I joined Toastmasters at this time last year. In that year, I think I’ve grown quite a bit, both professionally and personally. I was putting together some guest packets today, and I remembered something my 16 year cousin said. She said that it was a pet peeve of hers when someone apologized for doing something they didn’t need to apologize for. That reminded me of one of the first evaluations I received in Toastmasters, which quickly brought up other things that have really stuck with me over the year.
First, a quick background on the program. Once you’re a member you begin working on one, or both, of these designations: competent communicator (CC) and competent leader (CL). You can do them simultaneously. The CC is a collection of 10 speeches, which is all done at your own pace. Each one encompasses skills that build upon each other. For example, your first few speeches are really the bones of public speaking. As you move along in your manual, you’re bringing in more skills, such as using visual aids and vocal variety. When you’ve completed the manual, you have a great tool kit of skills you’ve learned throughout the past 10 speeches. The CL designation is earned by doing different roles within the meeting, such as timer, toastmaster, grammarian or any of the evaluator roles. I won’t spend much more time on that is this post, as it can get confusing.
The beauty of Toastmasters is that it is flexible and you can talk about whatever you want. I truly thought I would have to give speeches about finance, corporate marketing, and other corporate things, but boy was I wrong. To date, I’ve give four speeches with topics ranging from cats to hipsters. I think it takes some skill to give a speech about cats to a group of corporate folks!
Here are some tips that I think will be beneficial to anyone looking to become a better public speaker.
1. Do not apologize: As a presenter, it is easy to apologize for many things – for being late, for not knowing what to say next, for mixing words up – but don’t apologize! You didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to apologize for. In one of the first evaluations I received, my evaluator reminded me that I did not need to apologize for using my notes. This stuck with me, even a year later! Be confident, your audience will notice your confidence.
2. You know what you’re talking about: Unless you’re giving a presentation with very specific facts and details, you know what you’re talking about. Don’t rely on your notes. Especially if you’re telling a story – you’ve written it out ahead of time, you know what you want to say and it is your story.
3. Watch the filler words: This is the main reason I joined Toastmasters. I found myself filling my statements with unneeded filler words such as um, ah, like, and ya’know. Try this: pause instead of filling with those words. And hey, your audience will think that you’re thinking, and it makes you look smarter. After a lot of practice and being more self-aware, I can say I have greatly reduced filler words from my vocabulary. In addition to reducing them from your own daily life, you will notice how much people use these words. Oddly enough, it is a nice reminder that you’re doing a good thing in NOT using them.
These are just a few of the many things I have learned from being a member of Toastmasters. I have found it beneficial in any professional setting, and it runs off into my personal life! I pay a lot more attention to what I am saying, how I am saying it, and the true purpose of what I’m saying.