentation – and this is your opportunity to employ visual aids in a positive way (no death by PPT please!). You can also mix things up with props or even by drawing on a whiteboard or flipchart instead of using PPT, (remembering to face the audience whenever you speak.)

Competent Communication Speech 9: Persuade with Power

Now it’s time to get in the mind of your audience and learn how to deliver a powerful, persuasive message.  You could use a debate, something topical or something you are particularly passionate about.

Competent Communication Speech 10: Inspire Your Audience

For your 10th speech – the final speech of the Competent Communication certification – you pull together all the skills practiced in the first 9 speeches to deliver a killer presentation that inspires your audience. Make them think, be memorable for all the right reasons.

What’s Next?

The Advanced Communicator Track consists of 15 different project books (usually of 5 projects each) which allow you to specialise in the areas you are most interested in and want to develop in. You complete two advanced books per level.  On completion of these you will achieve the following:

  • Advanced Communication Bronze
  • Advanced Communication Silver
  • Advanced Communication Gold

Knocking that out of the park, in conjunction with the advanced leadership certification, will earn you status as Distinguished Toastmaster.

What are you waiting for?

 

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World Championship of Public Speaking: Flags, Fellowship and Fun

World Championship of Public SpeakingOver 3,000 delegates from 142 countries, 927 of us attending our first Toastmasters International Convention. Big numbers for the biggest event in the Toastmasters year, yet it felt cosily familiar. Educational presentations, keynote speakers, a contest and networking, but on a bigger scale – a much bigger scale. Despite its size, the gathering felt like being among friends. I met people from the US, Canada, China, Malaysia, Jamaica, Germany, Australia and many other countries. The friendliness was incredible, everyone making an effort to connect and exchange ideas and experiences about their clubs and districts.

The speech semifinals were inspiring, sometimes moving, and a feast of stories and experiences. I attended three in one day – a total of 31 speeches – and admit to feeling emotionally exhausted but also uplifted by the end. Many of us conducted a personal assessment of each contestant’s speech using the judging criteria and the expertise left me in awe of the difficulty facing the judges in the face of such high quality speeches.

The World Championship of Public Speaking final set the bar at the highest level. Each finalist had to have TWO speeches, and delivered their second speech in the final. It’s hard enough to come up with one championship speech so the awe levels were tweaked up yet another notch. Such was the challenge facing the judges that no fewer than 25 were required. The 2017 Championship was awarded to Manoj Vasudevan, an Indian living in Singapore, who was a deserving winner. It was particularly thrilling that Simon Bucknall from Streatham in District 91 in the UK achieved second place. I met him in the street the following day and he was still in shock but absolutely delighted. He said he was overcome by the incredible support he had received, both at the convention and from his club and district.

The Toastmasters International Convention was a fantastic event that opened my eyes to the sheer diversity, support, and friendliness of Toastmasters across the globe. An unforgettable experience.

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