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My First Experience With Toastmasters Public Speaking

Public speaking is people’s number one fear…#2 is death…as Comedian Jerry Seinfeld put it: “That means you’d rather be laying in the casket at a funeral than giving the eulogy.”

I’ve had a couple of smart friends recommend that I check out Toastmasters as a tool to sharpen my public speaking saw for a few years now…so I finally took the plunge.

I highly recommend that you try it out — you can find one of 12,000 Toastmasters locations in 130 countries. Toastmasters International is a non-profit (though they do charge you if you want to be a member) that began in Santa Ana, California in 1924.

I picked a Toastmasters club in San Francisco (there were a dozen to choose from!)…coincidentally, one of them was located in a building I used to work.

Common Questions People Have About Toastmasters Public Speaking

How much does Toastmasters cost?

You don’t need to pay anything to check it out. You can be a free guest for as long as you want which allows you to both observe others giving speeches and also give your own short speeches (I’ll explain what guests do in a moment).

If you’d like to become a member (which means you’ll receive some curriculum and the opportunity to do longer speeches (and get feedback on them), the Toastmasters dues are $20 one-time and then $27 every six months.

Do I have to give a speech at the first Toastmasters meeting?

Yes, though it’s a short one. At your first meeting, you are asked to stand up and introduce yourself and how you came about choosing Toastmasters. You will also have the option to do a Toastmasters table topics speech at your first meeting.

What is a Toastmaster table-topics speech?

A Toastmasters member at each meeting will give guests a random topic or theme for a speech (called a table-topic) and the guest is asked if he or she would like to speak about that topic right there on the spot (without preparation) for a couple of minutes. Table-topic speeches are designed to help you think on your feet — my first table-topic was a college graduation commencement speech.

What are the different Toastmaster parts/roles that people play?

  • Toastmaster — They open and close each meeting as well as introduce speakers throughout the meeting
  • Toastmaster Grammarian — They give a speech on what the Grammarian does (which is to count how many times speakers say words such as “like” or “uh”) and give a Grammarian’s Report speech of all Speakers.
  • Toastmaster Timer — They give a speech on what the Timer does and another speech on how much time each Speaker took.
  • Toastmaster Guests — They give a brief speech (standing up behind their chair) about how they learned of Toastmasters.
  • Toastmaster Speaker — They give a speech on some topic that they were given a week or two earlier.
  • Toastmaster Master Evaluator — They give a speech providing feedback on all of the speakers
  • Toastmaster Evaluator — They give a speech on the Toastmaster Speaker.

Note: Every single person in attendance at a Toastmasters meeting is asked to speak (you may decline) and every person is there to learn (there are no Toastmasters employees in attendance!).

How frequently do Toastmasters meetings take place and how long are they?

Toastmasters meetings are typically weekly for one hour. But you’re under no obligation to attend every one (I attended my first three over a two-month period (because I was traveling).

Toastmasters provides two good top 10 lists for public speakingj. Here they are:

10 Tips for Better Public Speaking

1. Know your material. Pick a topic you are interested in. Know more about it than you include in your speech. Use humor, personal stories and conversational language – that way you won’t easily forget what to say.
2. Practice. Practice. Practice! Rehearse out loud with all equipment you plan on using. Revise as necessary. Work to control filler words; Practice, pause and breathe. Practice with a timer and allow time for the unexpected.
3. Know the audience. Greet some of the audience members as they arrive. It’s easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers.
4. Know the room. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone and any visual aids.
5. Relax. Begin by addressing the audience. It buys you time and calms your nerves. Pause, smile and count to three before saying anything. (“One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand. Pause. Begin.) Transform nervous energy into enthusiasm.
6. Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and confident. Visualize the audience clapping – it will boost your confidence.
7. Realize that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They’re rooting for you.
8. Don’t apologize for any nervousness or problem – the audience probably never noticed it.
9. Concentrate on the message – not the medium. Focus your attention away from your own anxieties and concentrate on your message and your audience.
10. Gain experience. Mainly, your speech should represent you – as an authority and as a person. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking. A Toastmasters club can provide the experience you need in a safe and friendly environment.

Top 10 Public Speaking Mistakes

  1. Starting with a whimper. Don’t start with “Thank you for that kind introduction.” Start with a bang! Give the audience a startling statistic, an interesting quote, a news headline – something powerful that will get their attention immediately.’
  2. Attempting to imitate other speakers. Authenticity is lost when you aren’t yourself.
  3. Failing to “work” the room. Your audience wants to meet you. If you don’t take time to mingle before the presentation, you lose an opportunity to enhance your credibility with your listeners.
  4. Failing to use relaxation techniques. Do whatever it takes – listening to music, breathing deeply, shrugging your shoulders – to relieve nervous tension.
  5. Reading a speech word for word. This will put the audience to sleep. Instead use a “keyword” outline: Look at the keyword to prompt your thoughts. Look into the eyes of the audience, then speak.
  6. Using someone else’s stories. It’s okay to use brief quotes from other sources, but to connect with the audience, you must illustrate your most profound thoughts from your own life experiences. If you think you don’t have any interesting stories to tell, you are not looking hard enough.
  7. Speaking without passion. The more passionate you are about your topic, the more likely your audience will act on your suggestions.
  8. Ending a speech with questions and answers. Instead, tell the audience that you will take questions and then say, “We will move to our closing point.” After the Q and A, tell a story that ties in with your main theme, or summarize your key points. Conclude with a quote or call to action.
  9. Failing to prepare. Your reputation is at stake every time you face an audience – so rehearse well enough to ensure you’ll leave a good impression!
  10. Failing to recognize that speaking is an acquired skill. Effective executives learn how to present in the same way they learn to use other tools to operate their businesses.

I hope you try Toastmasters out — I’d be surprised if you didn’t find it a super-positive experience.

6 Comments

  • Jess123

    I already attended 2 sessions as a guest. I feel like joining (though there is some fear…). I will probably join.

  • robkelly

    Some of you may want to know what size Toastmasters groups are and how does adding and losing members work.

    Toastmasters International typically expects that a club of 20 members will lose about 8 members a year. For those of you familiar with the Distinguished Club Program, this is why each club has a goal of adding 8 new members each year.

  • http://www.robdkelly.com Rob Kelly

    Some of you may want to know what size Toastmasters groups are and how does adding and losing members work.

    Toastmasters International typically expects that a club of 20 members will lose about 8 members a year. For those of you familiar with the Distinguished Club Program, this is why each club has a goal of adding 8 new members each year.

  • http://www.robdkelly.com Rob Kelly

    Some of you may want to know what size Toastmasters groups are and how does adding and losing members work.

    Toastmasters International typically expects that a club of 20 members will lose about 8 members a year. For those of you familiar with the Distinguished Club Program, this is why each club has a goal of adding 8 new members each year.

  • robkelly

    Some of you may want to know what size Toastmasters groups are and how does adding and losing members work.

    Toastmasters International typically expects that a club of 20 members will lose about 8 members a year. For those of you familiar with the Distinguished Club Program, this is why each club has a goal of adding 8 new members each year.

  • http://robdkelly.com/communication/toastmasters-agenda/ Here’s How A Typical Toastmasters Agenda/Meeting Looks | Rob Kelly

    [...] For more on Toastmasters basics, check out My First Experience With Toastmasters. [...]