Finding my voice through Toastmasters

IMGtony.h.1.JPG

One of my biggest regrets in life was opting out of every class presentation during university; I didn’t have the guts to speak in front of people because I was too insecure about my stutter. So I would email the professor explaining that I had a speech impediment and requested to do the presentation in private. I was disgusted at myself because I gave in to my insecurities and let fear take over, from that point I knew I had to do something about it and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t confront my demons.

I found out about Kings speakers while browsing reddit, a thread caught my attention under the /r/stutter subreddit mentioning a public speaking club for people who had a stutter or social anxiety, and it is based in London. I knew it was something I needed to do so I decided to bookmark the page, then promptly closing it because the thoughts of public speaking were about to give me an anxiety attack.

I joined Kings Speakers at the start of 2017 where I received a warm welcome by the members and making me feel at home. I remember my first time on stage, and it was for a table topic where I lasted just under a minute, I don’t recall what I said, but I was just happy I got it over and done with. 

Every second and last Thursday I woke up dreading the fact that I had to attend Toastmasters, I was questioning myself saying why do I put myself through this. My day would be spent full of nerves and anxiety preparing for the role I accepted and hoping that I’d be fluent enough so the audience could understand me. At some point I found enjoyment in the discomfort, I learned to embrace the challenge of going up on stage and feeling glad I had the opportunity to contribute to the meetings. 

The one thing that stood out to me about Kings Speakers was how inspirational the speeches are; members would add that personal touch to their speeches, sharing stories about their struggles and what they’ve done to overcome them. For me, this really put things into perspective, realising that going up on stage was such a big deal for people and how brave they were for taking up the challenge.

My Toastmasters experience allowed me to accept my stutter and gain the confidence to freely express myself, something I wasn’t able to do for most of my life. Being a covert stutterer, I would always avoid social situations, and that’s where my favourite part of the meeting comes in, the drinks at the local pub after every meeting. I got to meet new friends from Toastmasters, getting to know people from different types of backgrounds and different walks in life and being able to work on my social skills, something that I’ve been lacking my entire life. 

Kings Speakers gave me a voice and allowed me to express myself in an environment where I am free from judgement, everybody is supportive and wants you to succeed. The skills I gained transferred to my personal life where I built up the confidence to speak up during work and socialise with peers from university instead letting my stutter control my life. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, and I have grown so much from the experience in such a short period of time. 

 

Tony Hoang

Make it memorable!

MichaelandBen.JPG

The annual Toastmasters humorous speech contest. A contest where speakers compete for the most laughs through smart wit or just pure shock. And a contest where I would reach the divisional round and compete against the best speakers in west London. Yeah… I was as shocked as most of you are. Here is my journey.

I had my eye on the humorous contest for the past year. One of my first meetings at Kings Speakers had been the previous years' contest. I saw the confidence of the speakers. I heard the laughs they received. I wanted to be up there. When the date for the club contest was announced, I knew I had to give it a go.

The key to the contest (and ironically any other speaking contest) is the speech (who would have thought it!). And I just happened to have an ace up my sleeve. My second speech for the club back in February had been about my experience working as a cowboy in the Australian outback. It had got a few laughs, so I set to work rewriting it. If I was to give one tip on humorous speech writing, it would to be original. Make it memorable. Make it so horrifically embarrassing to you that the audience can’t even look you in the eye after. 

For those who have not heard it, my speech can best be summarised as the experiences of a ginger cowboy where everything is trying to kill him in the Outback combined with a heavy dose of Brokeback Mountain. (Yeah, you all missed out). And I would unleash it upon many unsuspecting people. 

Contest day arrived. I was up against the best that Kings Speakers had to offer. The room was packed, and the atmosphere was brilliant with laughs all round for five fantastic speeches. And to my amazement, it was announced that I had won. I even managed to muster a slight smile much to the annoyance of my facial muscles. But the sense of elation was quickly replaced by a grave realisation. I would have to do it all again at the next round...

This was a very unusual feeling for me. For most of my life, I have tried to avoid speaking in public. And now here I was, voluntarily going to speak to yet more people. 

And two weeks later, I was up on stage once more. The standard was raised to a whole new level. (And everyone was bloody using props!) The speakers brought an element of acting to their speeches which I hadn’t seen before. But to my amazement, I came second. And guess what? Yep. You’ve got it. I was told I would have to do it all over again in the divisional contest.

