Have you ever felt the need to improve your public speaking skills but found it too daunting to even get started?
In this post, the second to last of my Toastmasters series, I will share my personal experience as a Toastmasters member and how I approached my learning path to become a better public speaker.
When I joined my Toastmasters club, just over a year ago, I was aware I had to improve in a lot of different areas of public speaking. I knew because I wasn’t new to it. I had done several presentations at work and I had given some speeches at Meetups or conferences. What I knew was that I used ehms and ehrs way too often, the famous filler words I talked about in one of my previous posts. I knew that my body language wasn’t great — for example, I tended to close my body and cross my arms; I also struggled to keep good eye contact with my audience. The reality is public speaking was nerve-racking for me.
In honesty, it still is. However, I now know what good looks like and, even though I still have plenty to learn, my confidence has increased. In this post, I will describe my journey over the last year.
I attended my first meeting as a guest in January 2020. It was the first meeting in the new year for the club. At the time, I had no idea about Toastmasters; I didn’t know what to expect. Hence, I decided to attend as a guest, so that I could observe and understand how it worked and if that club was suitable for my needs¹. As you can imagine, I loved it and decided to join the club as a member. Once I signed up, I chose Persuasive Influence as my learning pathway. The main reason was that I could see how I would have benefited from that at work, where I really wanted to learn how to influence people. Once I had my pathway, I didn’t hesitate and booked the next available slot for my first speech, in Toastmasters jargon my icebreaker.
I still remember my feelings on the day of my icebreaker as I was walking to the pub where we used to meet. I was so anxious I thought I would have a heart attack. I was freaking out. I didn’t know whether the story I had to tell was interesting at all or whether I would freeze up in front of the audience. Luckily, it went well and my new club was really supportive and encouraging. They also gave me plenty of constructive feedback. I love feedback so much that it made me even happier. I went back home with dozens of post-it notes from my fellow members that I still treasure.
It was so much feedback that it was almost overwhelming. There was a lot I had to focus on and improve, so I decided to create a spreadsheet to track all the different areas for improvement. I was committed to tackle all of them one by one. I knew I couldn’t focus on all of them at the same time, and I knew it would take time before I got to where I wanted to be.
Another challenge of embarking on a Toastmasters pathway is that you need ideas and topics to talk about, especially at the beginning. The first few projects give you carte blanche and you can pick and choose the topics you prefer. That’s why I created another spreadsheet, in which I could brainstorm and collect ideas for all the things I am passionate about and I wanted to give a speech about. That tool turned out to be really useful.
After my icebreaker, I was really excited and committed to move quickly along my learning journey. I booked a speech slot almost every month.
But how do I go about delivering a pathway project?
First of all, I book a slot a few weeks in advance, so that I make a commitment and I can hold myself accountable to it. Then, I book slots in my calendar every weekend to make progress with my project. I choose weekends as during the week I am too busy with work.
The first thing I do during one of my dedicated time slots is to read through the project, learn the theory, and understand the assignment. Then, I jot down the first draft of my speech. I then usually read it to my fiancée and a couple of friends to get some early feedback and I tweak it accordingly until I am happy with the script.
After that, I start practising so that I can learn the main parts. I don’t need to know it word by word, but I do try to memorise it as much as I can. Once I am confident with the script, I can finally practise the delivery. I stand in front of my laptop and tell the speech like my audience was there. I focus on my body language, vocal variety, and everything I talked about in one of my previous articles².
Preparation is key in my opinion. In this way, when you get to the day you have to deliver your speech in front of your club, you are more confident and you know what you’re doing. This will allow you to focus on connecting with your audience and bringing them along with you on your journey.
Not all projects require you to prepare and give a speech. Some of them are about evaluating someone else’s speech or being a Table Topic Master. Regardless of the projects, I challenged myself and took on other functionary roles, like Toastmaster or Grammarian³. When doing that, my approach is quite similar to when I prepare for a speech: I make sure I spend enough time to understand the requirements for the role and prepare what I have to say during the meeting. Once again, preparation is key.
As you can imagine, 2020 introduced a brand new challenge for all Toastmasters members. Every club in the world had to move their meetings from face-to-face to virtual. A lot of people decided to drop out and wait for the world to go back to normal. Instead, I preferred to continue as I identified a lot of potential in this new situation. Giving presentations and speaking publicly on a video conference is a different skill that comes with a different set of challenges. It’s also a skill that has become more and more relevant during the recent global pandemic. In the end, I got a lot of value from being a Toastmasters member in 2020. Although I miss being together with my club at the pub where we used to meet, I don’t feel like I wasted my time at all by attending our meetings online. In reality, I have made a lot of progress as a public speaker, regardless of all the limitations.
In conclusion, in this post I have shared my personal experience as a Toastmasters member and my approach to learning and preparing for a meeting.
In my next and last post of this series, I will tell you about my Toastmasters club: West London Speakers.
Blog was written by author as 8 part Toastmaster series and also available in his personal Medium post