What is Toastmasters

Do you make Toasters?

What is Toastmasters? Have you ever had to expFB_IMG_1550169405777lain to your friends or family what our organization does? That is a question I have had to answer many times. I once heard the most asked question by people calling Word Headquarters is – Do you make Toasters? – My simple answer I always offer – Toastmasters is an organization dedicated to the advancement of the fundamental principles of public speaking and leadership. It was officially started in October of 1924 by Dr. Ralph Smedley and can be found in over 140 countries, with more than 350,000 members worldwide.

There are many volumes written on the subjects of Leadership and Public Speaking; however, Toastmasters is the foremost organization that provides its members with the opportunity to practice those skills. Toastmasters offers a safe and friendly environment and has become the best “do it yourself” organization for those who wish to develop their public speaking and leadership skills. Although the organization provides many instructional manuals and a newly minted Pathways Program, those manuals and Paths do not dictate what subjects members can speak on at club meetings. Members are free to speak on any topic that is of interest to them, as long as their content or language is not deemed offensive to others.

Most prepared speeches are five to seven minutes. Brevity teaches speakers how to say more by using fewer words. Members quickly learn the first rule of public speaking – speak when you have something to say, that is worth saying. – And any word can become a bad word when used too often. Toastmasters is a program that encourages better listening and better thinking. Better listening and better-thinking-habits lead to better speaking. At Toastmasters, you are encouraged to find your voice. Members receive training on how to listen and evaluate the speeches and thinking of other members. With that training, they are encouraged to form their own opinions, to speak for themselves.

When Dr. Ralph Smedley first started his “After Dinner Club” at the YMCA that would become Toastmasters, he believed individuals could improve themselves to their fullest potential through better communication. Toastmasters is a program based on the principles of learning by doing. It is a proven action plan that one can improve themselves through repetition, practice, and effective evaluations. It does not ask members to subordinate themselves to a club or the organization. It is a program dedicated to the development of the individual. Members are free to join at will and leave at will. Although the focus is on the individual, members work together to bring out the best in each other and then apply those skills learned and developed to help others.

The skills learned at Toastmasters are those we all use in everyday life. Our Communication and Leadership development improvement is most valuable not only in our private engagements but also in many aspects of our public lives. Daily, our peers and superiors evaluate us not only for our spoken words but also by what we have written. Opinions are formed based on how we interact with others. Most members join our organization to achieve some definite purpose. Whatever that purpose is, you will find someone at Toastmasters ready, willing, and able to help you achieve your goal. That is what Toastmasters is and will continue to be until the end of time.

The Art of Interpretation

Bringing words to life can be a daunting task!

20190704_140329The art of Interpretation is one of the essential disciplines speakers should attempt to master. Bringing words to life can be a daunting task for speakers and coaches. Some may ask, what is the art of Interpretation? Is it acting, well, not exactly! It is a multi-faceted dynamic style of speaking which demands the mastery of communicating your concepts, thoughts, and ideas by carefully combing words, tone, and body language. Some of the many other related fundamental requirements include breath control, good diction, vocal variety, rhythm, resonance, and phrasing. Mastery of each of these disciplines can completely change your audience Interpretation of the spoken word.

All speakers cannot fully acquire these requirements in a few short months. Certain concepts are more difficult to grasp than others immediately. It takes long and serious study and the development of best practices. Good speaking begins with proper breathing. There are two points to remember regarding the use of breath in speaking. (1) The speaker should inhale each breath quickly and deeply. (2) Its emission must be gradual and perfectly controlled to sustain, expand, or diminish their tone. The basis of breath control is good posture. Perfect posture makes inhaling easy. An active diaphragm and strong rib muscles provide the necessary perfection of controlling emission.

Speakers should also be aware that it is not the quantity of breath taken in, it is the managed column of air expelled, and that makes for an excellent speaking voice. Some additional physical requirements to produce a resonant tone are the loosening of the neck, jaw, throat, lips and tongue muscles and the regular recurrence of stressed and unstressed words, which creates rhythm in your speech patterns. It is those speech patterns, which add that distinctive quality to your tone and voice.

Tone and body language play an essential role in the art of Interpretation. While there are those who will say that Interpretation and acting are indistinguishable, there are notable differences. The speakers, who excel at this art, are those whose focus is on delivering a speech and not an act. They use verbal punctuation, correct pronunciation, and expression to connect with their audience while discovering the many joys and benefits of interpretation.

Speakers, challenge yourself to explore the use of neutral and weak vowels to heighten the effect of your tone.  Use body language to reinforce your punch lines by adding a punch look. Use silence to send your message. Be aware that sometimes your words may convey one meaning to your audiences while your tone and body language may be screaming something completely different.  And remember speakers,  what your audience decide to think, feel, or do after they have heard your speech, may depend on how well you have mastered the art of Interpretation.