 

Michael.JPG

The divisional contest pitches the best humorous speakers in West London against one another to battle it out to reach the grand final. And I would be one of them. I knew I would be up against some brilliant competition from people who live for public speaking. I made a decision. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself. I didn’t want to be disappointed if I didn’t win. I just wanted to enjoy myself and celebrate how far I had come in the past year with my speech. And I wanted to show my friends and family what I can do. 

My parents haven’t seen me speak in public since I was about five years old giving a far from Oscar-worthy performance as a shepherd in the school nativity play. It was time to put that right. Besides, I had to show them that I don’t actually make toast twice a month…

With a 9.30am start, I was up at 6 am for the divisional. I did seriously reconsider my life choices in those waking moments. Especially as I was slightly hungover. But I had my club to represent so off I went. To a packed crowd, the contest kicked off. The first three speeches were fantastic. Smart and sophisticated (everything my speech is not). And the fourth speaker was called. It was my turn. I strolled up to the stage, the corks on my cowboy hat smacking me in the face. I turned to face the audience. I began. “It is 48°C…” It was the best speech I have ever given. 

I loved every moment. From start to finish, from every laughter to groan. I have never felt so in control speaking. But nothing was better than seeing my family and friends in hysterics. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. 

The rest of the contest continued with more brilliant speeches including the eventual winner. I didn’t place in the top three but I didn’t care. When I first joined Kings Speakers I just wanted some practice speaking in front of people. And in just a year, I had held my own against some of the best speakers around. And more scarily? I enjoyed it. 

Representing Kings Speakers at the divisional round was an honour. 

 

Michael Rock

Secretary of Kings Speakers

Public Speaking in the land of Fire and Ice

Every year, Malbjorg, the Icelandic Stuttering Association, celebrates ISAD, the International Stuttering Awareness Day, by inviting their members to an event in October each year.

Last summer, the board of the association started to organize the event, and it was decided to have it in the form of an interactive workshop. After evaluating some options, we decided to contact my dear friend Harminder Dhilllon. I met Harminder for the first time on a Nordic stuttering conference in Finland in 2006.  Nordic stuttering conferences are held every year in one of the Nordic countries.  I have attended most of those conferences held this century, and since the one Harminder attended in 2006, he has attended those quite regularly too.  Amongst those he has attended are the two conferences held in Iceland in 2009 and 2014.   He has visited Iceland quite often and has held workshops and lectures a few times at various events of Malbjorg.  In fact, he was one of the main speakers on the Nordic conference in 2014. He was very happy to visit Iceland once again and was more than ready to deliver a 3-hour workshop about public speaking.

It was on a beautiful Saturday, the 7th of October when Harminder and I drove to downtown Reykjavik in good advance before the workshop started. It was a warm autumn day of  8°C (hey, it´s Iceland, and yes, it is considered warm for this time of the year!) 

Iceland has a small population, of around 330.000 people, so the attendance to our events are usually not huge, and we were expecting 10-12 people to attend this time. The workshop started fashionably late, at around 15:15. The theme was Public Speaking. Around 12 people were in the room at the beginning, but a few more joined in later during the day, so we were 15 when the workshop ended. It was enjoyable to see such a big crowd for the event, and I can guarantee that it exceeded everyone´s expectations.

The workshop was very challenging for most people, but also very interesting and entertaining, as is expected from Harminder. He started by giving us some advice about public speaking, and then divided us into small groups, where we had to deliver a speech to each other.  This was repeated a few times. Harminder gave more and more excellent advice, and we had to deliver further speeches and make sure we implemented the advice, tips and methods he had been teaching us.

It was really inspiring to see how everyone´s performance in the group improved significantly from the first speech to the last one. In the beginning, most people were quite insecure, looking up and down, with no idea what to do with their hands, etc. Confidence grew speech by speech, and when doing the final speeches, everyone was much more comfortable, making great eye contact with the crowd, with fantastic use of their hands, excellent body language and this made the speeches much more interesting to listen to.  We even discovered a few hidden stars in the group who flourished when they discovered that adding drama to a certain type of speeches simply made them much better.

Harminder dhillion, founder of kings speakers, in iceland

Harminder dhillion, founder of kings speakers, in iceland

People were thrilled by the workshop, and each and every one left feeling better about themselves and more comfortable at making speeches than ever before. After the workshop, the whole group went to a beautiful Italian restaurant for a nice dinner before heading to a pub for few drinks and a great chat about life, the universe, and everything. The day was a great success for the Icelandic Stuttering Association as well as for Harminder Dhillon.

