Why I joined a speakers club

By Dominic Rogers

I’ve been asked why I joined Tunbridge Wells Speakers’ Club.  There are a few answers to that.  And not one of those answers was, “Because I want to stand, feeling slightly sweaty, with a lead weight in my stomach, in front of a group of people with the sound of my own heartbeat shushing in my ears, resisting the urge to panic”.  Which is surprising, as I suspect a lot of people would jump at the chance.

Senior roles often require you to speak in front of an audience 

I heard of Toastmasters through a friend, who recommended it to people in his team who struggled with public speaking.  I then managed to ignore what he’d told me and avoid mentally committing for two years until it became clear it was something I had to do.  Having a senior role at work, my excuses for avoiding public-speaking were wearing thin and getting in the way of my ability to work as effectively as I should.

My next world tour

Another reason is that I felt that, should I put my mind to it and get over the crippling nerves, I could be quite good at it.  It might be something I would enjoy, rather than fear.  Never one to get carried away, I was visualising the multi-millions I could earn on my next world tour, until I remembered my last meeting, where I sat with my heart thumping, ahead of my monthly update to a group of eight senior managers.

Finding a club

I ‘Googled’ my nearest Toastmaster club and found Tunbridge Wells Speaker’s Club within a matter of minutes.  I had no excuse, as Tunbridge Wells is only fifteen minutes up the road.  I then got up from my desk and made a cup of tea, purposely forgetting about it for a while.

Taking the plunge….

Two months later, when I had mentally regrouped and summoned the courage, I decided to contact the club.  Within half-an-hour, I received a very friendly reply from Chris, one of the organising committee, with details of the next meeting.  He also reassured me that the meetings should help with my fear of public speaking.  He stopped short of guaranteeing me a world tour, but I guess he wouldn’t know.  This was it, I had a firm date on the calendar.  I’d have to go.  I was sent details and put the next Tuesday meeting on my calendar.

First meeting

I turned up on my first night and, following the signs, walked tentatively up the stairs of the Bridge Club; a prominently-placed and atmospheric Victorian building opposite Tunbridge Wells Common where the meetings are held.  With my stomach involuntarily clenched, and a metallic taste in my mouth, I sidled into the room.

Warm greeting

I was met by Chris; whose greeting was so warm it put me a little more at ease.  He introduced me to another guest and I soon realised there were others in the same boat as me.  In fact, it was quite a busy boat.  Everyone I spoke to confessed to some nerves, whether those starting on their (boat) journey or those with more experience.  I felt that this could be the right place.

Public speaking’s answer to Usain Bolt

Three-quarters of a year later and I’m still going and, whilst I can’t pretend that when I get a chance to speak I stride forward with the confidence of Usain Bolt, it gets a little better each time.  The first time I stepped up to the front was during the Table Topics*.  Thirty seconds seemed to last at least two minutes (the maximum allotted time) and I sat down having literally no idea what I had said.  But…. I tried again the following week and even managed to say a joke or two, went beyond the minimum sixty seconds and felt quite good about it.

Where am I now?

I’m still learning, I’m still nervous, and I still rely on notes too much.  But I don’t dread it in the same way.  I’ve also managed to use the speeches I’ve prepared (three so far) to kick-start some things I’ve always been meaning to do.  One of my talks was about whether I should start a blog, and so many people have asked me how it’s going that I felt compelled to start.  And I’m glad I did.  It’s early stages but the free advice I received from those at the club was to just start and work on improving it later.  It’s here if you fancy having a look – foodliving.co.uk.

Would I recommend?

For a multitude of reasons, I would recommend Tunbridge Wells Speakers’ Club and Toastmasters in general.  My confidence is definitely improving.  People’s reasons for going aren’t all based on overcoming anxiety either, others use it to help them to prepare for public talks, for occasions like conferences, weddings or the delivery of training, for example.  They attend to become better, more confident, speakers and to learn from the great evaluation and feedback you always receive at Toastmasters.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to browse the internet for some international speakers’ venues.  Though, I might just grab myself a cup of tea first.

