Table Topics Master Murphy Under Islay’s Spotlight

Area H37 Table Topics contest winner Chris Murphy shares his thoughts about the recent contest in this interview with Toastmasters Division H PR Manager and fellow member of Tunbridge Wells Speaker Club, Islay O’Hara.

Why did you decide to enter?

I entered the contest to get better. Winning the 2020 District 91 South Table Topics contest, earlier this year, was the beginning of my journey. There are two key events which prompted me to enter again this year. Firstly, I attended a webinar given by five-time D71 Table Topic champion David Jones, where I realised that I had more to learn.

Secondly, I delivered probably the worst Table Topics speech I’d ever given at my local club (Tunbridge Wells Speakers) shortly after my win, and a club member teasingly said, “how the mighty have fallen” and “you are only as good as your last table topic.” We all laughed together but those words struck a chord with me, prompting me to continue my learning journey and enter the contest to push myself further by competing against the best.

Table topics is all about spontaneous speaking, can you prepare? How do you prepare?

This is an interesting question. Of course, no two table topics are ever the same. The insights and thoughts we draw upon to answer the question are constantly changing, depending on what is going on in our lives and the world around us.

I have thought about how to structure my response. By this, I mean am I going to use a chronological structure? Or storytelling, ie beginning, middle, end. Will I deconstruct a topic? Or present two sides of the argument and conclude?

When I prepared for the District contest, I practised a great deal. This time I focussed more on my frame of mind. I felt good, well-rested, a little nervous, but my mind was alive with ideas and I felt confident about accessing those ideas.

What advice would you give to those preparing for a spontaneous speaking contest?

To breathe. Breathe whilst the contest chair is asking the question, so that you can calmly listen to the question being asked. Then just start talking, even if you are not sure what you are going to say. Calm your mind, feel grounded, and draw on your ideas and contextualise into your potential structures. If you are truly stuck then simply ask yourself a question out loud. That way you then have to answer the question and that gets you talking.

What has been the biggest benefit to you from entering contests?

Professionally, as a speaking mentor, the contests I have won provide proof of my ability and experience, and add to my credibility as I add the contests to my CV. Personally, contests and competing against the best in my club, the area, the Division and the District pushes me harder and encourages me to dig deeper. I always learn and grow as a result.

Congratulations Chris and best of luck in the Division contest on 28th November.

10 Good Reasons to Join Toastmasters

By Ron Mayne

Toastmasters is an international group of clubs people join to improve their public speaking.  They meet twice a month (some weekly), during the COVID pandemic on line, but normally in person.  There is a fun and supportive atmosphere that helps you grow your speaking skills.

The purpose of the clubs is to offer a place where people can learn in a friendly and safe environment to improve their public speaking.

There are many reasons to join but here are my top 10 reasons to join Toastmasters:

