Posts Tagged ‘ Toastmasters ’

Toastmasters International: TMI

I have to admit, when I showed up twenty-five minutes early to the Toastmasters meeting here in Herndon, VA (my new home), I was a little apprehensive.  Not about the fact that I would be meeting people I didn’t know, and not about the fact that  I had to show up to a place I had never been to.  No, the reason I was nervous for this meeting, is the same reason I get nervous about any and every Toastmasters meeting:  Table Topics.  

For those of you unfamiliar with the way a Toastmasters meeting is set up, there are two main parts of the meeting–scheduled speakers (typically two), and Table Topics (TT)–typically about fifteen minutes’ worth.  People who are scheduled speakers have signed up ahead of time to give a speech of their choosing out of their Competent Communicator’s (CC) manual.  These people have rehearsed their speech, and have worked on developing their speaking style over their tenure at Toastmasters International (TMI) either for work, personal growth, or some other internal reason.  The second part of the meeting is the Table Topics portion, and during this portion–if you are called upon–you will be asked to give an impromptu (or “off-the-cuff”) speech that lasts between one and two minutes, on the topic of the “TableTopics Master”‘s choosing. This is where I get heartburn every single time, because believe me–if you happen to run out of material thirty seconds into it, those last thirty seconds just getting to the minimum mark feel like an eternity.

TableTopics topics will range all across the board.  Personally, I have a short attention span for boring topics, so I try to stay away from the “What’s your favorite summer pastime?” kinds of questions.  I try to keep it lively with coins (I’ll ask everyone to give us their fondest memory from the year on the coin), random pictures (tell us what the caption ‘would have’ said), “Would you rather…,” or something like that.  One time, a lady brought twenty different things in a box from her garden, and we had to give a sales pitch on its use that was different from the obvious use it had.  Stuff to make you think creatively.  Problem is, when all eyes are on you and you have lost a road to take your speech down, creativity locks up like Fort Knox.  I tell you, I can speak to people I don’t know, and speak to them in large groups…but if I have to do extemporaneous thrust-and-perry with a time limit setting like that…I am not great at that yet.  People who are real masters at it can formulate a short, complete speech–intro, body, wrap it up–in their heads in a very short amount of time, and execute it within the time limit, and you as the listener will literally forget that you’re in the middle of a TableTopics exercise.  Those people are real pros, and I aspire to get to that level someday because it’s just so damned practical to have that skill.

The thing is, many people have a habit of running off at the mouth for a number of reasons.  Some are socially inept, some are speaking in such technical terms that your eyes have no choice but to glaze over, and some fill the silence with speech out of boredom, or fear of awkward pauses.  I have to admit, I’m a victim of the latter.  If I’m bored, I’ll let you know; if I’m nervous around you, I tend to speak too much about nothing.  I’ve been trying to get it under control, I promise.

I have a little saying I use to explain what Toastmasters can do for anyone:  “TMI helps you manage TMI.”  As in–Toastmasters International helps you manage giving “Too Much Information.”

Mohammed Ali once said, “Better to be quiet and foolish than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Everyone likes the guy (or girl) who knows when to speak, and when to let others say their peace.  Which person are you?  But more importantly, how would you know which one you are?

How do you feel about public speaking?  They say that many people would rather die than give a speech…in fact, once when I was TableTopics Master (person in charge of TT for that meeting), I asked a lady who was new to the group:  “Would you rather eat ten live cockroaches, or give a speech to a packed audience of ten thousand people?”  This woman, despite facing her fear in bi-weekly TMI meetings, literally chose to eat cockroaches over giving a speech.  I guess I’m blessed, because I’d be getting off easy giving the speech.  Are you someone who has trouble with speaking to people you don’t know?  Maybe you hate addressing the crew to go over the latest company matrix of goals?  Maybe you want the next level of professionalism to display at your local LinkedIn luncheon?  Seriously, Toastmasters will help you in every aspect of your personal and professional life.  Personal or professional, everyone likes the guy (or girl) who knows when to speak and when to let others speak.

TMI has chapters all over the world, and their “dues” are not much–twenty bucks for the Competent Communciator’s and Competent Leadership manuals, and it’s something like $27 every six months for membership–and it’s a pro-rated amount of dues when you join.  From a practical, career-building standpoint, you just don’t get the same bang for your buck anywhere else…it’s just that you’ll be a little uncomfortable along the way.  But hey, no one ever got anywhere they had never been before by sticking to what was comfortable, right?

