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15. A New Series: My Personal Journey in Public Speaking: 2. Love at first sight - Toastmasters!

Last week I shared my personal journey in realising that there is something in this public speaking thing, and that I really want to get better, but do not know how. As I was given more and more opportunities to share, teach and speak, I started to look around for help.

As I moved on to my third place of employment, I was introduced by the Learning centre to an in-house club called the Toastmasters Club. While I have heard of this club before, I never really gave it much thought before, but it was supposed to be a club that helped encourage its members to speak in public. Sounds cool. Could this be what i was looking for?

I decided to drop in for a meeting, usually help once every two weeks, after office hours, at one of the training rooms of the learning centre.

Memorable moments of my first meeting:

  1. I was greeted at the door with a smile;

  2. The meeting started almost like an official meeting, with greetings and roles being played by various members, with a Sergeant At Arms calling the meeting to order and a Toastmaster of the Evening explaining the background of the club. My first impression was, "Do they do this in every meeting? Or just for me, since I was the only new member that day? Hmm"

  3. There was a scary segment called Table Topics, where members and visitors were invited to the front to be given an adhoc topic to speak on and given a time frame of 1-2 minutes to speak off the cuff. I was invited but I declined and decided to first watch how it was done. Scary and exhilarating at the same time. I am going to do this one day!

  4. Then it was project speech time. I got to see 2 members go to the front to give prepared speeches, one from a basic speech project manual called the Competent Communication Manual and one from some advanced manual, I forgot the speech title. Now this I felt was what I want to do, as the projects gave guidance on how to prepare for and present a speech better.

  5. I thought that was it after a speech was given, but no, there was a feedback session, where there was an appointed member giving his feedback to the speaker, addressing questions and objectives in the project manual of the speaker. Whats more, members of the audience were given the opportunity to comment and give feedback as well. At first I thought this would be pretty scary for the speaker, to receive all kinds of comments from so many people. Then I learnt the sandwich method, a way of providing feedback to a speaker that is both encouraging and providing constructive advice as well. The feedback was divided into three layers, first providing something the speaker did well, then providing an area that potentially could be done better and lastly providing encouragement for the speaker to use his strength, work on the area for improvement and wow the audience the next time. (Having being the recipient of much feedback since then via the sandwich method, I personally believe in its power through its simplicity. Feedback when given sincerely and received positively, with an aim to get better, is a powerful tool to boost confidence and encourage improvement)

  6. After the feedback session for the speakers, there was a slew of other role players presenting their reports for the evening. There was a Grammarian whom provided us with well used words and sentences, as well as wrongly used phrases; an Ah-Counter whom provided us with a tally of how many speech crutches each of us used during the whole of the meeting. These crutches are usually sentence fillers which are used to fill space when we are unsure of what to say next or could be habitual. Some examples are: ah... ummm.... like... you see... okay, okay....etc; and last but not least, there was a General Evaluator whom made an overall evaluation for the whole meeting, highlighting good parts where we could learn from as well as areas of the meeting where improvement may be required.

As the meeting drew to a close, and as the President of the club invited me as a guest to say a few words and share my first impression, I remember distinctively smiling to myself as I stood up and said, " Thank you all for sharing this club with me through this meeting. I am interested to sign up now as a new member!"

As I filled up the membership form that evening, I knew I was hooked. To begin a journey I have been wanting to discover for some years now…. And there is just so much more to share … I will do so in the coming posts….

Point to ponder: Do you want to sharpen yourself in the areas of communication and public speaking? DO you want to develop yourself further as a leader in your personal life? Check out Toastmasters…. Its an investment of time and effort, but it is definitely worth the investment many times over.

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