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 District Events
With the announcement from TI, fall conference were eliminated. But there are a lot of people who liked the fall conference and we want to get together with our Toastmasters friends more than once a year. Districts need to meet the needs of the members and clubs on a larger scale.
Thus, we have “Quality Club Forums” and “Marketing Institutes” and “Fall Education Days.”
I liked the Fall Education Day that I attended in District 11 last weekend. I learned three things from visiting other districts.
1. Trust your audience.
District 11 is about a 3 hour drive from my home in District 10. It has the added attraction of being home to a large portion of my family, so I wanted to combine family and Toastmasters for a few days.
Other districts probably don’t know you. D11 didn’t know me. But I asked for a speaking slot at their district event anyway.
I ended up with a 45 minute slot to talk about social media. Since I know something about that, it was simple for me to create a presentation that I thought would suit the audience that I was told to expect.
Going into a completely new audience is a new opportunity we don’t get if we never leave our home club or our district. This new audience doesn’t hold any preconceived notions about your skills or your presentation style.
Ever have to retool your presentation on the fly? That’s always fun, isn’t it?
So if you’re faced with a new audience and a speech based on bad data – you’re about to be tested in a way that won’t happen at home. You’re outside your comfort zone. What did I learn?
I learned I can do it – because I can trust the audience. Now, of course I can trust my audience at home. They know me and I know them. My task was to build into this unknown audience the trust they needed to have in me. That I knew what I was talking about. Now, I don’t recommend you do this – but I ended up skipping three of my slides when it was obvious that this audience already knew this material. I didn’t make a big deal about it. I didn’t try to flatter them by saying I didn’t need to tell them about this. I just moved on. I respected my audience and as a result, they trusted me.
This audience was polite and engaged and fun. By the time we were done, the audience had three action steps to take on top of one activity we did during the session. We covered a lot of material, had time for questions during the presentation, and I gave them a homework assignment that I hope they did. I’ll have to ask the district director of District 11 how many emails he got this week.
Overcoming Stage Fright
In overcoming stage fright, you learn to get comfortable with your skills. You know what you can do – but learning to trust your audience is another level of presentation development that I can’t say I’ve seen anyone talk about. Self-confidence is one thing. Audience confidence is another.
We build into our speeches those hooks for the audience to grab onto to connect with us.
- Rhetorical repetition is a valid communication technique. I use triads – repeating a few words but building on them. John F. Kennedy did it in his inaugural speech. Four times he started sentences with “Let both sides…”
- Giving the audience space to process your words is another good technique. We’re not talking about dragging it out. Just the opposite. You give the information in a consistent flow and let them think about what you’re saying. Info dumps hurt your audience’s brains because there’s too much to think about at once.
But when I say “trust your audience,” I’m not talking about rhetorical devices. I’m talking about having faith that your audience is there for you. They’re ready for you. This doesn’t eliminate your responsibility to deliver prime content in an effective, pleasing manner. It actually makes you work harder.
I heard it said in Toastmasters in the first year I was a member: your audience doesn’t want you to fail. They don’t want to hear a horrible presentation any more than you want to give one.
Unless you’re in politics or speaking about something controversial and you anticipate push back from the audience – trust them. Trust your audience. Respect them. When you give them the tools to connect with you, you’ll connect with them too.
2. How You Do It at Toastmasters District Events
I asked someone why the district event was held in this particular conference center. How was it selected?
For the first time that day, I heard a very common refrain: because we’ve always had it here.
I realized that we in District 10 do a lot of things because we’ve always done it that way.
But the differences can be interesting. For example, in District 10, we don’t charge for the TLI – officer training sessions. In District 11, they do. Other differences?
• the methods of presenting Distinguished club awards
• how we in District 10 honor our newly minted Distinguished Toastmasters with a formal ceremony.
• the number of education sessions in one day (District 11 had 15 sessions in one day!)
The variations inspire me.
I’m not in any position to implement any of the ideas that I have seen here, but I am no longer part of the “that’s the way we always do it” club. There are lots of ways to do everything – we don’t have to be limited in our thinking or our actions.
3. Listen more than you talk.
The third thing I learn when I get outside my district is to listen to people more.
Yes, of course I can do this at home. But away from home, the new environment and new voices get my attention in different ways.
I chatted with a gentleman in District 11 about Pathways. He’s not a fan. I spoke with a woman about how much she likes the new program and how it’s reinvigorated her interest in Toastmasters. I listened to a fantastic speech that inspired this podcast about getting out of your comfort zone. I’ll give a shout-out to Angela Miller whose name has… wait, I think she’s going to use this in a contest speech. I better not quote too much of her presentation but to say – I wish I was that good when my tech goes down.
Getting outside and away from the usual noise makes us more sensitive to what we hear. Getting outside and away introduces us to new people and ideas.
It’s up to us how to respond to that.
I could yell at the man who doesn’t like Pathways and tell him he’s wrong. Instead, I listened. Did it make a difference to him? I have no idea. But it made a difference in me. It changed something I planned to say in this podcast.
I listened to Angela’s speech and found a new friend. I listened to Scott’s speech and discovered a keynote speaker for my district. I listened to Tyson Smith and heard ideas that I plan to steal – I mean – use with attribution in a future speech.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the real power of public speaking.
We connect with communication. When we trust, when we open up to new ways to do things, and when we listen, then we’ve got that power in our hands when we speak – even to total strangers at different Toastmasters district events.
Many thanks to District 11. You welcomed me warmly and I’m grateful for the experience!
Toastmasters District 10 sponsors Toastmasters 101 podcast – but I did promote it just a little bit in District 11. Because you listeners are the reason that we produce this podcast. So if you know of someone who would benefit from hearing this podcast – be sure to send them a link to the show at Toastmasters101.net. All the subscription information is there – you can listen on any podcast program, Apple, Android or desktop!
Our music is from Incompetech.filmmusic.io.
I’m available to come to your district event! Let me know when it is! Ok, enough with the self-promotion already…