A 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 Toastmasters 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.

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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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President of Shropshire Speakers, a Toastmasters Club

Jenny Gater President of Shropshire Speakers 2016/7

I sit. Waiting to be called up to the front of the Club.

It’s an honour. It’s scary.  It’s a challenge.  I’m apprehensive.  I’m excited.  I’m nervous.  I think I feel sick, no, it’s nerves (get a grip!). My heart is pounding. It’s supposed to (if it wasn’t you’d really be in trouble)! It’s a privilege.  Yes.

These were thoughts and feelings going around my head on the Committee election night in June last year.

… and your Shropshire Speakers incoming President is … Me!  Now I know what it is – it’s an opportunity!

I was given the blue ribbon presidential regalia and the pin badge and I had stepped up to lead the Club for the next year, from July 2016 to June 2017.

Toastmasters is not only the place for you to improve, practice and overcome your fear of public speaking, but also to build leadership skills.

But how did I get to be President?

Within the Toastmaster’s year we have opportunities to enter speech competitions. At one of these club level contests I entered with a speech entitled “My Rogue Right Hand” in which I relayed how my rogue right hand had propelled me into many and varied situations by volunteering. Maybe it wasn’t a surprise that with not much prompting “my hand was up” for President. (The hand goes up and then the head thinks about the consequences a few minutes after, then it’s too late to back out).

Shropshire Speakers PresidentYou won’t believe what happened next …

Once I had volunteered, then the thoughts of self-doubt crept in, but the inner Toastie was rational:

What have I done? You stepped up. That’s good.

Can I do it? Of course, why shouldn’t you?

Can I change my mind? If you really, really wanted to, of course, but try it first.

What do I do? Ask the previous President, consult the club officer’s handbook. People will help – they don’t want you to fail. Attend club officer training.

I’m not like the previous president! Of course you’re not, the previous President was a man for a start – you’re a woman! Put your own stamp on the role.

Nervous – It’s a new role (perfectly normal).

Not sure I can delegate – Try it and see what happens.

What if I make a mistake? Think of the 99% of things that went well.  Learn from the mistakes, reflect, talk it over with someone and move on.

Of course, having good role models to follow was helpful and all of the Committee offered help, support and advice. If I needed anything, all I had to do was ask.

So, my first club night as President arrived. What will I say as my opening line to make an impact?

“Welcome to Shropshire Speakers, my name is Jenny and when I started coming to the club 5 years ago, I never saw myself taking this role, but look at me now!” (big beaming smile)

One year down the line, I hand the role to someone else who maybe has the same concerns I had, but now, as Immediate Past President (I have a pin for that too), I can share my experience and offer support if required. Yes, I really enjoyed it.

Whatever your role at work, leadership skills are a real bonus.

What did I learn whilst being President?

I learnt how to:

  • represent the Club at area level meetings including liaison with the Area Director
  • chair committee meetings via Skype.
  • support other committee members (I know more than I think)
  • trust the committee members to carry out their roles
  • delegate
  • cascade information
  • seek advice
  • promote events and the Toastmasters brand
  • give out awards at club nights
  • guide the Club to gain DCP (Distinguished Club Programme) points
  • step up and take on new challenges

I also learnt what a great feeling it is to help win the Presidents Distinguished Club Award for a second year running!

My year as President ended by stepping into the Vice-President Education role – watch this space!

Jenny Gater, Past President and Vice-President, Education

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Shropshire Speakers Birth and Growth

Birth of Shropshire Speakers

The Birth and Growth of a Chartered Toastmasters Club

It was a cold February afternoon in 2010 when one of my coaching clients asked me to support her when attending a speaking club in Birmingham for the first time, as she hoped to improve her presence and confidence. I was happy to oblige and attended the club night at Bullring Speakers with her.

It was a friendly place and it was full of wonderful ordinary people. It seemed to have a nice balance of age, gender and nationalities. I remember enjoying the evening, and there were three speeches, three evaluations, a round of impromptu speaking and some evaluations of the meeting in general.  It had a nice energy about it and on leaving we were advised that there was a club in our own town of Telford.

We sought it out and found a small band of 5 or so members trying to get the club going. I remember Alan Adams was the one trying to drive it forward. I have to thank Alan, because even though it dwindled further as personal and business commitments drew people away, it left me with an amazing opportunity. As the sole member I had a choice.  Wrap it up or really go for it! I had attended an Area Training event for club officers with Tina Swani as the Area Governor, and she had used my dilemma as a project for the teams from all five clubs to work on in the training session. At the end of the meeting I had enough ideas and offers of support to feel that I should go for it!

