Here we go

Its November 2019 and I am about to join Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club. I am looking forward to enjoyable evenings with a great bunch of people, between us honing our public speaking skills.

Warm welcome

On 26th November, I went along to my second meeting and again received a warm welcome.  Throughout the evening, I enjoyed watching everyone supporting each other as they overcame their stage nerves to have a go at prepared or impromptu speeches.

Taking the first step

To make the most of my time there as a guest, I put myself forward for a Table Topic speech, where the Table Topics Master for the night suggests a random topic – for which the time to prepare is the time it takes to reach the ‘stage’!

I suspect the audience wondered what on earth I was talking about, even if they could actually hear my mumbling but, nevertheless, they were, of course, very supportive and laughed at the right places.

My short speech was evaluated, very kindly, and I know that in due course as the weeks progress, and my confidence and ability to speak in these impromptu sessions increases, the evaluations will become more finely honed, with constructive criticism for me to work on and praise for the improvements I hope to make.

What are my goals?

I am joining Tunbridge Wells Speakers primarily to prepare for my lovely daughter’s wedding in June – and her handsome fiancé’s of course – where I will be required to present the ‘Father of the Bride’ speech.

However, in addition to this, I fear I may have to make presentations to more critical audiences, due to my opposition to proposals to concrete over large areas of Tunbridge Wells’ part of the Garden of England.

My next steps?

I am sure that my confidence will grow at Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club. Clearly, they go to a lot of trouble and take a great deal of pride in operating to professional standards, indeed, even being awarded the status of ‘Distinguished Club’ by Toastmasters International, with whom I understand they are affiliated.

One aspect I hope to work on is how to finish off a speech. May I practice now by saying to you: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention and I do hope you will join myself and the other members of the Tunbridge Wells Speakers at their conveniently situated and rather splendid venue in the centre of, not surprisingly, Tunbridge Wells.

(This is where I now trip over, as I scurry off the stage…)

Author: Nigel Tansley

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Distinguished Club

It’s official – We’re a ‘Distinguished Club’ again…

Standard of excellence

Tunbridge Wells Speakers’ Club is delighted to have once again been awarded ‘Distinguished Club’ status again by Toastmasters International.  This standard of excellence, awarded annually, is an accolade only handed to clubs which have seen measurable success in five out of 10 goals focussing primarily on what are regarded as the two most important areas of achievement for any club – educational awards and membership growth.

Recognition of commitment

“The award is a recognition of our commitment to providing a supportive environment, where each member can achieve their public-speaking and leadership development goals at a pace of their own choosing, ” said Katy, Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club Chairman.  “We are able to do this by helping them to access Toastmasters International’s educational pathways, offering support and encouragement as we guide them through this process, which involves preparing and delivering speeches covering a wide variety of subject matters.”

Quality educational provision

“The ‘Distinguished Club’ award also recognises our excellent reputation within the local community of Tunbridge Wells, where we are known to be friendly and welcoming to prospective new members,” said Islay O’Hara Vice President PR.

Chris Murphy, Vice President Education added, “The high standard of speakers and evaluations within the club can be daunting at first for newcomers, but we are all here to learn from those who are a little further along on their speaking journey and, as a club, we are proud now also to be able to offer quality educational provision by way of our Speechcraft programme, wherein those new to public-speaking can be mentored by some of our more experienced members.”

If you are interested in improving your communication skills, please come along to our meetings.

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The hottest meeting of the year to date…

The hottest meeting of the year to date…

Last night’s meeting (23rd July) was full of good humour. Nick said he can’t remember a Table Topics session with as much laughter. Simon ‘brought the house down’ with his evaluation. A cracking night. Also cracking was the top of the thermometer, it was a warm night 🙂

New President’s first meeting

This was our first meeting with the new committee in charge and it was opened by new President Katy. She shared what a difference being a member of Toastmasters has made to her, both personally and professionally. This was great to hear, not only from a member’s point of view but also for the five guests we welcomed to our meeting.

The prepared speeches

As usual, we had three prepared speeches. Jenny, who was delivering her first speech at Toastmasters, gave us a heartfelt personal story and told of some of her momentous decisions.  Emily took us on a wonderful journey into all the things that make her happy, such as bluebells, daffodils, conkers and much more. Islay spoke about the value of mentoring and shared a story of a work colleague who shaped her future career direction without necessarily realising it – an accidental mentor – asking us all to reflect on those people who have entered our lives at various points and impacted on our journeys.

