I’ve always enjoyed public speaking. I thought I was a natural at it. One of my first public speaking moments was during 4H when I was a 4H ambassador. As an ambassador, we were required to participate at local events to raise awareness for the organization. At one of these I had to introduce myself and what I did at 4H. I remember making a joke about switching to showing horses after showing chickens for a year. Because anyone who’s been in the chicken barn for more than a few moments knows how bad it smells. That got a pretty good laugh from the crowd.
In high school I joined the Forensics club. No, not the cool club that investigates long-dead bodies. This Forensics club gave monolog speeches and acted out scenes without looking at or touching each other. The only props we could use were our stools. Our club was good enough to make it to finals at Mackinaw Island, MI. Unfortunately, my scene didn’t place. I was happy enough to be on the island, surrounded by horses drawn carriages and fudge.
It was a long time before I took on any more speaking roles. Of course, I had to give presentations in college and at work. Those aren’t the same as standing in front of a large audience with the goal to inform, persuade, and humor them into liking you and what you’re talking about.
In November last year, I decided to join Toastmasters. A good friend of mine participated in Toastmasters in college. I remember vaguely that is was a speaking club. I thought, “good for her!” but I didn’t need a club to learn to speak. Boy, was my hubris strong.
Toastmasters International is “a world leader in communication and leadership development.” The meeting styles vary from club to club but all meetings are broken into three sections: prepared speeches, talking on your feet, and listening. Members switch off between roles every meeting from Toastmaster, Timer, Ah Counter, and Grammarian. I love how each part of the meeting is timed so that the club meetings always start and end on time.
At the same time I joined Toastmasters, I learned that I was accepted as a New Speaker for IIEX Europe. This means I had to research, prepare, and present a 15 minute talk to participants looking for “what’s new in the world of marketing insights.” The subject I submitted was, Virtual Reality Gives Business People Super Powers. What had I gotten myself into?! This was now Go Time. I was lucky enough to get an amazing mentor from my Toastmasters club, Pam Koon. She immediately scheduled me to speak at every club event, including the other Toastmaster Clubs in the area.
*Insert movie montage here*
In that short time frame of about two months I gave my talk six times. It has changed and morphed a little bit each time, all for the better.
Without further adeu, here is what I’ve learned.
What I Learned from Giving 6 Toastmaster Talks in 2 Months
- Writing out a speech and memorizing it is actually NOT the best way to prepare a speech. I was overwhelmed at first with the idea that I had to talk for 15 minutes straight. I began writing my speech, each paragraph broken down to the number of words I needed to fill the time. I was quickly stumped. This is where Pam gave me some great advice. She told me to write an outline instead. In the outline note the key bullet points that you want to hit. As you practice, focus on what you’re passionate about. The words will come and the time limit will be met.
- Prepare a proper speech introduction. I didn’t realize the importance of having a speech title and short description for my talk. Having a proper title gives the host a way to intoduce you to the stage. It also starts to set the stage for the audience.
- You will eventually stop sweating on stage. From my first talk, I was confident in what I was going to say but something happened as soon as I was introduced to speak. Suddenly, I started sweating and shaking. After consistenly standing up and speaking in front of an audience I have finally stopped being so nervous. Your nerves will calm too.
- Everyone in the room is there to support you. Another thing I love about Toastmasters is that everyone in the club is there to support you. That is because we are all there to better ourselves and we enjoy seeing people improve. Even people who have been in the club for a long time and are excellent speakers still ask for feedback and point out things they want to improve. Knowing that my club has my back when I speak makes it easier and fun to present!
- There is always room for improvement. The flip side of your club having your back is that they also give feedback and suggestions that can improve your speech. They point out things that you might not even notice you’re doing, such as holding your hands in front your body or mumbling when you talk. They also point out word choices that may have not made sense or parts of your talk which may have been confusing. Of course, you don’t have to do everything they say. They are just suggstions after all.
After all the preparation, I was able to rock my presentation at IIEX Europe in Amsterdam. I receieved some great questions from the audience on how virtual reality gives people supoer powers. Those who attended were empowerd by the technology.