  1. It improves your public speaking – Practice makes perfect, whether you are making a cup of coffee or training to run a marathon. The first time you put the coffee machine on or strapped on your running shoes is not as good as when you have done it for the 100th time.  At Toastmasters you practice your public speaking and therefore your competence grows. Some people get so good they enter and win competitions or even get paid to speak.
  2. Improves your spontaneous speaking – Have you ever been asked to, “Just say a few words” by someone? You get tongue-tied, mouth goes dry, as you do not know what to say. Does that sound familiar? This is where one of the practised skills of impromptu speaking comes in.  Not only do you get to plan your speeches you also get to make ones up on the spot, all in a fun supportive place.
  3. Creative thinking – As part of the process of writing, rehearsing, and composing speeches on the spot you start thinking differently as your creativity gets supercharged.
  4. Career advancement – Toastmasters helps you communicate and get your message across to fellow employees and management.  If you can speak confidently and get your point across, you raise your profile in life and in your business. Many companies have Toastmaster Corporate clubs for their employees which is an indication of how highly some companies rate Toastmasters to develop their people.
  5. Presentations – In our personal and professional life whether it is for a slide show at a family event or business, presenting is a part of life today.  You get to practice presentations if you want as well. Remember practice makes perfect.
  6. Confidence building – Standing up in front of a room of strangers for the first time is scary.  You are afraid of making a mistake or looking foolish.  All the fears and emotions come bubbling up inside you like a volcano of “I can’t do this.” The good news is if you do that in a room of Toastmasters, even if you do it badly you will get a round of applause; you will get feedback on how to improve; and you will get a mentor to help you get better.  All this will build your confidence, making you feel like a superhero whose special power is public speaking.   Why do you think there is an “S” on Superman’s chest?
  7. Social confidence – Have you ever felt awkward in social situations? You did not know what to say? This could be in a coffee shop when they get your order wrong, at a party where your meet someone for the first time, or in the office when you want to able to start a conversation.  Toastmasters will help you build your confidence so you feel able to talk to anyone.
  8. Body language – You do not just communicate with your voice. Your body talks too.  The problem is you do not walk around with a full length mirror all the time to see yourself.  Toastmasters will help you improve your body language as you speak to your audience in a safe, friendly, and knowledgeable place.
  9. Timing – They say timing is everything in life.  Have you ever been to a meeting and the speaker droned on and on and on? Toastmasters helps you get your speaking within time limits as all speeches are timed.  You get your message across in a timely way and this keeps your audience engaged and happy.
  10. Networking – You are in a room full of people who want to improve themselves.   Like you they are motivated and want to succeed. Toastmasters is dedicated to improving you.  The improved you sees new opportunities, by growing your personal and professional network.

For the sceptical among who are asking where the catch is; there is not one.  The clubs are made of members who participate in roles at each meeting designed to ensure the meeting runs well. As a member you are invited to take up roles at these meetings; it is how you learn about public speaking.  You can if you wish to take online educational programmes called “Pathways.” These pathways are there to help improve your public speaking through modules that you complete in your own time and at your own pace.

How much does it cost? I could give you all the usual about less than the price of a couple of cups of coffee a month.  However, to be specific in the UK it is around £9 per month paid in two instalments a year. Google what a public speaking course will cost you from a provider and see the difference.

If you don’t try you don’t succeed.  Succeed with Toastmasters.

To find your local club follow the link to Toastmasters International Website and type in your location

Our email for enquires at Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club is

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

The power of following up with people….

Since the middle of this year, Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club has had a push on getting new members. The question was, where can we find people looking to improve their speaking skills and confidence. We know it is a common fear amongst people but there is a difference between you being aware of a fear and actually doing something about it! The folowing few lines are about how we did it and what were the lessons we learnt. To summarise our lessons they have been:

  1. Follow up with people
  2. Follow up with people
  3. Follow up with people

The most obvious place to boost numbers was to chase up the membership that we already had. Emails, texts and phone calls were successful in encouraging members to meetings, on average we were getting 50% of the members attending. As it was always uncertain if some members were going to attend by chasing them up we had a very clear idea of who was coming. The reason why this is important is because at a Toastmasters meeting there are numerous roles that need to be filled which help the evening run in a slick professional manner. Roles such as time keeper, grammarian, toastmaster, speech evaluators, general evaluator and more. If you have not been to a meeting these descriptions are explained here. So that was the first lesson learnt!

However, that was not enough, so secondly, we then asked the question, where can we find people who are keen to join and are actively looking? We decided to try ‘Meet Up’, a global website which has a whole variety of different social groups on it which people can search for to find something of interest near them. This has a been a great success and has brought in a number of new members. That said, it was not plain sailing, some people joined our Meet Up group but did not engage or attend any meetings. As a result, we have been somewhat ruthless and given people about 5 opportunities to engage and then said to them we will remove them from the group. By following up with everyone we have had numerous members join, these were the active members in the Meet Up group and this has carried over and they have been very active in the Speakers Club. It has been a pleasure to welcome them and have them contribute.