The evaluations – what was good

All three speeches were evaluated, which is where we all help each other to improve. Our evaluators commended the intriguing title and subject matter of Jenny’s speech and how well, and quickly, the audience warmed to her. The descriptive narrative from Emily, which transported us to the Californian forest and the wonderful silence she experienced there. The theatrics of Islay’s speech, using all of the stage and the emotions she had experienced at that point in her story. Simon also commended Islay on her ‘excellent impersonation of a man’, which brought a great laugh from the audience!!

Recommendations – what can be improved upon

Recommendations to our speakers included

  • Being more open in their body language
  • Using eye contact to engage the entire audience
  • To avoid using notes, as this can break the speakers’ connection with the audience.
  • To use vocal variety and tone and change the rhythm of speech.
  • Remember to breathe,
  • To slow down and ensure vocal volume and projection is maintained throughout the delivery of the speech.

They were also asked to remember that, in some speeches, the audience does not need as much detail as we speech-crafters might think. Too much detail can detract from the flow of the storytelling.

Spontaneous speaking

After a break, we moved into the spontaneous speaking session, ‘Table Topics’, chaired by Chris. He did things slightly differently this time, taking inspiration from the Jeremy Kyle show and Judge Judy. He used three people at the front, the first arguing their point, the second arguing their (opposite) point, with the judge in the middle reconciling things. We had some great laughs, as pointed out by the evaluator, Nick. Merlee, one of our guests, defended her title successfully and swept the board, taking the first prize again on her second visit to the club.

Keeping the evening under control

Our word of the evening, proposed by the evening’s Grammarian, Ron, was ‘twaddle’ – a great word!  Matt, as Timekeeper, kept everyone to time and was not afraid to ring the bell, with the whole evening being skilfully steered by toastmaster Alex, the ultimate calm professional!

Until next time

Our next meeting is on Tuesday 13th August. Guests are most welcome.

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Deliberate deliberations

A review of our last meeting

As I sit here and ‘deliberate’ what to write, I am being deliberate in my intentions to get down all the main events from last night.

Word of the day

As you might gather from that odd start, ‘deliberate’ was the word of the day from our Grammarian. Their role is to encourage us to embrace a wider vocabulary and use of rhetorical devices and perhaps teach us something.  Did you realise it was the same spelling for both meanings?

Member involvement

One of our newer members took up the reins of Toastmaster last night. She confidently steering the meeting in her first outing as Toastmaster after only being a member a few months. She hoped that by the fact that she has stepped up and had a go, that it would encourage other new members to do the same.

Our timer was busy last night ensuring everyone maintained the discipline of saying what they have to say succinctly within the allotted time. If speakers overrun, the timer rings a bell and the audience claps the speaker off the stage including, last night, our grammarian …

Speeches and evaluations

Our three speakers delivering prepared speeches treated us to an insightful icebreaker introducing themselves to the club, a humorous tongue-in-cheek review of the principles of a good speech and call to consider Blue Ocean strategic thinking.

Evaluations of speeches are based on providing positive feedback for the speakers. Evaluators praise areas of speechcraft that were done well and give recommendations to areas where the speakers could improve. This is always done in a format which allows the audience to learn and incorporate into their own speeches too.

Refreshments

After a break, with refreshments including some sneaky delicious biscuits and cookies (and fruit for those with greater willpower than myself), it was time to practice spontaneous speaking.

Spontaneous speaking

Our Topics Master chose from a pick and mix set of questions that ranged from quotes to your strangest pet. As always, people picked up the baton and the standard of this spontaneous speaking on a previously unknown topic for 1-2 minutes was very high. Although participation in this section is optional for the guests, we are always delighted when they have a go. We all vote for the person whose speech we enjoyed the most. Last night one of our guests attending for the first time pipped all of us at the post and won. She demonstrated some great techniques which we could all use to good effect.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening all round.

Our next meeting is on the 25th June.

Islay and Chris

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Splendid Speakerthon

Our meeting on Tuesday 28th May was a special event; a Speakerthon, where six club members presented a pre-prepared speech.

What is a Speakerthon?

We refer to a Speakerthon as a ‘special’ event because it differs from our normal meeting structure, which is three prepared speeches and evaluations, then a break, followed by impromptu 1-2 minute speeches.

