Public Speaking

Ten Things I Learned About Speaking Beyond Toastmasters

I’m frequently invited to speak at Toastmasters clubs about how to speak beyond Toastmasters. Last year, I gave a presentation at a District Conference on this topic and was excited about how much interest there was in learning more about it. It’s just a natural progression – once you’ve peaked in Toastmasters, you feel ready to go out and use these skills that you’ve mastered.

So here are the top then things I’ve learned about speaking beyond Toastmasters:

  1. Ums and ahs don’t really matter unless they are excessive.
  2. Going over your allotted time can quickly turn your audience against you.

Transitioning From Toastmaster to Professional Speaker

I’ve had a number of people ask me lately about how to go from a Toastmaster to someone who makes money speaking. Many of these people want to speak on their area of expertise while others are looking to speak about speaking. Those in the former have it a little easier because the key there is to just continue to develop your expertise while you graduate as a speaker to different audiences. Those in the latter have a more challenging road ahead because speaking to a Toastmasters audience is significantly different than speaking to other audiences – a fact which is often overlooked when speaking about Toastmaster-related topics. So I’m going to focus on the latter group for this article, but the former will definitely get some benefit from this too.

The Good Heckler

When most of us think of hecklers, we think of bad audience members: people questioning us in a condescending way, people talking over us, people trying to discredit us and people trying to show off. However, sometimes there is such a thing as a good heckler – someone who is enjoying your talk and is so engrossed in it that they feel like they are part of it.

So instead of the person shooting down what you’re saying, they’re reinforcing it – it’s just that they’re reinforcing it every couple minutes by repeating what you’re saying, adding their own two cents or simply completing you. Normally, this wouldn’t sound like a problem but it can be a point of frustration for the rest of the audience. Remember, they’re there to hear your material, not a constant endorsement of you as a speaker.

A Defeat Every Now And Then Can Be a Good Thing

Early in my career as a professional speaker, I made a lot of mistakes. I took on too many engagements when I had a lot of things going on with my personal life and with my job that paid the bills. I also made the mistake of allowing my contact for the presentation to select any topic that interested him or her, and then I would design a presentation around it. So I laugh to myself whenever I meet someone just getting into the speaking business that’s finding themselves battling these very frustrations.

The Most Deadly Presentation Mistake

Procrastination can be deadly to your career no matter which field you are in. In fact, it can literally be deadly in some cases. So why do so many people procrastinate? Well, there are two common reasons: 1. they associate some sort of discomfort towards the thing they have to do & 2. they have other things they’d rather be doing. So given that so many folks feel discomfort just at the thought of speaking to groups, it should come as no surprise that not adequately preparing for a speech is the most common (and most harmful) public speaking mistake.

Preparing for a talk is a lot of work. You need to research your topic, write your speech and then practice and tweak it. So it’s very easy for this task to either slip through the cracks or only get a half-hearted effort. And that half-hearted effort often results in a sub-par talk which just reinforces the speakers’ discomfort with public speaking. So how can you avoid this trap? Simply realize the costs of not preparing and compare them with the benefits of preparing.

How to Deal with Rude Audience Members

It’s unfortunate, but not all audience members treat speakers the way we’d like to be treated. People have a very short attention span and it shows. Instead of listening to the speaker like we were taught to in school, people are having side conversations or playing with their BlackBerrys in the middle of your talk.

This topic came up in my public speaking class last night and we had an interesting discussion about it. While many speakers think that this is caused because they are boring the audience, the truth of the matter is that some people are just rude and/or inconsiderate. I’ve seen this happen in a variety of situations and here are just a few examples:

Don’t Let BlackBerry Addiction Ruin Your Presentation

Many people own a BlackBerry, iPhone or other mobile device that allows them to check email, surf the web, check email and update their status on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter from virtually anywhere. Of course that anywhere could be the car, the airport or even while sitting in the audience when you’re giving a speech.


Using these devices all the time is a new, yet increasing, trend – I remember sitting next to a woman at an awards dinner that ignored everyone else at the dinner because she couldn’t put her BlackBerry down. It’s no wonder that these devices are referred to as “CrackBerries” because some folks simply can’t resist checking them every couple minutes.