Next, we had our website. Unfortunately, this was not working correctly for a number of months, but the good news was, we got that fixed. As a result pretty much straight away we had enquiries. Now, can you guess what we did next, yes, correct. By following up with people and chatting to them and finding out what they wanted, they came along to meetings and a number have joined.

To quote the phrase often absent from NASA laboratories, ‘it isn’t rocket science’. We now have a membership which has grown by 65% in 5 months and on average we get 3-4 new guests per meeting. I chuckled as only the other day I was talking to someone in the bank and mentioned about the speakers club and having explained it to him, he is keen to come along. If I don’t hear from him, I will be following up with him and who knows, perhaps another new member !!

The lessons here have application to multiple businesses, following up is vital. The next bit of the puzzle in sales, is having a good product. At Tunbridge Wells Speakers, if you came along, you will be greeted with a smile and a friendly face, you will get the chance to observe what goes on and join in if you want to. You will among people who are keen to get better at public speaking and the evenings are enjoyable. So far that is our winning formula and if you read this and want to come along then please contact us here.

You can be rest assured if you do….we will follow you up!

What’s the worst that can happen….oh no, it just happened !!

Before June this year I had no idea that there was a worldwide network of clubs where you could learn the art and skill of public speaking. A quick google told me about Toastmasters which generates all sorts of ideas about what ‘they are’….. a focused bunch of cooked bread enthusiasts …..a formally dressed group of town criers, protectors of hop drying oast houses who like a hot beverage before work….. the list goes on.

However, I discovered they are a group of friendly individuals who share a passion for mastering the art of speaking in public, something a large proportion of the world fear and one that can be overcome.  More so I discovered there are competitions you can enter to pit your speaking skills against others and so….I had a go. Now I, like many others, like winning and so I thought the main aim here is to win and therein lies the lesson I learnt because, I didn’t win, and as a result I think I learnt more…. I’ll explain.

The area different levels of competition and in the one I entered, the humorous speech contest, it goes up to the final where you compete against the best of the South of England. I won the local club and area contest and then went for South East England and got Second. Now the lesson learnt there was, my mind has never gone blank before that day, I stood up and spoke, it all worked. On that day, I said my first line and my mind went blank, nothing! So, standing on a stage, staring at an audience of 70 people I stopped, took a breath and waited, nothing……. panic started to rise. I decided to stay calm and start again, whatever happened inside, it kick started my mind and the second line came to me and off I went. Now if it had all gone smoothly I wouldn’t have had the reassurance that if I trusted my mind and importantly stayed calm, it gave me the next line. What’s the worst that can happen, well for me, the worst happened, and I got over it, some people didn’t notice! Despite that, I got second place, but that wasn’t enough to progress to the next round. You might think that is the end of the story and I went home dejected, however, far from it, read on….

At the next round I got for the first time, as an observer I got to see what I thought truly excellent speakers were like, so professional and skilled in the art of captivating an audience, making them laugh and telling a beautiful story in the process. If I had be competing I think I would have been lost in my world of thinking about my speech and not been able to view their speeches objectively and the lesson would have been lost.

I believe I am not at the winners’ standard, yet. That said, I learnt a huge amount from watching them and I am going to take these lessons and apply them to my next contest entry. Next time I aim to be on the winners’ podium and if I am, a good chunk of that will be because I lost this time and as a result, I learnt more.

So the lesson here is, the worst thing I can imagine in my public speaking journey happened and, I survived and I am better as a result.   I wonder how many others might actually benefit from the worst thing they can imagine with respect to public speaking  becoming a reality. I know if you had said that to me before, I certainly wouldn’t have believed you but I am grateful and better as a result and you know, the worst that can happen really wasn’t that bad. Isn’t that what our parents and others often tell us!

So if you have been putting off public speaking because you think how bad it might be, then have a go, because even if it happened you will learn from it and probably be better as a result.