*Table Topics is spontaneous speaking for over 1 minute

“I never thought meetings would be this funny”

“Loved the humour”, “positive and encouraging” and “I feel comfortable here” were just some of the comments our guests mentioned when we asked for their thoughts on our meeting last Tuesday evening.

Yes, there was a lot of laughing, especially in Table Topics as Marie, Table Topics master for the first time, cleverly used the idea of the advice you might give someone in a certain situation. These varied from the advice you’d give your newly divorced mum before going on her dinner date, to what would you say to your 11-year-old about to start secondary school. This gave an opportunity for virtually everyone to speak freely for over a minute including the guests. It was a really funny session and congratulations to the winner Giles, our newest member.

In the prepared speeches, Anastasia gave us a particularly amusing story about DNA testing and the resultant profiling information and Ron gave us a deeper insight into how we can use The Thousand Yard Stare.

There were serious moments too as Ruth gave us a particularly heartfelt speech calling on us all “Never to judge a book by its cover” and to have patience and understanding with people as you may not know their story.

Evaluations are a key part of each meeting as this is how all members develop as speakers. The club is a “safe space” to experiment and learn from the expertise and experience of fellow members in a positive and encouraging setting. We believe in working together to enhance all our skills for the benefit of all. On Tuesday, our Vice President of Education praised club members for the rising standard of speech evaluations which provided a number of commendations as well as recommendations for areas to work upon.

If you would like to improve your communication skills, presentation delivery, develop leadership skills and/or learn to master the public speaking nerves then come along. We meet every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month. Come along and see how friendly we are.

Successful Speakerthon

Our meeting this week, was slightly different to that of our normal meetings as we held a Speakerthon, which included six prepared speeches and evaluations instead of the usual 3 and a Table Topics session.

Holding a Speakerthon demonstrates our success as a growing club with the majority of our members (I think all of our members) are embarking on the Toastmasters training and education pathways to improve their speaking, leadership, listening, evaluation skills and more of which delivering speeches is an integral part.

We were treated to a real mix and it was undoubtedly an engaging and entertaining evening. Our speakers took us on a journey of emotions from sadness due to personal loss, thoughtfulness hearing about blogging and thinking to success, to humour and religious enlightenment. Feedback on what was good as well as what could be improved upon was provided to the speakers by evaluators. Our VP Education commented that we are “seeing a much higher quality of speech now and the evaluations likewise are punchier with more content and recommendations” which helps us all improve.

Comments from the guests in attendance included “well-run meeting,  well organised and coordinated”, “enjoyable and fun”, “it is a chance to rehearse how you want to be in life, learning how to listen and give feedback”, “you definitely learn during the meeting and it was intellectually elevating”, and one guest told me “you gain accountability and friendships”.

Next meeting is on 12th Feb and we are back to our usual format. Hope to see you there and remember guests are always welcome.

Why attend a Toastmaster conference?

On Sat 10th November I attended the Division H Conference. As this was my first Toastmaster conference, I thought I would share the reasons why I went, what happened, what were my main takeaways from it and why I, and potentially you, should attend the District 91 Conference in May 2019.

Why did I attend?

There were two main reasons, firstly is around support. I have been a member of the Tunbridge wells Speakers Club for just over a year at the time of writing. Looking back, I admit that my principal reasons for joining were centred around my own self-development. I realised very early on the value of the peer-support, feedback from the evaluations and the importance of helping others in the club. At the time I joined, our club was extremely fortunate to have a number of key individuals who, and still do go above and beyond to help their fellow members. As a beneficiary of such help, I was more than happy to step up for roles when approached and to take on a club officer position when asked and take the opportunity to give back. This included supporting fellow Toastmasters who were competing on behalf of the club.

Secondly, I was curious.

