If you’re a new member of Toastmasters, you might not understand the organization of the program. How the parts make the whole, as it were. But you probably have heard about the Toastmaster district events where the entire district has been invited, either for education, or for awards, or for both.
Every fall, we host Toastmasters district events. District 10 held the Quality Club Forum district event – a series of presentations to help build up clubs in the district. District 11 held the Fall Education Day. What’s the difference? There were a lot of differences in the Toastmasters district events – differing messages, separate tracks vs single track, and whole lot of new people I’ve never met before.
That made all the difference to me. It’s why I recommend you get outside your comfort zone and try a different Toastmasters district event from just your club meeting.
Toastmasters Contest Organization requires three people.
Ever been to a circus? Back in the long lost days of traveling circuses, there would be huge tents with three staging areas called rings and each would have an act going at the same time. The smart the circus company used one tent to cover everyone, but no one was too far away from the action on one of the stages. Besides, there were peanuts. Who can hate an event with peanuts?
Contests are like circuses. There’s a whole lot going on that the audience is oblivious to and that’s a good thing. They are there to be entertained. They don’t want to know about who’s cleaning up after the animals or how the clowns get into the car. But without that organization in the background, the show won’t go on.
Ever heard of the World Champion of Public Speaking? Toastmasters contests recognize one speaker a year as the best. It starts at the club level and goes all the way up to the International Speech Contest held annually at the International Toastmasters convention.
The speech contests are a long-time component of Toastmasters program. Most districts host 2 contests per year. For some members, this competition is an important part of their Toastmasters experience.
There are pretty much 3 perspectives on the contest. Some people love them. Other people loathe them. And in the middle are people who don’t care.
If you’re in one of public speaking pathways, maybe you don’t expect leadership tasks in your track. If you’re in one of the leadership pathways, you may be wondering just when you’re going to get some actual leadership training.
Being a toastmaster means more than giving speeches and the occasional evaluation. These meetings don’t happen by themselves, you know. Club meeting roles are important.
Club Meeting Roles
If you’ve attended a meeting, you know there’s a Toastmaster of the day – a ringleader or MC who manages part or all of the meeting.
There’s a table topics leader who poses the prompt for the impromptu speeches – and who may call for votes to be sent in to pick a winner.
The general evaluator might lead the 2nd portion of the meeting – the evaluation section. This person may call up the speech evaluators, the grammarian and ah-counter and the timer to give reports on how well the club meeting was handled. This is handled in different ways within clubs – be aware of how your club manages these reports.
After about a year in Toastmasters as you complete your Competent Communicator manual, you might be wondering what’s next. Is the CC all that Toastmasters has to offer you?
Moving Too Fast?
You may hear some older Toastmasters say that you shouldn’t go too fast through the Competent Communicator manual. They have a valid point: the longer you’re in Toastmasters, the more speeches and more evaluations you’ll see and learn from. I strongly believe that you learn more about your speaking from the evaluations you give others.
If you rush through the CC, you are depriving yourself of a lot of learning. But the great value of Toastmasters is that you work at your own speed. If you can get through the CC in a few months and are comfortable doing so, don’t let me stop you!
I can say that because…
The Competent Communicator Isn’t the End
When you finish the CC, you’re not done with what Toastmasters offers. We’ve got a lot more for you to learn.
Prepared Material Series
If you joined Toastmasters because your boss told you to, was it because you’re going to be giving presentations of material related to work? I’d recommend you take a look at the Better Speaker and Successful Club series of speeches. They are available for free by download on the Toastmasters.org site.
Let me acknowledge that I commonly refer to these speeches as “zombie” speeches. In the past, TI gave you the slides and a script – thus, a zombie could do these. They were… terrible. Horrible. Important information for speakers or for clubs to be successful, but the format was less than stellar.
In the last few years, I believe that TI learned that these speeches had to be customized for the speaker. So now they give you an outline of the material (you could probably still find the slides somewhere but DON’T!) and let you create a speech that suits your style and your audience. Toastmasters even has a standard template for Powerpoint presentations for you to use if you like. You can check out their branding information here.
I think that these speeches can teach you how to take someone else’s material and make it your own. In the business world, that skill alone can be vital to your career!
We do have another series, the Leadership Excellence Series, which focuses more on leadership than communication. These have more application outside Toastmasters.
Looking to improve your skills in a specific way? Look at our Advanced Manual series. We have 15 manuals with 5 projects each that focus on different aspects of public speaking. Check out this link to a district’s examination of each of the manuals where you’ll find all of them with a list of the projects inside.
You buy the manuals from Toastmasters.org – but wait until you get the freebie coupon when you get your Competent Communicator Certificate in the mail. You get two manuals for free! Take advantage of this!