To cut a long (3 year story) short, after a lot of support and guidance from Spa Speakers members (our sponsor club), and a lot of promotional evenings, leaflet dropping, advertising, building a website, and even going on BBC Radio Shropshire we were able to charter as we had achieved more than 20 members in March 2013.  We celebrated with a posh dinner and the District Governor, Freddie Daniels and the Area Governor, John Cox joined us for the evening, which made it really special. It felt pretty awesome to receive our official banner with our club name on it.

From here on it was onwards and upwards!

Sam Warner, Get Your Message Across

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Keeping Time

Keeping time is a very important concept in Toastmasters.

A few years ago, I attended some corporate training on Communication and
Leadership skills. For one of the exercises, we were split into small groups,
and each group was given a document of some twenty pages in length. The task
was simple: As a group, we had to review the document and then give a
ten minute presentation summarising the information we had read.

However, there was a catch: we would fail the task if we ran over the allotted time of
ten minutes! This challenge was a mixture of team-working, operating under pressure, and
presentation skills.

The group I was in was the only group to successfully completed the task. All the other groups ran wildly over the time allowed, which meant that at the ten minute mark they had to gabble as much information as possible, whilst apologising to the audience
and trainers for running over.

I didn’t find this task too challenging. I made sure that I volunteered to be
the last speaker in our group (we all took turns). I knew that my job would be
to wrap-up and finish on time with a suitable conclusion. I made sure that I
kept a careful note of the time we started and how long we had been running, so
that when I got up to speak, I knew exactly how long I had left.

How has Shropshire Speakers and Toastmasters helped with Keeping Time?

I would not have had these time-keeping skills were it not for my experience in speaking at
Shropshire Speakers. Keeping to time is a core concept that underpins all our
meetings.

Shropshire Speakers' Mags O'Brien performing the Timekeeper role

Shropshire Speakers’ Mags O’Brien performing the Timekeeper role

Indeed, one of the club roles is to be Timekeeper, which means being
in charge of the Red-Amber-Green lighting system, and having the power to
‘buzz’ a speaker if they run even one second over the allotted time. Not only
does this practice keep our meetings running to time, but also ensures that our
speakers learn the importance of structuring speeches in order to effectively
fill the stage time they have been given. The use of the Red-Amber-Green
lights gives fair warning of how much time is remaining.

Running over time is one of the deadly sins of public speaking. Conversely, having a sound grasp of running time and finishing on time with a solid conclusion is one of the characteristics of an accomplished and experienced speaker. If you would like to learn more about public speaking and keeping time, then I recommend you attend one of our meetings to find out more.

Matt Hegarty, Shropshire Speakers Committee Member

Director at Bellaport Systems Ltd

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My First Toastmasters Speech

My first Toastmasters Speech

21st June – what a wonderful evening! I took the bold step to deliver my first Toastmasters speech and receive evaluation.

My speech title, ‘Lifting the Lid’, proved to be an epic to share my life moments and experience! I spoke about my curious character, passion for cricket, past achievements, professional experience and the happy moments of my personal life.

I succeeded in keeping my listeners’ attention and received lots of very positive feedback from them all. Thanks to the Shropshire speakers and esteemed guests for making it such an enriching learning experience.

How I prepared my first Toastmasters speech?

Reading the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual gave me lots of useful information to prepare the speech. The main objective of the speech was to introduce myself in 4-6 minutes and receive an assessment about my current speaking skills. I Googled public speaking and checked how other Toastmasters speakers presented ice-breaker talks. I found out about structuring, opening and closing the speech. To calm my nerves, I linked the speech together, but struggled to find a way to conclude it. My mentor helped guide me, sharing his own experiences, so that I could find a way. Finally, I decided to conclude the speech in an elegant manner by describing my Goliath dreams!

“I want to become a renowned speaker and an author. Also, to be an elite social entrepreneur and philanthropist. I believe I have a way to go, but Toastmasters will certainly prove to be the right partner in achieving my dreams.”

How I pitched my Toastmasters speech differently?

I wanted to make an impact, so started with my back to the audience with outstretched arms. I described the meaning of my name and also used visual aids with colourful photos, to help build the gravity of my speech and capture the listeners’ attention.

