Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Toastmaster's Club

I attended my first Toastmaster's Club meeting yesterday. I had been on the fence of whether to go or not, and I even blew it off two weeks ago, but this week I decided to go. It's not too far from where I work, so I opted to just stay late and then head on over.

The club is built like almost all the clubs I've ever been to before. You basically have some people who have been there for a long time who are the club leaders, then you have tiers below that. Each person is assigned a mentor to help guide them to becoming better and better. If you join, you get a packet with information about the elements that make up a good speech, how to frame your speech, how to incorporate your body movements and make eye contact with the audience. Also, there are apparently different packet levels and types for specific skills or development paths.

The meeting itself is run by a member who is deemed the meeting leader for that session. They are in charge of keeping the meeting moving, introducing speakers, and doing all the transition work between the coordinated events. Also, they develop the schedule and coordinate who will speak. There are three main sections, the planned speeches, the table topics (improvisational speeches) and then evaluations. In between there is some club news and then it concludes with an evaluation of the meeting itself. As a person goes up to speek, they shake hands with the person already there in an effort to make sure that the focal point is never left empty.

For the planned speeches, there is a timer, an ah/uh counter and the vote collector. Each person there will rate the speaker compared to the other ones in that group and a winner is determined at the end of the meeting. The speeches are given by people at different levels who are primarily focused on specific parts of a presentation. The goal is to talk from 5-7 minutes, there is a stop light device that goes on when you hit the 5, 6 and 7 minute marks.

Anyone can volunteer for the Table Topics portion. The goal is to talk from 1-2 minutes, with the lights going on at the 1, 1.5 and 2 minute marks. Since I wanted to give it a shot, I volunteered for the first topic. I improvised on the spot and talked for a minute and sixteen seconds about the topic of what is something you do every year at this time that you can only do during the winter.

The final big section, evaluations, are focused on the planned speeches. The evaluators are actually giving speeches about the speeches they evaluated and what was good and bad about them. After they finish, the group votes on who was the best evaluator as well. I don't think there is a time limit for the evaluations. The idea of the evaluation is to talk about what the person did well and then a few areas that they could improve, but the group is mainly focused on positive support and encouragement, esp since it is entirely volunteer based. Each individual can write up a little evaluation of the people who spoke during the meeting and give it to them afterward.

In the end, they give out the ribbons for best planned speech, table topic and evaluator. I got the ribbon for best Table Topics for my speech, so that was encouraging.

Overall it seems like a great way to get some practice speaking in public. There is a quote that goes something like, "I'd rather die than speak in public", so clearly there is a lot of trepidation about it. Toastmasters seems like a great place, with a lot of good structure and foundation to move past any fears as well as learn a new skill that can be useful in your career. Worst case you become more comfortable organizing your thoughts and discussing a topic and you gain confidence from knowing you can do something that others may shy away from.

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