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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Warning: Shropshire Speakers can seriously change your life!

Try Shropshire Speakers

I joined Shropshire Speakers in January to help tackle a longstanding fear of public speaking.

Other than being a Telford-based club affiliated to Toastmasters, I knew very little about the Shropshire Speakers Group. I assumed that the meetings would be a bit intimidating, but I was completely wrong.

I attended the first two meetings as a guest and was instantly struck by the friendliness of everyone I met. There was a genuine warmth that I had not expected and although the meetings were very well structured and organised, they were also a lot of fun!  Guests were encouraged to participate, but only if they felt comfortable to do so – there was no hard-sell to join, but the energy and enthusiasm was infectious!

I now realise that there is so much more to Shropshire Speakers than just talking. Already, I have been able to:

  • Develop my listening skills
  • Practice evaluation
  • Learn to give and receive constructive feedback
  • Try out different management roles that involve me ‘thinking on my feet’ and communicating more clearly

This is all in addition to improving my actual presentation and public speaking skills.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your confidence in speaking to an audience or delivering an excellent presentation, I urge you to come along and give Shropshire Speakers a try – I think you’ll be quite surprised!

I never thought I would say this … but I’m actually looking forward to delivering my next talk!

Kay Heald

Kay Heald runs her own HR Consultancy in Shropshire

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Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

How can you create a great speech that asks you to use visual aids, without resorting to ‘death by Powerpoint’?

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezey

That would be ‘Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy’, if Jessie Barstow’s speech was anything to go by. We all looked extremely curious as Jessie walked into the room with a veggie box full of lemons, oranges, glass jars and some other items we couldn’t quite fathom from where we were sat. Very interesting.

She walked to the front of the room and proceeded to organise herself for her speech. She set up a table and took out a chopping board, a knife and a lemon as well as an empty jar. Was she preparing for Masterchef?

Jessie’s speech ‘Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy’, was about the benefits of producing your own cleaning products and she showed us what we needed to do. She presented us with information that was clear and entertaining. She took a plastic glass and put a big chunk of lemon in it – what now we thought? She explained that this next component was essential when using lemons. She poured herself a Gin and Tonic out of a can – hilarious. Who couldn’t agree.

I loved this speech by Jessie. It was very entertaining and she used out of the veggie box thinking to deliver a great speech, and to show that you can use great visual aids without resorting to death by Powerpoint.

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Winning numbers – what will yours be?

I don’t play Bingo or do the lottery (well not often),  but over the last few meetings we have had some  winning numbers  enhance our club night.  We couldn’t make such strides of achievement  if we  galumphed through an evening it just wouldn’t be right.  It’s great when an evening evolves with a  theme almost by  osmosis  and we’ve certainly had a ripple of winning numbers recently.

Big Winning

The 4 V’s,  Matt our president started a  meeting with ‘Big Data’ telling us about the evaluation of 100,000 presentations and what had been  identified as making them effective.  They were:

Verbal – The words that you choose, appropriate and in context.

Vocal – Volume, rate, cadence, make sure you engage the listener.

Visual – Body language, does it match what you are saying?  Use gestures make eye contact with your audience.

Vitals –  Are you authentic? Do you exude passion and warmth?

More Winners

We welcomed 5 guests to the meeting and 1 became a new member Jessie having dipped her toe in and tested us out found us to be warm and inviting and decided  to join us.  Welcome Jessie we hope you will get out everything you want from the group and I’ve no doubt we will learn from Jessie as she has already demonstrated an excellent ability at impromptu speaking.

Triple Winners

3 Amazing and varied speeches 2 ice breaker speeches and an advanced speaker speech.   Our youngest member Ben took his first step up the toastmaster ladder with a well-planned ice breaker “allow me to introduce myself “he took us on his journey to join Toastmasters and his aspirations for the future.  Abdul told us in his ice breaker of his experience of his first teaching job in a tough London school and his thought process for how to tackle it.

Matt as the 3rd and final speaker delivered his 5th speech from the Entertaining speaker book entitled “The 8-million-dollar decision” which was delivered as an after dinner speech and had the whole audience engaged in the story about the problem at the factory and how it was solved.  Complete with props of conveyor belt, box, chair and fan!

Club Winner

9 Distinguished Club Programme (DCP) points.   This means as a Club we have earned the title Presidents Distinguished Club.  Points are earned for attaining various goals throughout the Toastmaster year  including offering training opportunities to club committee officers, growing the club, but  overall reflects the work  put into proactively encouraging new members to join and achieve their personal goals through speaking.   We are very pleased to achieve this goal and will most certainly be celebrating our achievement of this winning number soon.

Gold Winner

And last but not least Sam Warner achieved her Toastmaster Advanced Communicator Gold the culmination of over 50 speeches over 6 years.  Well done Sam we’re very proud the first Advanced Communicator Gold achiever in Shropshire Speakers.

Toastmasters International – Shropshire Speakers – A winning combination – see you soon.

 

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The Double Delight Leadership Summit

The Clock Warehouse

Training venue

Its a winner ! Great idea! The Double Delight Leadership Summit was a joint training event held in a meeting room  at The Clock Warehouse in Derby  home of  East Midlands speakers  .  A picturesque pub on the  canal side with a huge weeping willow at the front and  barges moored beneath it.  The ‘joint’ element of the event was the temporary reuniting of  clubs from area 39 and 6. A rearranging of Toastmaster area boundaries meant East Midlands are now in a different area.

