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

Toastmaster listening

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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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!

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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.

 

 

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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!

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