Saturday, 13 August 2011

Toastmasters Public Speaking Group Post #1

I've always been interested in public speaking as I need to do it in my sales job for prospective customer presentations, (and making a good job at it is often the deal clincher); but as well as that I've always admired people who do it well as most people I know (including me) consider it to be a nerve-wracking exercise. So nerve wracking in fact that I think I must've found about twenty articles about how to combat nerves in public speaking on ehow.com - just the nerves element! Clearly it’s something that a lot of people worry about and find stressful.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to join a speakers club for a while and a few weeks ago I went along as a guest to one in Stanmore. They're part of the Toastmasters International network of speakers groups.

This is some information from the Toastmasters website:

Welcome to Toastmasters International


Looking to improve your speaking and leadership skills? Ignite your career? Win that job interview?

You’ve come to the right place. Since 1924, more than 4 million people around the world have become more confident speakers and leaders because of their participation in Toastmasters.

Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Today, our membership is 260,000 strong. These members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 12,500-plus clubs that make up our global network of meeting locations.

Membership in Toastmasters is one of the greatest investments you can make in yourself. At $27 every six months, it is also one of the most cost-effective skill-building tools available anywhere.

How Does It Work?

  • A Toastmasters meeting is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a friendly atmosphere. A typical group has 20 to 40 members who meet weekly, biweekly or monthly. A typical meeting lasts 60 – 90 minutes.
  • There is no instructor in a Toastmasters meeting. Instead, members evaluate one another’s presentations. This feedback process is a key part of the program’s success. Meeting participants also give impromptu talks on assigned topics, conduct meetings and develop skills related to timekeeping, grammar and parliamentary procedure.
  • Members learn communication skills by working in the Competent Communication manual, a series of 10 self-paced speaking assignments designed to instil a basic foundation in public speaking.

That was copied and pasted directly from the Toastmasters website.

My experience was pretty much exactly as outlined above. My group meets once a month and there were about twenty people there including around four to five first timers like me who were all there for the same reason, to learn or polish their public speaking skills. I found the atmosphere to be very supportive with an emphasis on constructive evaluation - everything gets evaluated, including evaluations of evaluations! But this is the best way to learn, in an environment where everyone is in the same boat and everyone wants everyone else to do well.

As well as prepared speeches there was a section where people had to give a short off the cuff speech totally unprepared which they call 'Table Topics'. I gather that they choose something different each month as a subject, this month the idea was to give a short acceptance speech for a fictitious (and ludicrous) award that you had just won. I was chosen and I had to give a convincing rendition of why I was delighted, surprised and grateful to win the Best Nuclear Power Plant Designer Award. :-) It was a lot of fun.

There is a curriculum which I haven't seen yet but presumably starts with easy tasks and gets harder as you go along, but I shall report on that next time I go (which for me will be in September). But I'll definitely be joining.

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Other posts on a similar theme:

Toastmasters Public Speaking Group Post #2
Toastmasters Public Speaking Group Post #3
Presentation Skills Training from around the World
Cool Public Speaking Quote