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Getting the Most Out of Your Toastmasters Experience (Speaking to Inform #1: The Speech to Inform)

[speaker hands a piece of paper to the VP Education]

“Um, Miss VP Education — er — er, here is my — uh, you know, application. Can I join the — the — the club?”

[VP Education takes the piece of paper from the speaker]

“Sure.”

[speaker pretends to undergo a superhero transformation]

“Hah! I am cured! I am filled with self-confidence. I am now a super-awesome public speaker!”

There might be a fantasy that once you join Toastmasters, and maybe give a speech or two, you are turned into a great speaker. No, it does not happen that way. The reality is that it might take time to improve a lot. Some of us are in for a long haul. I only got reasonably comfortable after about 25 speeches.

What Toastmasters offers is not instant transformation or lightning-fast improvement. Instead, it offers opportunities to improve. What you get out depends on what you put in. Let me suggest 3 things that you can do to get the most out of Toastmasters.

1. Maximize what you get from speaking opportunities

There are two ways to maximize what you get from speaking opportunities.

First, if you want to speak more frequently, there are things that you can do. Always have a speech ready. Often, there are last-minute openings, and if your are ready to speak, you can take advantage of these openings.

Second, get the most benefit out each speaking opportunity. Be prepared, do not wing your speech. You will not learn much from it, and it hurts your self-confidence. Start early. You do not have to write the whole speech in one go. By start preparing early, you can remember your speech better and have more time to refine your speech. Follow the manuals and their project objectives. They are here to help you work on certain areas. Use your mentors and evaluators. They are here to help you, so talked to them early so that they can give you better feedback.

2. Be a functionary

You do not have to be a prepared speech speaker in order to speak. By serving as a functionary, you have the opportunity to speak. When you are an Evaluator, you can give a mini-speech, and you do not even have to pick your topic or write a speech beforehand. When you are a Time, an Ah-Counter, or a Grammarian, you can tell us your your role and give a short report. Of course, when you are Toastmaster, you can speak every now and then throughout the meeting.

Besides speaking, you can learn new and valuable skills, such as operating a camera (when you are Camera Operator) or ordinating a meeting (when you are Toastmaster).

3. Visit other clubs

The word “Toastmasters” gets many doors opened for you, sometimes literally. Many clubs welcome visitors. I have visited Wilshire Associates Toastmasters, where they meet at a conference room this this beautiful window overlooking the ocean. I have met interesting people such as the mother of Firefox’s founder and a person who wrote music for Star Wars movies.

Visiting other clubs is a good way to step outside your comfort zone. Some of us, myself included, might have gotten too comfortable at the stage of our home club. On the other hand, successful speakers often speak in front of different audiences.

Visiting other clubs can also give you more speaking opportunities. It is not guaranteed, but sometimes, clubs do look for speakers and would let visiting Toastmasters speak, especially with prior notice. You will get fresh insights and feedback that you won’t get at your home club. Bring your manuals to get feedback and credit.

These might sound like extra work, but there are extra benefits. Congratulations on being here to improve yourselves. While you are in Toastmasters, go an extra mile or two, and get the most out of the Toastmasters experience. All of you can do it, and the result will be rewarding.


Background

‘This speech was born at a time when a lot of members in my club were fighting for speaker slots. Some of them blamed me when they could not speak exactly when they wanted, even though I had little to do about it (beside being the VP Education). It was not a pretty scene.

As a person who also wanted to practice giving speeches a lot, I had learned how to legitimately increase my chance to speak and to get the most out of each speech. I genuinely hope that others who claimed to have the same goal would do the same, and I wanted to help.

Preparation

I incorporated some of my personal experiences. There were some Toastmasters clubs nearby, so I hoped to really make those clubs sound appealing to my audience so that they would visit them.

I also added a somewhat humorous introduction about transformation. I did not have a cape with me, but I did my best to pretend to be some sort of superhero or superstar.

Feedback

As a speech, it went alright. The scene where I acted like a really nervous new member drew some laughter. The audience liked that I include some of my personal experiences, although some suggested me to include even more personal experiences. The list of functionaries did seem dull. In the future, I needed to make it more exciting.

Unfortunately, as an effort to change the status quo, this speech was a failure. I have given this speech at least three time. In addition, I have always encouraged members to come prepared to speak, visit other clubs, etc. I have offered to help them prepare their speeches, connect them with clubs that might take a guest speaker, etc. The result? Over the years, I know of exactly two people who took my advice. This is disappointing, consider that the club once had over sixty members.

Why the discrepancy? It could be at I was not convincing, people did not trust me, etc. But I believe that was not it. Instead, I have come to learn that people differ by their initiatives, and many of them do not mean what they say. Some of the members who say they want opportunities to speak were indeed motivated and would actually do whatever it takes. However, for many more members, they really mean that they want you to create the opportunities for them, spoon-feed those opportunities to them, and to beg them to open their mouth to take those opportunities. Unfortunately, our society loves these squeaky wheels, and they tend to get what they want, at the expense of others who work for the opportunities. I wish things were different but I would not hold my breath.

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