Presenting to an audience is a skill and it can be learnt…

….so Simon Bucknall, who took 2nd place at the 2017 World Championship in Vancouver, wrote on his website.

I was reflecting on this on Tuesday at the last meeting of the Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club as we had 4 speakers which spanned the range of things possible with attendance at the club.

We had Rachel completing her ice breaker speech, the first speech you do as part of the training programme. It is designed, through guidance on structure and deliver, to introduce you, a topic we are often all quite good at talking about! We learnt about how her wardrobe does not seemingly mirror that in the famous CS Lewis book, how the grass is not always greener and how we should marry for love, especially if Colin Firth is asking.

We then heard from Charlie who was completing the 7th speech in the manual and this brought a different tone, his informative speech explored the current housing market and its future, especially for first time buyers, a sobering message but with some light at the end of the tunnel.

We then had Simon and myself practising our competition speeches for an area contest this weekend.

The evening was then topped off by Table Topics, which is the impromptu 1-2 min speech section where guests and members are invited to speak on a topic they have just been given. The Table Topics master was Richard P and he dished out the topic of cliques and brave as lions, a number of people came up to the front at the speed of light and waxed lyrical. It was the charisma and linguistic talents of Richard G who won and he spoke on ‘giving it 110%’ in his words, actions and vocal range.

As such I thought reflecting on that meeting was an excellent example of how anyone could engage with Toastmasters, from the very start or working through the training materials. There are the contests if you are competitive or simply the Table Topics for having a go and not having to prepare.

Hopefully there is something in here that helps encourage you to find a meeting wherever that is and learn the fun that can be had in public speaking rather than the usual words preceding the phrase public speaking which is ‘the fear of!

Simon Bucknall takes 2nd place in the 2017 World Championship of Public Speaking

A great result for the UK, Simon Bucknall having progressed from his London based club up through the various contests to the international stage and the World Championships.

If you have 8 mins to spare, grab a cuppa and watch Simon’s speech (see below) plus others from the final to see what is possible by learning the skill of public speaking and by participanting in the speaking contests offered through Toastmasters. If you are interested you can find your local speaking club by searching here.

Click on the play button below to play the video and enjoy 🙂

What have social media and Marmite got in common?

I know social media is a little bit like Marmite, you either ‘love it or you hate it’! I have over the past few years tended toward the less positive response, but, that said, I have recently changed my mind. I shall explain….

Having just taken on the role of PR for the Tunbridge Wells Speakers Club and I have used Meet Up before but not for a few years. It is a website site that allows you to post news of any group meeting to the world whatever the topic, rambling, knitting, car repairs, Shakespeare or in our case, public speaking. I was a little sceptical but thought, well you don’t know until you try and I must admit what happened left me more than surprised. At the time of writing this we have in only 3 weeks gained 22 members to the Meet Up group and 4 new guests attended our last meeting on 22nd Aug. Ok, I can hear you thinking, 4 people, is that all, now hold on a second.

As Francis Drake said; “Great things have small beginnings”

So I am sticking with Francis on this one. Each of those four people know many others so in a few weeks with those four, and the 18 we haven’t yet met, it may be we have too many people for our meeting and we need to find a bigger room! What a great place to be in. Ok, ok, calm down I can hear you thinking, but isn’t it fun to ask ….what if.

Well, what I am pretty certain of is that without Meet Up we might have had one new person, perhaps two but 100% more than that, I doubt it. So, the long and short of it is, social media has worked and helped up connect to other interested in public speaking that we probably would not have reached. Overall, it was fantastic result, it was great to welcome so many new guests and we want to welcome a lot more. In fact, in our table topics Julia took on the experienced members and jointly shares the glory of the table topics trophy (see below). So, if you are reading this and have thoght about coming along and finding out about improving your public speaking then perhaps, just perhaps you might be one of three, four or five new guests at our next meeting.