We started the weekend on the Friday evening  with a talk by Freddie Daniells (former head of toastmasters international for Great Britain and Ireland) on preparing a speech for the international speech contest. Freddie’s talk was  both  illuminating and inspiring giving us numerous tips and insights on how to write,  plan, collect inspiration and deliver a speech fit for competitions.

Some of  my notes from the event included the advice there are  5 elements of a story (speech):

  1. Situation
  2. Main character
  3. A goal
  4. An obstacle
  5. A journey to success

Stories ideally should contain these 5 elements.  Humour helps the message be heard and many other snippets that I personally need to work on. We carried on sharing ideas over a meal in the pub.

The Saturday training involved a jam packed day  of talks around leadership and running toastmaster  clubs. Topics such as Evaluation in the workplace by Freddie Daniells, Leadership by Angela Armstrong, the Autistic toastmaster by Sam Warner and the importance of mentoring by Tanya  Barad to name a few.

These events are open to any members of toastmasters but as a club we had  good  representation with 5 committee members attending.   Attendance  at these events helps us to bring back new ideas to try in the club.   We are working towards being a distinguished club which is a club programme indicating that we are a proactive club.

The day was indeed a  double delight seeing familiar faces again picking up tips and  ideas to use both in the club and the workplace.  Clubs from both  areas agreed it was a successful day.

 

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Top Tips for Wedding Speeches

Champagne glasses toasting at a wedding

At Shropshire Speakers, we sometimes get enquiries from men who are facing the prospect of speaking in front of 100+ guests at a wedding, either as the Father of the Bride, Best Man or Groom.

This is a unique challenge in our society, and for many men, a wedding speech will be the biggest public speaking challenge of their lives. Often, the prospect of having to stand-up and ‘entertain’ can be an acutely nerve-wracking experience.

Having been a Best Man myself, and having spoken dozens of times at our regular Toastmaster meetings and also at club competitions, I have put together the following simple tips which can help reduce the stress, and hopefully help get you to the point where you will deliver a speech to be proud of. However, I would emphasise that these tips are a ‘starting point’, and to deliver a quality speech requires time and effort.

1. Do your research
Regardless of how well you know the subject of your speech, asking friends and family can help to draw out the raw material to construct your speech from. Spend time speaking to people close to the subject to gather as much information as you can. Make notes from any conversations, as this will help you to structure your speech later on.
2. Think about structure
Once you have your material, think carefully about how this can be organised into a coherent, structured speech. Look for themes and common elements. Think about an opening, a main body and a conclusion. Avoid writing the speech out word-for-word at this stage, because the general ideas are more important.
3. Distil your message
Think carefully about what the central message of your speech is. What do you really want to say about the subject? The structure of your speech should build towards delivering this central message. The raw material you gathered previously should support your message.
4. Don’t be controversial
Professional speakers will often check in advance if there are any subjects that should be avoided. It is prudent to follow this example. The best speeches will still bomb if you inadvertently offend someone. I would also suggest avoiding any crude or risqué jokes unless you know your audience won’t be offended: “if in doubt, leave it out”.
5. Don’t nick material off the internet
How many occasion speakers use Google as the starting point for finding material? Don’t bother. Most people will have heard the gags before, and they will cheapen your speech.
6. Keep it simple
Avoid too much content. A Best Man’s speech would ideally be 10-15 minutes. A groom or Father’s speech 5-10 minutes. How many of us have sat through a 45 minute epic?
7. Practice
The goal is to have the speech clear in your head, but not to appear over-polished. Ideally, if you are confident enough to do so, deliver the speech without notes (this will make the speech appear more natural and enable you to engage with the audience). However, cue-cards and notes are fine. Try to avoid reading directly word-for-word from a sheet of A4.
8. Cover the practicalities
Find out as much as you can on the day. Is there a PA system? Can you test it? Where will you be standing? What order are the speeches in? Top tip: visiting the room before anyone arrives (if you can) and standing in the spot from where you will deliver the speech can help calm your nerves.
9. Avoid alcohol
My suggestion: save the boozy celebrations until after the speech.
10. Control nerves
Unless you are super-confident and / or an experienced public speaker, then some nerves are to be expected. However, you should strive to avoid letting the nerves detract from the speech. It is ok to be nervous – the audience won’t mind, as long as you have taken time to prepare an appropriate and fitting speech. Try to remember that your job is to pay tribute to the subject of the speech (daughter, groom, bride, etc), and that above all, if you achieve this then you will have done your job.

Remember also that the audience will be on your side, as they will (hopefully) be in a good mood and ready to enjoy themselves. When delivering the speech, take your time, don’t rush, and use short pauses after punchlines to cue the audience to respond (ie laugh).

11. Join Toastmasters
Search online for your local Toastmasters club and go along to see what it’s all about.
Toastmasters is all about improving one’s public speaking and leadership skills.
As a member, you’ll get to practice speaking in front of an audience in an environment where it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. The more you put in, the more you will get out, but after just a few sessions your confidence and delivery will improve.

These pointers have scratched the surface. If you want to succeed, you should take on the responsibility of preparing a classy speech, which will mean an amount of affort and practice. However, the feeling of sitting down after having delivered a speech to be proud of, is one that will stay with you for life.

As a follow-up, I recommend The Best Man Speaker by Toastmaster and Champion Public Speaker, Simon Bucknall. (There are elements of this book which will help even if you are not a Best Man).

Matt Hegarty

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