I’ve mentioned my friend Terry in previous episodes. Terry owns a painting company here in Ohio. Because of his successful business, he was asked to give a 45-minute break-out professional presentation session at an international conference about how he built his business.
If you were in his shoes, what would you have done?
Many people join Toastmasters because their jobs require public speaking and presentation skills. But most of those professional presentations aren’t limited to 5 to 7 minutes. How can you use Toastmasters to help you build a longer professional presentation and how can Toastmasters help you practice?
Today on the podcast, let’s chat about your professional presentation.
Do you need to develop your professional presentation skills? Whether it’s a short impromptu answer to a question at a business meeting or a major project presentation, Toastmasters can help you craft the professional presentation you want to give. This is Toastmasters 101 and I’m your host, Kim Krajci.
“My boss told me to join Toastmasters”
We hear this a lot. I’d bet that at least half of the people who walk through our doors join Toastmasters for professional reasons. Either they’re going to be speaking as a representative of their company, or speaking to other employees, a lot of people walk into a Toastmasters meeting for their job.
Then there are people like Terry, who have become successful in their careers and they’re invited to speak because of their expertise.
Or there are people like me, who have been asked to make presentations about specific topics that an organization needs to have done.
Or, you may be one of those very smart people who realize that their communication skills need to be improved to rise in their careers.
But to visitors who have a certain presentation model in mind, what they see us do in the Toastmasters meeting might not look like it’s going to help them. If the boss is expecting a 30-minute presentation with a computer slides presentation and most of our presentations are 5 to 7 minutes, it can be easy to dismiss Toastmasters as a method to help you reach your goals.
And what does an ice breaker have to do with my professional presentation anyway?
Incremental improvements to improve your professional presentations
You learn how to speak to groups like you learn how to play poker.
We don’t get a list of rules and immediately become great speakers. I doubt anyone becomes a great poker player right away either just because the game is explained to them. There are techniques that you need to develop that only come with experience.
Toastmasters doesn’t assume you don’t have any skills to start with. We start with you where you are. That’s why Toastmasters starts with the ice breaker speech. You need to start where you are with the information you know best – your personal story. We make it short and ask you to start as soon as you’re comfortable – or maybe a little bit sooner. There are some people who come and would never give a speech without a lot of encouragement.
One of the things that we want to see you develop is your own voice. How you communicate is very personal. Your personality and your style will show almost immediately. What will also show very quickly are the places where improvement can be made quickly. Low hanging fruit, the simple changes that make the biggest impacts. Often these are filler words or bad organization of your material.
We help you see these things and give you the tools to improve – evaluators will point out the fastest fixes because they’re the most obvious, although… they’re not always the easiest.
For example, I have a very bad abuse problem. You won’t notice here in the podcast because – being real here – I edit out my filler words. You have no idea how often I say “so” or “okay” or “now” but believe me, my club can tell you, I have a problem. This has gotten so bad that – yes, I said “so” there – that I have my high school students ring bells whenever I misuse those words. Ever give a 13-year-old a bell and tell them to ring it whenever you say the word “so”? There is no off switch on 13-year-olds. They go to town on me and as a result, I’m on track to eliminate that crutch word. Not always easy, but that bell is the fastest way I know to change.
Start with Your Story
That’s why we start with your ice breaker. It’s the baseline we need to know to help you improve. Once that’s established, you’re going to make some very quick progress based on how often you choose to speak.
The Pathways education program has a foundation that helps you improve. Simple skills such as content organization and understanding your communication style to maximize how you can be effective are taught to you quickly. As you understand the Pathway system, you’ll see why we ask you to complete certain projects early.
I do understand if you want to hurry up and get to the critical speaking skills that you know you’ll need at work. Computer presentation. Visual aids. Connect with your audience. We’ve got all of that training along with speech projects that you can do as soon as you want, but please realize, we know how people master this skill set.
It’s not about speed – it’s about practice. I won’t stop you – in fact, I’ll encourage you to move to the Level 3 speech projects as quickly as you can, even skipping all of Level 2 to get to them. I’ve explained all that in episode 49 – the link is in the show notes – that skipping is permitted in the Pathways program.