That said, however many guests there are at the next meeting on 12th Sept, there will be a smiling face to welcome you. In fact the 12th Sept will hopefully feature lots of smiling faces as it is the annual Humorous Speech Contest night. It will feature up to 4 speakers each giving a speech 5-7 minutes long. If you are free that night and you are tempted to come along please be our guest and we can have a chat in the break to find out what the club might offer you.

Are you a untapped fountain of knowledge?

The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Nelson Mandela

I recently returned from a short trip to Kerry in Ireland, as is the way in Ireland I got chatting to people, a lot!!

As we talked I often got onto the topic of the speakers club and public speaking in general. The agreement from most was that public speaking was an exceptionally scary thing to do and something they would shy away from at any opportunity. No story from my short time away was more interesting than a gentleman who, a few years ago, had written an article on a soldier at the Battle of Trafalgar. This article was very well received in the historic fraternity and as a result he received numerous invitations to go and speak about this. One such invite came from a meeting being held at Oxford University, I would love to say he went along and spoke and that led to other engagements and he now makes his living talking about the naval things he is passionate about. I would like to say that because that is the fairy tale that I played out in my head when listening to him.

However, as you might imagine, that is not what played out, he did not speak at that meeting, or any of the others he was invited to. Now, I am not saying that was the wrong thing to do but his fear stopped him unlocking opportunities which could have changed his life.

As you might imagine I am an optimist, I imagine good things will happen, I see opportunity in most things and creating new possibilities. We are not all like that but his fear of public speaking held him man back. He is happy in his life now, and so I am happy about that. But, we don’t know what else might have happened, could creating an alternative path have helped him be even happier? The film Sliding Doors visually creates this idea of alternative lives based on the small things that happen each day.

So if you are like this guy, if you have opportunities to speak about topics you are knowledgeable on, I say don’t miss that chance, ask yourself what is the worst that can happen? Face that fear and stand up and speak and create new possibilities

The 10th Oct is Face your Fears day, if public speaking is one you want to crack then come along to one of our meetings and you will find a warm, welcoming bunch who want to see you learn, grow and succeed.

What have you got to lose, little. What have you got to gain, well that is to be seen?……………..

Tunbridge Wells Speakers club – we meet every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month. Come along for free as a guest and see what it’s all about. Click here for details.

Chris 🙂


8th Aug 2017 Meeting

I have just walked in from tonight’s meeting so keen to let people know how it went.

We were delighted to welcome two guests tonight and our two newest members. Indu who has been part of toastmasters in India and Eddie who has visited us once before so great to see him back again. What was lovely was they gave some fantastic feedback about how we ran things as we are keen to see what people think and share their experiences. Indu shared experiences she has of Toastmasters in India and gave us some ideas about how we might jazz up the Table Topics so watch this space……

We only had one speech tonight which was from me and it was my second speech from the Competent Communicator manual so it was focused on organising a speech. The title was ‘ Are you a lucky or an unlucky person’, the speech talked about The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman and translated this into lessons we might all take on board to welcome more luck into our lives! As with each speech given at Toastmasters there was a full and excellent evaluation, this time from Graham Archbold which helps the speaker identify not only what they did well but also what they might do differently to further improve both the speech and their abilities as a speaker.

With the extra time we had, we fitted in two rounds of Table Topics, these are impromptu speeches delivered for a minute, so the adrenaline rush hit most people twice tonight. The topics varied from; ‘Home is your Sanctuary’, to; ‘If you could ask one person from any point in time one question who would it be and what would your question be’.

Our proud winners tonight were Ritesh and Katy, Katy wasn’t so keen to be in the photo so you’ll have to imagine her standing on the right in the picture below 🙂

Overall a great evening despite being light on speeches it meant that everyone had at least two opportunities to stand up and speak and hence get evaluated.

Thanks goes to everyone this evening and our next meeting is on Tues 22nd August from 7.15pm upstairs at the Tunbridge Wells Bridge Club if you’d like to come along please just turn up and you will be made most welcome.

Picture of Table Topics Winner Ritesh and Katy 8th Aug 2017