My self-development was on track but, as they say, the more you learn, the more you learn what you don’t know. As club officers, we are encouraged to attend training at an Area, Division and District level. So last September I attended Area 37 training In Edenbridge, which opened my eyes to the huge organisation that is Toastmasters. Of course, everyone has heard of Toastmasters; it is a world-wide organisation. Yet when you attend just your own club, the bigger entity of Toastmasters can seem elusive. So, when you find yourself in a room full of other Toastmasters from clubs around the area, it becomes easier to see the bigger picture.  Our club was one within a vibrant Area, which in turn was within a Division, which in turn was within an even bigger District (and I am still only in the south of England). All attendees that day and at the conference at the weekend were committed to growing their clubs and helping others to do the same.

How good was good?

As our members competed in competitions at club level, I was blown away by the standard of the speeches. As the winners went on to compete at Area level, some came second or third and one won the Table Topics Contest, conversations went around our club about supporting our fellow toastmaster as he prepared to compete at Division level. I felt that the standard of speeches was high at our own club level, so how high was competition standard?

Educational aspects

The morning of the Division H conference was filled by two workshops. The first was entitled Transition to Pathways, presented by Julie Kertesz, who had visited our club when Pathways was launched in our Area. Her passion and enthusiasm for the new personal and professional development programme was plain to see. She provided lots of hints and tips to help us navigate our way around Basecamp and renewed our motivation to reach for the potential each pathway can open up. Her blog containing more inspiring information and recommendations can be found here http://pathwaysexperience.blogspot.com/

The second presentation was on the Power of Our Voice, delivered by Sandra Mighty. A highly interactive workshop teaching us exercises to help with articulation, voice projection and how to effectively inject vocal variety into our speeches.

After a panel discussion with the Division Leadership team, we all enjoyed a bring-and-share lunch. The room was filled with representatives from clubs across the Division, supporting their fellow contest entrants. There was a lively discussion in the breaks as Toastmasters comfortably talked to one another and shared experiences, before the main business of the day.

Inspiring Contests

First was the Humorous Speech Contest and we were treated to 6 excellent speeches. This contest was won by Daniel Magill.  Secondly was the Table Topics contest, in which Tunbridge Wells Toastmaster Chris Murphy was competing. The standard of all spontaneous speeches given was very high and Chris came second behind Fern Lulham who, with Daniel, will go on to represent Division H at the District competition.

My Key Learnings

The speeches were inspiring because I witnessed how good competition standard is. I could see (at least some of) what I need to do, which is to seriously up my game. I could see for myself, the difference between good and really good. Now I need to incorporate this knowledge into my own speeches.

I feel motivated to put myself forward for the next round of competitions, but I will also not try to prepare by myself. I will call upon the advice and expertise of the more experienced toastmasters within my club to improve my performance.

Strategies for table topics: There was a lively discussion in the car on the way home as we discussed different techniques, some of which I am definitely going to implement.

In conclusion, why should you attend the District 91 Spring Conference. (District 91 is UK South with over 150 clubs, and over 4,000 members across the South of England and Wales.)

  1. It’s local, for those of us in Kent, we really do not have an excuse! (Ashford International Hotel, 3-5th May 2019).
  2. Educational development: There will be keynote speakers and stimulating workshops all designed to improve our knowledge and skills
  3. Excellence: There will be four contest finals bringing us the very best speakers in the District
  4. Networking: Toastmasters are from all walks of life, background, age, profession and yet are united in their friendliness; generous and welcoming in including everyone in their conversations, which are varied and always interesting.
  5. And if that was not enough, a gala dinner and entertainment: A chance to ‘don the posh frock and fabulous shoes’ or ‘best bib and tucker’ and dance the night away.

It isn’t referred to as “The Gateway to Growth” for nothing …

More information on the Spring conference can be found here https://d91springconf.uk/

Division H is made up of 26 chartered clubs in 6 Areas across the South East with 5 new clubs in the early stages of formation.

District 91 is UK South with over 150 clubs, and over 4,000 members across the South of England and Wales.