Your Purpose is Everything

Your presentation should include a foundational statement:

20190430_124248.jpgEvery speech must have a clear purpose. The main objectives when speaking in public are to inform, persuade, actuate or to entertain. But although those purposes are not mutually exclusive, each is sufficiently discrete to be treated as an individual purpose.  Speakers should be very clear about what they want their listeners to think, feel or do after they have heard your presentation.

Your presentation should include a foundational statement. That statement should be short and laser-focused on the selected topic. A lengthily general statement is of little value until it is narrowed down to a manageable size and purpose. A series of why questions will help narrow the topic and help you define your foundational statement.

  • The first obvious why question should be, why that particular topic.
  • The second, why that particular audience would be interested in listening to you speak on that subject.
  • Thirdly why that topic is appropriate for that particular audience and occasion.
  • Lastly, can that topic be adequately addressed in the allotted time?

As the speaker answers the why questions they have chosen, they should also keep in mind the general purposes for public speaking. Generally, speakers speak to be heard, to be understood, and to be repeated while focusing on the central idea and the key message they are communicating.

  •  If the purpose is to inform, there should be a clear understanding of your message.
  •  If the objective is to persuade, your focus should be on getting listeners to accept your message, claim or idea.
  •  If it is to actuate, you want the focus on your audience taking some action.
  •  Speeches to entertain focuses on providing amusement and enjoyment to listeners, however, all presentations should include lighter moments to break tensions that may develop when speakers are on the platform.

Selecting a subject which the speaker already know something about and can find out more through research is of paramount importance. Whatever the speaker’s purpose is for speaking, natural humor will significantly increase your audience’s attention to the content being presented.

Speaking from personal experience while exhibiting goodwill and caring for the feelings of others increases credibility, however, your purpose will always go a long way in determining the success of your speaking occasions – Why because your purpose is everything.

My Pathways DTM Journey

Change is good when you go first

20181215I joined Toastmasters in March of 1997 and received my first DTM in July 2007 under the original education program. In 2017 we had the rollout of Pathways in our District 4.  I achieved my second DTM award in November 2018 after meeting all the Pathways requirements for a second DTM   Why did I undertake a second DTM? Because it was time for change.

In 2009 to 2010 when I served as the District Governor for District 4, I learned about the new educational program under development to modernize the Toastmasters learning experience. I was excited. The Toastmasters organization started in October of 1924 and was incorporated in 1932.  Since then, the world of Communication and Leadership has changed tremendously. I too believed it was time for change, and it was time to change with the changes.

One of the reasons I decided to get on the fast track to complete the requirements in Pathways, was to help me better understand the changes in the new program. I knew what old offered but was curious about the new. I signed up to be a Pathways Guide for District 4. After introducing the required ten clubs to the program, I decided to do the program myself, to see where Pathways will take me. I wanted to validate the full range of benefits the Pathways program promised. Some of those promises were:

• Customized learning tailored to personal and professional goals
• Early and frequent recognition of accomplishments
• Mobile access to educational materials
• Expanded video and digital content
• A self-paced, self-development journey

At one of my sessions to introduce Pathways, a fellow Toastmasters said to me, if the change is so good why don’t you go first. So I did. The two Paths I selected Presentation Mastery and Visionary Communication delivered on the promises. Once I did my icebreaker, I realized how important it was to develop a strategy to complete each project with full benefits.  While it was great to have the flexibility of working online, anytime, anywhere, I found it useful to have the downloaded copy of each project. I also opened a notepad window and made notes after launching each project. The notepad made it easy to cut and paste key points as I worked through a project. Finally, I would combine the guidelines from the worksheets with my notes to develop the required project for my presentations at club meetings.

The Pathways program is an evolution in the Toastmasters experience. It allows you to select and customize speeches on topics best suited for your personal and professional growth.  New projects like writing a compelling blog, creating a podcast and building a social media presence are dynamic projects, which were not available before the change to Pathways. Having done both programs, the old and the new, I believe the Toastmasters education program will help you build the core competencies required to be an effective communicator and effective leader.

To get started, you will find a wealth of valuable information on the Toastmasters Website. Another useful resource made available by a fellow Toastmasters Guide – Ken Braly from District 101 is available at http://kenb.com/pathways – Pathways will take you where ever you want to go if you embrace the change. This milestone in my Toastmasters journey made me realize that change is good when you go first.

Impromptu Speaking

Good speakers know how to Listen

Giving a speech without preparation is challenging. Mark Twain, one of the most celebrated American novelist and essayist, on more than one occasion has admitted, off-the-cuff speaking wasn’t as easy as he made it appear to be. Continue reading “Impromptu Speaking”