I´m also incredibly happy to inform that, as a result of this workshop, two board members of the association have started working on creating our own Toastmasters club in Iceland.  There used to be an active club in the country some years ago, but that one, like many of our volcanoes, has been dormant for years now. Three of us have visited Kings Speakers in London, and we would love to create something similar in Reykjavik.

I also want to use this opportunity to tell you about the 13th World Congress for people who stutter which will be held in Iceland in 2019 from June 23rd to June 27th in the incredibly beautiful town of Hveragerdi (30 min drive from Reykjavik).  Reykjavik is only 2:30 hours flight from London, and there are over 10 flights per day between the cities and cheap flights are easy to find, especially when booked in advance.  I encourage you to attend this World Congress and enjoy a few days with hundreds of fellow stutterers, laughing and crying and making new friends.  I will give Kings Speakers a visit in the Autumn of 2018 and give you a presentation of the World Congress when the program, price and other details have been confirmed.

 

Arni Birgisson

Treasurer of the Icelandic Stuttering Association

Combining the sublime with the subtle, Manoj Vasudevan wins the 2017 Toastmasters International Speech Contest

Many congratulations to Manoj on his wonderful achievement in winning the 2017 International Speech Contest. I’ve listened to it in search of tips (one day that club “Best Speaker of the Evening” award will be mine!). You can listen to it here. What I noticed included:

Manoj.png

Open with intrigue

(1)  The title intrigued me, so I listened attentively. By the end of the speech, I understood why it was his—and ultimately, the audience’s—mantra.

Keep the language and message simple. But relevant

(2)  Manoj’s rhetoric and delivery were relentlessly simple and clear. English won’t have been everyone’s first language, so it’s good to remember that the larger the audience, the simpler the message should be. 

(3)  He wrapped his premise eloquently around a cupid bow and arrow metaphor. People understood immediately. Equally important, the premise resonated with everyone in the room.

(4)  His choice of theme was well received for another reason. We all identify with relationship advice and at the individual level we experience a visceral response to his speech. Manoj also pointed out that 142 nations were represented there, and everyone was getting along just fine. Of course, that’s the sort of world most of us want to live in. So his premise appealed at the collective level too—eliciting a positive intellectual response. Outcome: a bottom-up and top-down message for our troubled world.

Stay at the same level as your audience

(5)  By describing his journey of discovery, he didn’t position himself above anyone—he simply shared what he’d learned. And he was careful never to poke fun at anyone but himself (see (6) below).

It’s best to preach to the converted (while pretending the thesis is all yours)

(6)  The speech won over judges and audience alike because we intuited it as truth, while perhaps feeling guilty we don’t always follow this path. So he (cliché alert) preached to the converted. Or to the want-to-be converted.

If they like you, they’ll believe you

(7)  Who was ever conned by someone they disliked? I’m not for a moment suggesting Manoj was conning anyone. However, by smattering the speech with self-deprecating humour (we only waited six seconds for the first joke), warm smiles, and open gestures, he makes us like, and believe him.

If they believe you, they’ll trust you

(8)  If you’re going to sell an idea in your speech, you need to be sincere or the audience won’t but it. If you present some lofty ideal of which you have limited experience, they’ll likely remain unconvinced. If it’s about personal experience—in this case Manoj’s marriage—then you’re far more likely to be believed. And when we believe someone, we trust them.

Pace and repetition

(9)  Notice too how slowly the speech was delivered, and its relative paucity of words. Also, he had the confidence to use repetition and pauses to let points sink in.

 You’ve hooked the room. Now reel ‘em in.

(10)  In his finale, he involved the audience by encouraging—almost forcing(!)—people to repeat his mantra, which demonstrated they’d got the message. Why deliver your punchline when you can get your audience to? I’m sure this clever tactic gained him an extra point or two with the judges.

 

So Manoj’s sublime performance employed an array of tactics, many of which weren’t obvious to the listener, but each gained him a subtle advantage over the competition. Well done, Manoj—a worthy victory! 

 

Author:Ben Starling
 
 

  

Broca Brothers Bootcamp

What’s up Kingly Speakers,

It’s Sjoerd and Hille from Broca Brothers writing to you from The Netherlands. Last weekend we had the pleasure of travelling to London for coaching people who stammer. Next to the personal coaching we did, we also set up a workshop in collaboration with Kings Speakers. For that we want to give an extra thank you to Suzana, probably very familiar to you all.