Professional Presentations Start With You
If you feel you need to work on specific skills right away and we have speech projects that have training for you – go directly to them. I’d suggest you talk with your club’s vice president of education or your mentor for assistance if you need to know how to do that on Pathways (it’s easy, really. Moving up a level is as simple as clicking on a different menu on your base camp!)
Professional Presentations Start With You.
You know what you will be presenting in your professional speeches. Are you giving a heavily data-driven report? Are you persuading a potential customer? Or are you informing your co-workers about the status of a project?
We want you to succeed with your presentation which is why we offer you the opportunity to make your presentations in our club meetings.
What’s that you say? What about the Pathways projects? What about the 5 to 7 minutes speeches?
You can do the vast majority of your speech projects on any topic you want. In fact, we want to hear a wide diversity of topics. I would much rather hear a speech about your work than give another one about mine!
Our speech projects aren’t usually about topics – they’re designed to introduce and develop skills. The topics don’t generally matter. So if you have a presentation that you need to give at work, we can probably find a speech project that will help you improve your speaking skills and give you the chance to practice your presentation.
Remember Terry, the painter that I mentioned at the beginning of this episode? He had a 45 minute presentation to give. He used a variety of speech projects to practice it at the meetings over months. Speech after speech, he got different evaluators who were looking at different skills and helping him to refine his speech.
We didn’t get his entire speech in one meeting. Instead, he broke it down into parts – 5 to 7 minute parts. This helped him focus on his content: I think he was smart: keeping each of his sections to 5 to 7 minutes allowed him to work with what he’d learned in Toastmasters (we do get to know from experience what 5 to 7 minutes feels like. I naturally do this in my lectures in speech classes now!)
In 45 minutes, he had a 5-minute intro to his speech, 3 or 4 7-minute sections, and a conclusion that left time for his audience’s questions.
Professional Presentation Attention Spans
Consider this: how long is the normal attention span of an adult these days – especially when we’re online? You’ve got some researchers saying that it’s less than a goldfish’s – about 8 seconds. In a professional meeting, you will have their attention because they’re required to listen to you.
Let’s make them want to listen to you! We don’t have to be boring!
Public speaking skills aren’t just about vocal variety and how to move on a stage. It’s about developing your content in a way to have an impact.
5 to 7 Minutes
The 5 to 7 minute format is a tool that helps you keep your content focused and your audience interested.
That’s not to say that longer presentations are unwelcome at meetings. There are some projects – particularly in Level 5 – that are expected to go longer. Clubs can accommodate a longer presentation with adequate notice. That’s not just signing up on the club website. You need to call the VPE and tell them that you need a longer speech slot that day. Saying that you want a 20-minute speech presentation opportunity and the VPE doesn’t adjust the agenda accordingly may find a meeting with 2 regular speeches and 1 very long presentation and end up with a meeting that goes far too long – not a good idea.
Professional presentations are welcome at Toastmasters – just let us know in advance, ok?
Yes, I said Ok again. Ding me.
Introducing Your Professional Presentation to the Toastmasters Club
I want to be sure that you know the importance of the right introduction to the professional presentation at the club meeting. Get your audience in the right mode right away by writing a good introduction for the Toastmaster of the Day to prep the audience before you take the stage. Explain the purpose of this professional presentation and who your audience will be. We’ll pretend to be them!
We’re very open to being the audience you will be presenting to.
So – dang it! – if you’re visiting Toastmasters because your boss told you to come – please come in and plan to stay. We want to help you succeed in your professional presentation and your career.
Wrap it up, Kim
How about sharing this podcast with a friend who needs help with their professional presentation? Toastmasters 101 is available on just about every platform I’ve been able to find – I’m waiting to hear about the Amazon podcasting platform, but I’m excited to announce that we are now on the Gaana app! That just happened last week!
Your Toastmasters club is probably planning to have a speech contest of some type in the next few months. Please consider competing. Next week, we’ll talk about the value of the contests and why, even if you don’t compete, you’ll benefit from the club having the contest.
See you next week on Toastmasters 101.