I have found the feedback really useful and I know that with practice and patience, I will be able to achieve my long term dreams.

Do join us for an evening and receive an amazing experience at the amiable group of Shropshire Speakers!

Ashish Jain

Follow Ashish on:

 

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Public Speaking: No Looking Back

Public Speaking No looking back

Finding out about Shropshire Speakers

It was a phone conversation with my brother in Canada when I first learnt about Toastmasters. He had just joined in Vancouver and recommended that I go along to a club in Shropshire. Intrigued by this, I decided to Google ‘Toastmasters’ and a few clicks later I was reading all about Shropshire Speakers.

I’ll be honest with you, I have a mind that will talk itself out of most opportunities.  For some reason, it will always see the negatives: What if I don’t enjoy it? What if no one speaks to me? etc… Thus, it took a few weeks before I decided to take the plunge and attend one of the meetings.

Joining Shropshire Speakers

I always remember my mother telling me you will enjoy it when you get there normally on the way to school or something similar to calm my nerves.

On this occasion my mother’s old adage was true, I certainly did enjoy it. I was greeted by friendly and smiling faces and felt more than welcome. I returned for a few meetings as a guest until I decided to join as a full member. It didn’t take me long to realise the benefits of joining.

I have now been a member for twelve months and have no regrets in taking the plunge last year.

So why did I join I hear you asking? Primarily it was to boost my self-confidence, communication skills and public speaking. What I didn’t appreciate at the time of joining was that you can expect to learn and improve a whole host of skills, from leadership, the ability to evaluate, give and receive constructive feedback and thinking while you speak.

Public Speaking: No Looking Back

If you’re looking for a club that could benefit all aspects of your life, this is it. There’s no looking back, it has helped me both socially and also given me the confidence to set up my new plant hire business. Come along and see for yourself. If you don’t believe me, listen to my mother “You’ll enjoy it when you get there”!

Jonathan Quin, Managing Director of Inigma UK Ltd 

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Public Speaking: Sheep Dip or Slow Grow?

Public Speaking with Shropshire Speakers

How to improve your public speaking, without breaking the bank

The Sheep Dip Approach

Early in my career, like many people working for a big company, I was sent on a few courses on public speaking and presentation skills.  These one-day courses covered everything from breathing, posture and body language through to planning the structure and content of your speech and the use of visual aids.  Towards the end of the day, everyone would have a few minutes of practice which was critiqued and then we went away with a note of all our ‘areas to work on.’

My bad habits include a tendency to talk too quickly, using filler words such as ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘so’ and clasping my hands in nervousness.  Like learning to drive or getting fit, it is hard to eradicate your bad habits and learn advanced techniques all in one go.  You are more likely to succeed by learning new skills and embracing good habits over time with regular practice.

So, while I might have left the one-day ‘sheep dip’ training course with a list of good intentions, I didn’t really make an effort to practice regularly and take a more sustained approach to working on my skills.

The Slow Grow Approach

Several years ago, I was invited to speak at a rather important conference and decided to invest in some one-to-one coaching.  The coach that I worked with was fabulous, and it was certainly effective for the speech that we were focused on.  But it was quite costly, so only really an option for major events and I was not sure that it succeeded in changing many of my behaviours in the long term.

Then, a couple of years ago, I was invited to give a presentation in Poland to a conference of Polish and German lawyers.  Delighted at the prospect of international travel, but daunted by the make-up of the audience, I decided that the cost of more coaching was a necessary investment. Then a friend mentioned Shropshire Speakers.

The Shropshire Speakers group, which is a member of the international Toastmasters network, offers members an opportunity to work on every aspect of their speaking skills at their own pace in a very supportive environment.  The tried and tested programme follows a series of exercises, each of which encourages you to focus on one aspect of your performance such as body language or vocal variety.

As each speech exercise is around seven minutes long, it is not too onerous to prepare and rehearse.  It is certainly long enough to stretch you and too long to wing it!

You also get to listen to other speakers (and pinch note their good ideas and techniques).  As everyone shares the same objective, there is lots of support and constructive feedback. It is fantastic value for money, but the key benefit is that, with regular practice, over time you really do learn to suppress bad habits and develop new techniques.

I would recommend it to anyone who has tried the sheep-dip approach, and is wondering if a longer-term approach to continuous improvement might be more beneficial (and affordable).

Sue Bramall

MD of Berners Marketing, a consultancy specialising in marketing for law firms

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