Our story is that we have stammered ourselves since we were young children while speech therapy throughout the years never gave the desired results. We kept stammering up until the point that, around 4 years ago, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We set out to figure out stuttering and how to become more fluent speakers. To make a long story short, what was first meant to overcome our own stammer turned into something a lot bigger and the result of that is us flying to European cities to coach others. Last weekend that city was London. 

Broca Brothers Bootcamp London.jpg

Our view on stuttering.

We always start our workshops with the same question: “How fluent are you when you’re talking while you’re all by yourself?” The answers range from “very” to “100%”. We state that you already are a fluent speaker but that some situations trigger your stutter. We call it situational stuttering. Figuring out the why of situational stuttering will lead to overcoming stammering and let the natural fluency come out that was already there in the first place.

To put it simply: the thing that gets in the way of us speaking fluently is what we call the internal brake. The internal brake means wanting to speak on the one hand, but being afraid to stutter on the other. Those two forces pull in opposite directions and everything stops working! We get stuck, there’s an internal block which eventually comes up as an external block, as a stammer. The internal brake is present in some situations but absent in others, hence the situational stuttering.

When we let go of the internal brake, so letting go of the fear of stammering, we can fully express ourselves without hesitating. Without the hesitation there’s a feeling of freedom through which one starts to speak with more certainty. As a result of this there’s fluency!

The Bootcamp.

During the Bootcamp we took the attendees through exercises that made them break through the internal brake. You wouldn’t say, but one of the most difficult exercises is making up your own language, talking nonsense. Rationally we can all convince ourselves that we can easily do it, but actually doing it while others are listening creates an immediate internal brake within most people. You start thinking that it sounds silly, that you should make up something that makes sense, wondering what others think of you. 

Exercises like that create a direct parallel to what happens when a person stammers. Most people who stammer don’t want others to hear that they do and so avoid letters, words and speaking situations as a whole as much as possible. It’s the worrying that creates the internal block which in turn leads to tension. That tension then disrupts the fluent flow of speech. When we help someone break through that he or she will experience a sense of freedom. A feeling of being able to say and do anything you want. The hesitation is gone, the over thinking is gone and one can finally be him or herself, fully expressive and fluent.

Thank you.

We want to thank everybody who came out to join us and a special thanks to King’s Speakers for helping us to set up this event. Our first time in London was a huge success and we’re sure we’ll be back again soon.

We filmed the whole Bootcamp so we’ll be posting really great content in the next few weeks. We’d say check our website and join the e-mail list and we’ll let you know when we’re back!

Hille & Sjoerd

 

https://brocabrothers.com

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCe3SzIIzrWKn4diHlu7Pyzw

 

The Annual Humorous Speech Contest - A Record Breaking Turnout!

IMG_1404+.jpg

TFL on Overcrowding Alert

The feverishly anticipated annual Humorous Speech and Table Topic Contests came around last Thursday night. Transport for London issued a Code Red warning that Central Line trains to Lancaster Gate would be seriously overcrowded between 18:30 and 19:00 hours and at one point the club committee held an emergency session to consider relocating to Wembley Stadium. Soon our venue was filled to bursting with enthused members, expectant guests and effulgent contestants. Judges and contestants were briefed and moments later, we were underway.   

Armed and Dangerous

Paul Mitchell, the club President, delivered a series of rib-ticklers from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (eg: “I'm not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change") and then the competition co-Chairs, armed with binders of paperwork, spreadsheets and panic, just about kept the evening on track. Many thanks to the highly experienced Chief Judge, Area Director, Rory Graves, who was aided by armed and dangerous Paul Mitchell, Sergeant at Arms (day job: accountant).  

The Competition

We began with the Humorous Speech Contest in which our brave competitors regaled us with speeches that involved motor-cycle rider Dave Death (Andrew), the ramifications of being rammed by a ram (in a particularly sensitive spot—Michael R), all that’s wrong with squabs (young pigeons, apparently—Mike B), how to survive a hangover (Enna) and why tugging your interviewer’s beard is unlikely to land you that dream job (Vibesan). Many congratulations to Michael Rock whose well-structured and highly amusing “The Worst Day of my Life” pipped the other competitors and secured him a place in the Area Final (same location, 27th September).