Consider an Advanced Club. These clubs have a membership requirement that requires a certain number of speeches be completed before you can join. The Toastmasters in these clubs are often looking for deeper, more insightful evaluations and longer presentation times. Since some of the advanced manual speeches are longer than the average 5 to 7 minute projects, these clubs tend to hold longer meetings but only meet monthly. They are worth your time if you want to move up in Toastmasters.
The Award System
You’ll hear people stick letters after their names… CC, CL, ALB, ACG, DTM.
(Toastmasters is full of acronyms!)
Those letters indicate how far the member has gone through the Education tracks. We have several award levels split between two tracks: Education and Leadership. Each award has a set of requirements that you can find on the Toastmasters site. When you finish your Competent Communicator manual, you can put CC after your name too. Finish the CL and you add it “CC, CL” and so on all the way up to DTM: Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest award we give.
Don’t think that it’s a simple or easy process. A rough estimate shows that the DTM award is granted after some 7 hours of on-stage presentations and at least 1.5 years of officer service to a club and the district. This is a challenging course and, in my opinion, the equivalent of a masters degree in practical communication. Like the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout award, very few people do achieve it. The estimates run between 2% and 6% of members achieve this.
The Inspirational Speech, the last of the speech projects in the Competent Communicator manual, challenges you to pull together everything you’ve learned so far. Speech organization, presentation skills and the tricks of rhetoric to gain your audience’s attention and confidence all go together into a final speech project.
This speech assignment suggests several techniques to emotionally connect with your audience. This is not the time to be subtle. Go big! Go dramatic!
While you’re expected to inspire your audience, this is also a great speech to try something new. Did you see someone use a technique you’d like to try?
Speaking Sitting Down?
My first Project 10 speech was my favorite. While gasoline prices topped $4.00 a gallon, I gave a speech about hypermiling. Using techniques to reduce your gas consumption while driving could hit my audience with information and motivation to change some of their ingrained driving habits.
The single drawback to speaking that day was a severe case of tendonitis in my knees.
I’d never seen anyone give a speech sitting down, but that day, it was my only hope. Before the meeting, I asked the sergeant at arms to put two chairs in front of the lectern. I acted as if I were getting into the car with my first sentence, and gave the rest of the speech sitting down.
I expected to be called on it. But my evaluator thought it was clever to act as if I were driving for the speech.
Truly, from the strangest inspiration come the best ideas.
This speech is about inspiration – so you need to be inspired.
What Do You Love to Do? Inspire You Audience to Join You
I get a lot of questions about what to do with this speech. A general misunderstanding of what inspiration is causes a lot of stress for speakers. Don’t expect to inspire someone to do something they wouldn’t already consider doing. Inspirational speeches need the audience buy into the topic and idea long before the speaker comes to the stage. Introducing new ideas are rarely inspirational – those are informative speeches. If you want to bring new ideas to your audience, please do it! But you won’t likely reap much success with it. Any person needs multiple exposures to information before they’re open to change.
With all this in mind, pick a topic that you’re passionate about. Me? I’m passionate about Star Trek. I’ve gone to conventions, I always get to the opening nights of the movies. Yes, I’m a Trekkie. It would be very easy for me to want to inspire others to join me in my trek to the final frontier of fandom.
Make it easy on yourself. Pick a topic that you can speak about almost without preparation. I could speak about hypermiling because I’d been reading up on it and practicing it for months. When you’ve got a topic you love, writing the speech and finding the emotional points you want to share is easy. Now you can go big with your speech.
Go Big: Turn It Up to 11
Are you naturally a very subtle person, who likes things to be calm and serene? This speech could be that way… but I suggest you turn it up to 11 this time. Find ways to stretch yourself in this presentation. Now, my 11 is not your 11. Don’t judge yourself against someone else. Look inward and find at least one thing that you can do in this speech that pushes you past your comfort zone. That’s where you should go with this speech.
After Your Speech – It’s Time for Paperwork
Once your final speech is evaluated and the manual back in your hands, you need to hand the record sheet of your 10 speech projects to the club vice president of education. Using the Toastmasters International website, the VPE will input your information. A week or so later (always later if you send it in during June) you’ll get a certificate from Toastmasters and a letter telling you that you can order two free advanced manuals! Take advantage of this right away – the coupon code expires fairly quickly and will only be offered to you once.
Congratulations! You now get to put CC after your name!
It sounds like you’re done… but you’re not. Not at all. There’s a lot more to Toastmasters than just the Competent Communicator and Competent Leader manuals. You can go big with Toastmasters. We’ll talk about those in our next episode: What’s Next?
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Our music is from
Cool Blast Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Persuasion isn’t just about how long or how much you can speak and wear down your listeners to finally give in– it’s about moving your audience to do something.