What is special about a Speakerthon?

Learning how to craft and deliver speeches is a major part of why we attend a speakers’ club. Our Speakers’ Club, here in Tunbridge Wells is affiliated to Toastmasters, an international organisation. This enables us to participate in their educational programme, based around 10 different Pathways, which gives us the option to choose an educational programme best suited to our own personal ambitions. Membership of Tunbridge Wells Speakers’ Club has grown in recent years and we are delighted that the majority of our members are progressing along their own educational pathways.

Members are from all walks of life, all with different careers, jobs, backgrounds and experiences and personally I love hearing prepared speeches. It is as if we are being given a private window into a fellow club member’s life, and an opportunity to share in a life-changing event which has shaped them into the person we know them as now.

Many of our members are practising their skills to better deliver polished presentations in their work setting, so we are not only treated to inspiring personal stories, but we also gain an insight into interesting topics of which we have no knowledge of at all.

At the Speakerthon, all six of our speakers really treated us. There was a depth to the stories, particularly the personal ones. During the evening we laughed, held our breath in anticipation; we were transfixed and captivated.

Why are evaluations so important?

But it goes beyond delivering a speech as, fundamentally, we are there to learn and improve our skills. Each speaker receives an evaluation of their speech. Evaluating a speech is a real skill. The evaluators listen intently to the speech. They consider the delivery, the structure and content, audience reaction and interest. They encourage the speakers, ever mindful of their level and experience, by providing feedback on what they have done particularly well. Their real gift to the speaker and to all of us listening lies in their advice on what can be improved, which areas and elements would lift the speech to the next level and help the speaker gain confidence and polish.

As a club, we have worked hard to raise both the level of speech-craft and delivery as well as the quality of the evaluations given, as the two go hand in hand. If we are honest, there was also a slight self-indulgent feeling of pride and self-congratulation inspired by the quality on show.

Why you should come along to one of our meetings?

To everyone looking to improve their public speaking and communication skills, banish their nerves and/or craft a keynote or best-man speech, do come along to one of our meetings. Our guests tell us that they receive a warm welcome, often remarking that the club seems ‘fun’, ‘friendly’ and ‘not at all what they expected’. We work together to build each other’s skills in a positive and encouraging way.

Everyone is at a different point on their journey, but what unites us all is that we took a positive step forward.

We meet every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month and we look forward to welcoming you.

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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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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Accentuating the positive

Are you listening? And what exactly are you hearing?

I found myself in Asda earlier today and I was chatting to the lady serving me. We were engaged in a polite chat about what she had been doing on her day off a few days earlier. She said, “In the afternoon I looked after my granddaughter, but you know what, I can’t remember what I done in the morning”
My Toastmasters listening radar immediately fired off……….
Toastmasters’ meetings have a defined structure to help them run smoothly and consistently with club members taking turns undertaking the various roles. The goal with these roles is to give opportunities to speak in public but they also to refine other skills. The Toastmaster, the person in charge of the meeting as a whole, leads the presentation team, speech evaluators offer constructive feedback to the speakers, time timekeeper ensures all speakers keep to their allotted time and the Grammarian listens for incorrect and interesting uses of grammar.
So, my ‘Grammarian ears’ picked up the incorrect use of grammar; the cashier ‘should’ have said ‘I can’t remember what I did in the morning’.

Having reflected on it

I realised that I stopped listening to her as the dialogue in my head kicked in that she had made a mistake and she was somehow ‘wrong’. The conclusion I have come to is that I was wrong in judging her like that.

Listening is a skill.

As far as our conversation was concerned, she was understood, and I noticed that I was not necessarily listening for the good uses in her language. It can be easy to focus on the negative or less desirable. Highlighting the positive takes more effort.

How to retune so we highlight the positive

I recently read a letter in the Toastmasters magazine about a club that had replaced the role of the Ah Counter with the Pause and Filler Counter. The Ah Counter normally counts the number of filler words, such as ‘um’ and ‘ah’ and they report back on these at the end of the meeting.  Conversely, the new Pause and Filler Counter role, counts the number of times someone effectively used pauses to fill space. As such the focus was very much on the positive and celebrating good use of language as opposed to highlighting an undesirable behaviour. As a result, they have noticed far few filler words, I guess the old saying, ‘you get what you focus on’ is true here.

The question to leave you with is, are you listening and what are you focusing on, something positive, or something else?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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