I’ll never forget my first Toastmasters meeting back in 2002. There were three fantastic speeches followed by my favorite part of the meeting — Table Topics. If you’re not familiar with Table Topics, it’s the part of the meeting where folks are welcomed to come up and speak “off the cuff” about the topic of the day. I participated and lasted 47 seconds. And, thanks to the person in the “Ah Counter” role, I found out that I had some filler words. At first, I found that role to be very cool and useful, but there’s two reasons why I question whether or not it’s needed — or even helpful.
As speakers, we work hard researching how to better communicate and connect with our audiences. We spend hours tweaking a twenty minute talk. We’ll try to figure out who might be in attendance. We spend hours practicing our speeches so that we give the audience the best experience possible. Wouldn’t it be nice if our audiences took the time to make sure they get the most out of our talk?
If you either did not watch the Miss USA pageant last night or missed the story covered in the news, there was some backlash to an answer on a question on gay marriage. Taking the brunt of the storm is Miss California, who came in second, as people were shouting in the hallways after the event demanding that she be stripped of her runner up title. Normally, I’d ignore a story like this because it reeks of fluff – a term my high school social studies teacher, the late Mr. Bob Swanson, used to describe items that were printed in newspapers but had no real value. However, times have changed and there are some important lessons to be learned here.
So you’re listening to someone read your introduction to the audience. It’s your turn to finally take the stage. You walk out, shake the hand of the person introducing you and face the audience. The clock has started and you have only a few precious moments to capture the audience’s attention or it’s forever lost. Or do you?
It’s no secret that most people feel some sort of discomfort when it comes to public speaking and one of the root causes of that discomfort is the fear of boring the audience. It’s every presenter’s nightmare to give a speech that causes snoring and glazed eyes.
So how do you keep your audience awake? The key, obviously, is to not do anything that might make them disinterested in your talk. Keep in mind that sometimes an audience is tired because of things beyond your control. These reasons can include the timing of your presentation (either too early or too late in the day), the physical environment of the room or the audience consuming too much food and/or alcohol before your talk.
Toastmasters is a great way to become a better speaker (provided you choose the right club). But the vast majority of the people who join Toastmasters only speak at their own club. Yes, you can become a better speaker just by giving talks to your club – but you’re also missing out on some great opportunities.