How does persuasion work?
How do you persuade someone?
We always expect something to come after the word “convince” or “persuade.” We want to convince someone to do something. We want to persuade someone to believe or act in a certain way.
There you have it. That’s the difference between a public speaker and a two-year old’s public tantrum.
Rhetoric – the art of persuasion – is undoubtedly as old as speaking. I’m sure that it wasn’t just the ancient Greeks who studied the methods of persuasion, but we tend to use their words in English to describe the ways we approach our audience to convince them – with facts, emotions, and logic. Watch the Oxyclean commercial and see how it’s done.
How effective are facts alone? Facts are not persuasive by themselves. We lose the power of a fact when it’s not put into context. We have to relate the facts to the overall story.
Story may be the key to producing a persuasive speech. People don’t remember facts, figures, or statistics. They will remember a good story.
How to Pick a Topic for Persuasion
Persuasive speeches are hard to write. They take time to craft and practice. For the first time you give this project, I might suggest that you pick a topic that is fairly innocuous – not one that people are going to become offended by. A topic that they’re open to considering allows you to concentrate on the skills you’re working to develop, not so much on the arguments that you’ll have to answer. A humorous topic or something about your community might be a gentle place to start. You don’t have to go full bore and argue about legalizing this or criminalizing that. Go easy on yourself.
Three Rhetorical Techniques for Persuasion
A few rhetorical tricks that can help you be more persuasive.
The classic “rhetorical question” opens a speech in a way that can draw your audience into your speech. When you ask a question that you don’t really expect a response to, you can create a sense of curiosity in your listeners. Don’t you think so?
Another good rhetorical technique is the repeating things three times. Now, this shouldn’t be an exact repeat over and over. It’s more like starting a sentence the same way but changing the end. President Kennedy used the phrase “Let both sides” start three sentences in his inaugural address in 1961. It reinforces a message to the audience.
Learn to use the long pause. If you were writing out your speech, you might put in an ellipsis or start a new paragraph… to show the audience how important what you said was, and the equal importance of what is to follow. You don’t have to sound… like… William Shatner. But pauses help you by letting your audience catch up, or take a moment to think about what you’ve just said.
If you want to see an amazing example of a persuasive presentation, take a look at this Youtube video. This guy has amazing presentation skills!
The Take Away
What are the two keys to a successful persuasive speech?
Make sure your call to action is clear, concise, simple and specific.
Use a personal story that will hook your audience with strong emotions that directly links to the problem you address and the call to action you give.
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Our music is from
Cool Blast Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
I think that it’s about engaging more of your audience’s senses than just hearing you speak. A visual aid adds a layer to your speech that your voice or body can’t add.
It’s not just about handouts or PowerPoint images. Your goal is to bring your audience to a different place than they were before you began – and sometimes, an image or an object can do it faster and more effectively than words. Pictures are worth a thousand words? So then might a good visual aid.
Better than just one sense, try to engage many. When I had to give a presentation about Toastmasters club officer roles, I stopped by a local bakery and bought my visuals – bread rolls. The smells captured my audience as much as the sight of blueberry muffins and cinnamon rolls. Yes, I will stoop that low for a good pun.
What’s a Good Visual Aid?
Is anything you bring onto the stage with you a visual aid? I wouldn’t argue with you if that’s what you said. I’ve seen a speaker bring a piece of exercise equipment that lets him hang upside down as a prop for his speech. (Think about what I wrote. Wouldn’t a picture have done a better job than me explaining it? I couldn’t find one!)
A good visual is big enough for the audience to see and understand. That’s pretty much it. This is why so many people go for the PowerPoint presentations – they can use little objects but make them big enough for the back row to see.
I prefer color to pale or pastel visual aids, but that may just be my inclination to bright colors. If I needed a ping-pong ball, I wouldn’t go out of my way to find a colored one.
Distracting Visual Aids
A good visual aid is not distracting to the audience when it’s not in use. Don’t carry it when you’re not using it. If it’s unstable, like a ball on a table, then figure out a way to prevent it from rolling and upstaging your speech. There’s an old theater story about an actress who was fighting with her co-star. She entered the scene with a full glass of wine in her hand, and when she left the stage, she strategically placed the goblet on the edge of a table, where the audience couldn’t miss it. When would it fall? No one paid any attention to the actress’s co-star – they all waited for the wine glass to fall. It never did – she’d prepped with a piece of tape on the table top that would hold the glass in place. Make sure your visual aid doesn’t upstage you!
Using a box to store your visual aids can be a way to create curiosity in your audience. Decorate the box in some way to market your message – don’t let any opportunity to influence your audience to get away from you.