Good luck on your journey, and shoot me a comment letting me know how it went for you!


Toastmasters Makes You Surprise Yourself.

AS MANY OF YOU MAY KNOW, I joined Toastmasters International a few months ago, and it has been interesting, to say the least.  Last week, I gave my “Icebreaker” speech–the very first one out of the Competent Communicator’s Manual that they give you when you join.  (This manual gives you ten separate speeches to plan for, and space in the manual for comments on each speech that you can look back on to hone your skills as you go.)  In any case, I gave my first speech since college last week, and my wife actually was surprised to see me as nervous and jittery as I was.  I knew the material, and I knew I’d be on time; I was just a little nervous about the idea of using a prop right out of the gate.  (I tried to simulate that I was giving the entire speech out of my journal, without actually reading the whole thing out of my journal.)  I didn’t know if I’d be able to make that concept come through, or if it would get lost and make me look foolish.)

I got high marks for originality, confidence, use of space, and of all things, getting dressed up for the speech.  I need to work on variating my voice inflection, and making an even wider use of the floor to really speak to the crowd.  Honestly, I’m excited about the prospect of creating some new speeches that maybe the audience hasn’t seen yet…I don’t know why I’m getting so into this, but I like doing it.  It’s strange, but I’m liking it more and more, the better I become at it.  Surprised even myself!

Humans’ #1 Fear

People have been surveyed over and over again on this topic:  What is their number one fear?  Hint:  It isn’t even death.  Death is surely in the Top 10, but consistently, the thing that people are single-handedly most afraid of–the thing many would rather DIE than do–is public speaking.

Many of you who know me will attest to the fact that I have managed to circumvent this fear by virtue of my God-given personality.  I’ll talk to anyone–ever since I was a kid.  At five years old, I would sit and talk with a little, old blind lady at the grocery store who sat on a bench while my Mom was shopping, and just talk with her.  Mom asked me why I did that one day, and I told her, “Because she looks like she needs someone to talk to.”  Kids…anyway, I live by the credo that you never know who you’re talking to.  I met the VP of Castle Metals in Chicago on a flight one time, and didn’t know who he was until three minutes before we landed.  It’s a significant help when it comes to meeting new people, and you don’t get much networking done without actually meeting new people, after all.

About a year ago, I was flipping through websites at three o’clock in the morning one night on a day off (I had to keep that nocturnal schedule to be ready for work from 6:30pm to 7am).  This particular night, I was flipping through a couple of men’s magazine websites–Men’s Health, GQ,, etc etc, and I was searching for the latest and greatest things that successful men have and do, and comparing them to my own habits.  Ticking off the checklist, if you will.  The kind of clothes they buy, the style they have, the fitness regimen they keep, the jobs they have…all of this, I figured, would make me into a better man for Allison, and a more attractive one to her, if that was possible.

I didn’t run out and blow three months’ salary on two hundred dollar jeans and shirts, nor did I particularly care about what the polls said men’s style should look like.  I do my own thing, and have my own style, and don’t really care what everyone else thinks, but I knew that I have a few habits that could stand to change, so I tried to emulate those that were mentioned.

I changed my fitness routine a little, paid more attention to what I ate, and saw some results.  Then, I took a step that many around me would not have:  I joined my local Toastmasters group, just like the magazine said to.  Just turned the paperwork in today, actually.  This was my second meeting, and while my personality lets me enjoy a leg-up on most of the people who are there, the fact that I can address a large group of people without raising my blood-pressure by much is no match for the mental capacity of truly communicating a message in a thorough and engaging way.  I am a far better writer than I am a speaker, and I’m aiming to change that by joining them because one day I want to be comfortable in the position of “group facilitator” or “group leader” or some such role.  In the two meetings I’ve attended at Toastmasters, I see already key areas that need work in my verbal communication.  I have received comments on my apparent ease of communication style, and confidence of posture, but in my own head I know that what I heard was probably different than what the audience heard.

Regardless, I suppose this will be another healthy stretching of myself into an area of growth that I haven’t dealt with since college…and I can tell that it’s healthy because it does make me slightly uncomfortable to have a time limit during extemporaneous speaking (impromptu topics/opinions, etc), and when I run out of things to say or places to go with the story, I get a little nervous.  Then again, I suppose anybody would.

Anybody else in Toastmasters?  How has your experience there been for you?

%d bloggers like this: