Prepare to Speak Professionally: Level 5 Elective

Prepare to Speak Professionally Toastmasters 101

Maybe it’s because of who I follow on social media that I’ve gotten dozens of emails and social media ads that say “The best place to reach your customers is on the stage where they’ve come to hear you speak.” So you want to prepare to speak professionally.

That makes good sense. Instead of spamming thousands of people who will likely unsubscribe from your list, you find a place to speak and invite all the interested customers to come and hear you.

The push to become a professional, paid speaker is pretty fierce right now. Whether it’s a fad or recognition of a long-standing truth – there’s a push right now to learn how to speak professionally. And here’s Toastmasters, where it’s always been, getting our members ready to step up onto that stage. In Pathways, it’s a Level 5 elective: Prepare to Speak Professionally.

Public speaking is fun.

This is a secret hiding behind the fear of public speaking. It’s fun to stand up in front of people and make them react in a way that you want. It’s a thrill to see people understand your message.

Not to mention the respect you get when you’ve done it well.

I don’t know too many people who get on the stage but hate it. Why would you do something you hate?

I do know Laura, who joined Toastmasters when she took a new job and discovered that a good portion of this job was going to be giving presentations. She joined Toastmasters right away because of how uncomfortable she felt. Laura needed to become a professional speaker – and Toastmasters was there to give her the tools. She learned how to organize her material and present it in an accessible, interesting way.

Laura spent over 10 years in this job before she retired. Her work changed the lives of many people because she was willing to go up on the stage.

Right now, I have a pretty bitter taste in my mouth about professional speaking. I attended an event over the summer that advertised itself one way – training in a skill that I wished to improve.  It turned into a continual sales pitch for an unending line of consultants, trainers and programs that I needed to buy now at a huge discount…

On the flip side, I regularly give workshops or seminars in my area. So I’m a professional speaker too.

Well, that’s awkward, isn’t it?

Let’s take a look at the Level 5 Prepare to Speak Professionally elective.

It’s likely that people join Toastmasters for this specific purpose. They want to get up and
• tell their story
• create their personal brand
• sell their product.

The one drawback to Toastmasters dropping the walls between the levels in the Pathways is that a newbie can come into our program, head directly for this project and ignore everything that must come before. If you see someone in your club doing that, it may be time for the new member’s mentor or the VP Ed to take them aside to help them understand that this project isn’t where you start – it’s based extensively on the skills learned in all of the previous levels.

As I look through this project again (I did complete it for one of my paths, and I use this evaluation every time I speak professionally – ok, when I remember to print it out before I leave) I am most impressed with the marketing information that’s presented.

First, it’s very thorough.

Those 5 steps are absolutes in this society now in order to be a professional speaker who wants to make a living by giving speeches. Public speaking as a career is no different from selling a product. It’s just you’re selling yourself. Those 5 steps may be in a different order for a product – after all, you have to do research first to create a product.

Second, this section doesn’t go into deep details – a smart decision. How these things are done will change over time, so committing to a specific plan is futile.

Did I just contradict myself – it’s thorough but it’s not deep?

Both are true. Essentially, they’ve laid out a course of action that allows you to develop your own take on it. By not saying “use product X to produce your website” they avoid having to rewrite the curriculum if product X disappears.

So yes, it’s mutually contradictory. I’m good with paradox.

Prepare to Speak Professionally with the right foundation skills.

Back in Episode 18, I talked about the essential speech skills – the 4 electives of Level 3 that I believe everyone should work, regardless of the requirement that only 2 or 3 must be completed. Every one of those 4 skills are now in play as you write a compelling keynote. Without mastering those essential skills, you can’t prepare to speak professionally. You don’t have the foundation.

I’m back to newbies jumping to this project. Do whatever you can to discourage this leap. It will bring them sorrow and pain and frustration and they’ll blame Toastmasters.

Speaker Flexibility

One thing that I didn’t think was covered enough in this project is the necessity to be flexible as a public speaker. I’ve heard stories about speakers who demanded their full time even when the schedule has to change because of circumstances. I heard speakers who spoke at light-speed to cover all their material in half the time because someone else took too long. I saw both of those this summer at that conference I attended – speakers taking over their allotted time, or a speaker who tried to cover all of her slides in a speech slot that had been cut in half.

The ability to change your script on the fly is a sign of a true professional. I mentioned last week that during a presentation to an audience that was more knowledgeable than I expected, I simply skipped slides. Maybe that’s not an option for you on your topic, but then you’ve got to shave time off the end of your presentation. Since that’s probably your sales pitch for your product, book, or service, you rightly don’t want to skip there!

Developing a professional presentation should include some flex. Right now, the big push in presentations is to use images instead of words on your slides. This prevents you from reading from your slides – always a very bad thing to do, but it also allows you to skip material and the audience will never know!

This elective will take you longer to do than most of your previous speech projects. The slide deck alone will probably take twice the time as speech prep if you’re good at writing speeches!

Prepare to Speak Professionally Checklist review

The instructions for this project from the checklist say:

Write and present an 18- to 22-minute keynote-style speech. Exemplify the point of view or message you would convey as a professional-level speaker. You may choose to use visual aids if they fit your speech and your style. Your speech may be humorous, informational, or any style that appeals to you and supports your speech content. If you receive advance approval from the vice president education, you may present your speech to a non-Toastmasters group.

Let’s unpack this.

1. An 18-22 minute speech

First: An 18-22 minute speech will take up the entire prepared speaking portion of a meeting that lasts an hour. It probably will encroach on the Table Topics portion as well, but with only one speaker, you have only one evaluation, so maybe it will fit your usual club meeting.

There are clubs that specialize in longer speeches. Have you heard about advanced Toastmasters clubs? These clubs usually have a restriction on membership based on completing a number of speeches or levels in Pathways. But on the flip side, they offer things that many community or corporate clubs don’t offer – the time to give an advanced presentation that goes longer than 7.30 minutes. Advanced clubs also offer what we call Round Robin evaluations: where everyone in the club is asked to give a very short evaluation comment about the speech. The wide range of perspectives provides tremendous value over the single evaluator with 2-3 minutes.

Marsha and the Round Robin Evaluation

My friend Marsha recently presented a portion of her upcoming keynote at our advanced club meeting. Her evaluator loved her intro. Twelve other people liked it. I was the lone hold-out. Now, because Marsha is one of my closest friends, someone I think of as a mentor, and as a DTM, she knew I wasn’t going to attack her personally when I said, “Your introduction sucks.”

She modified her introduction, shaved about 5 minutes of speech, and when she gave the presentation, she had the audience in her hand. Was my comment that effective? Maybe it was – but she never would have heard it in a normal evaluation by a single evaluator in a normal meeting.

So think about checking out an advanced club near you – or starting one, if you have enough fellow Toastmasters interested in it.

Second: A speech of your choice.

Second: A speech of your choice. 18 – 22 minutes is a mighty short keynote. I think you’d do better to create a longer speech and then you’ll have a presentation you can edit down to 22 minutes.

The training for this project mentioned using stories. When you write a longer speech and then have to edit it, you’re also editing your story. How will you handle that? Am I making more work for you? In the long run, I think developing a longer presentation that will be useful in the future means less work.

This project has the power to impact the rest of your life.  This may be the foundation of your future as a professional speaker.  Crafting a longer speech that’s more marketable but instantly adjustable is far more valuable to you and to those who may want to hire you.

If you want to get your message out, then prepare for long and cut as needed.

What do you give your audience?

I talked a bit about the computer slides earlier in this podcast. If you’re creating a keynote, slides are expected anymore. What are you going to do about handouts? Do you expect your audience to take notes or will you provide them? What about providing a link to them online on your website – with a convenient sign-up for your email list?

If you’re worried about jumping over something on your handout and afraid that the audience will know it, consider this:  the best hand-outs have some extra value to the audience.  More material that you didn’t cover that augments your message.  Let them think that you’ve given more than you spoke about – it gives you added credibility.  You’re just that good.

If you’re serious about preparing to become a professional speaker, then these are things you need to consider. If you’re doing this speech because you think it’s the easiest or fastest to complete the level, ok, you don’t need to think about these things. But for those of us who want to step onto a paid stage, we can cut our workload by working thoughtfully now with an eye toward the future.

Third: Getting approval from the VP ed when you prepare to speak professionally

Third: Getting approval from the VP ed.  This sounds suspiciously like permission to speak outside the club. Which I do not need from anyone, thank you very much.

I think this might be better worded, Toastmasters International. I think – and let’s emphasize that this is my own opinion – it may be better said that the VPE will approve this speech project for your path. It meets the requirements for the speech project and you’ll have an evaluator – a fellow Toastmaster on site – to evaluate your presentation.

I’m not so sure about the advance approval part, either. It may be that I have an opportunity rise and the VPE doesn’t get the request before the event – do I not get credit because of scheduling?

Yes, I’ve had surprise opportunities come up. I’ve also had trouble with a VP Ed in Hawaii instead of at home. Can I blame her for not approving something while she was on vacation? Should I not get credit because she wasn’t checking her email while she was on the beach?

So, Toastmasters International – how about a moment’s attention on this problem? Thanks!

Wrap it up, Kim

Looking at each of the Level 5 elective projects individually is going to be a challenge for me – I haven’t even opened some of them. So if you’ve completed a level 5 elective project, would you reach out to me? My email in on the Contact Us page of our website Toastmasters 101 dot net. I would like to talk to you about your Level 5 elective project and your experience with it. Drop me an email so we can talk.

If you’re not yet at Level 5, I want to hear from you too. What’s on your mind about Toastmasters? What do you want to know? You can email me using the contact information on the website, or you can stop by and comment on the Toastmasters 101 Facebook page. How can we help you on your Pathways journey?

The music today is from

Toastmasters 101 is a podcast production of Toastmasters District 10. Did you know you can find a link to the podcast on our website under the resources tab of the menu. I just found that out this week – I knew I had an ad there – but the link was a nice touch. Thanks, District 10 for 5 years of sponsorship and for promoting the podcast.