Robin successfully retrieved the secret Table Topic question, “If I could grant you one wish, what would you wish for?” from a bunker 4,000 feet below a North Korean mountain. It was cleverly and entertainingly answered by Andrew, Tony, Laura, Jeff and Vibesan. Jeff Alaoui triumphed and his ability to talk so elegantly and eloquently on his feet will be tested again on the 27th.

It was a fun-filled and memorable evening with friendships made and new members signed. Many thanks to everyone who undertook a role—Robin, Isabel, Victoria, Harminder, Jeff and Paul and judges Suzana, Brian, Rory, Rhys (Clerkenwell Speakers), Melanie (Holborn Speakers), Joann (104 Debate London). And a big congratulations to all the contestants. It was an evening in which everyone was a winner.

Ben Starling

fullsizeoutput_1334.jpeg

Leadership Excellence: The Power of Positive Reinforcement

BenHEADSHOT.png

How to get the most from the people you lead? The field of sports coaching offers a powerful tool. Coaching with positive reinforcement involves focusing upon someone’s strengths—what they got right in a particular situation—and then building on that success by describing the next challenge in positive language too. Positive coaching delivers results.

“You got more torque with that left hook by rotating the hip a little more. Did you feel that? If you rotate through the torso down to the ball of the lead foot, you’ll maximise impact next time. I know you can do it.”

Compare this with early coaching styles which drew heavily on military traditions to drive performance: “Don’t give up or you’ll let the side down!” Far from driving the athlete to greater efforts, the words that embed are don’t, give up and let down.

Which coach would you rather work with? Me too. 

Though I’ve been on the receiving end of both styles, I know which one got me to deliver my best results. 

Specific, Measurable, Timely

Positive reinforcement feedback needs to be clear and succinct as well, so that your athlete/employee/speaker-in-training knows exactly why and how that last move was so great. Make feedback not just enthusiastic, but also: specific, measurable and timely. 

“Nice presentation” delivered during an annual performance review is encouraging. “The way you paused for 5 seconds before you delivered the April numbers had everyone on the edge of their seats” delivered after the last PowerPoint slide fades, is far more effective. It lets the person you are coaching know exactly what to build on and how. 

Key Messages in a Sandwich

Jim Thompson in his book Positive Coaching suggests a 75:25 ratio of positive reinforcement to redirection and this ratio is often cited in leadership training. When evaluating speeches at Toastmasters, we sandwich our recommendations—a more positive word than criticisms—between commendations. It is a handy format and achieves close to the same ratio. 

A nervous newbie, who joined our club recently, couldn’t break a lifetime’s experience of public speaking failure and in nine months he faced the prospect of delivering a “father of the bride” speech before family and friends. Every time he ran through his speech, I told him enthusiastically how he had improved. My advice, however, was also sandwiched: “I really liked that you used the whole stage, standing left, right and centre to add emphasis to your story. If you stand in front of the lectern for the punchline of the last anecdote, it would be even more poignant. You maintained eye contact with the audience from each point on the stage which drew us in to your story too.”

Let Them Make Their Own Sandwich Too

Adult-learners learn by doing. Encouraging the person you are coaching to self-identify strengths in addition to external feedback, increases retention. And if they remember what went well, the chances of repeating it increases greatly. So I’d also finish each conversation with the father-of-the-bride by asking him what he thought went well with his speech and how that made him feel. Sure enough on the appointed wedding day, the dreaded speech was such a triumph that he returned to the club, took to the stage and told us about it. Faultlessly!

Key Messages Often

Marshall Goldsmith, in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There emphasises that to change behaviour, you should only focus on one or two areas at the same time. Last weekend I was coaching a woman on how to throw a double jab at my boxing gym. It’s a useful move and it’s easy to discourage someone by overwhelming them with what they’re doing wrong. 

I focused first on what she got right (the structure), then suggested a single new twist to add to up her game (slipping her head to the right to evade an oncoming punch). She continued to improve over the next few minutes, and then I offered a new “sandwich” that focused on the same point (“Leaning to the right is spot-on. Tucking your chin down will add further protection. Keep stepping forward on the second jab to add power—that’s good!”). A few minutes later, she was punching with renewed precision too.   

Mindfulness

Positive reinforcement is about more than words. John Russo, a Head Coach at Hofstra University, encourages coaches to create a “positive environment”. A good leader should be mindful—aware in the moment—of the people and the environment around them.

Assess the situation, empathise with the person in front of you and be ready to change tack in an instant. Aim to instil a sense of safety, respect, a feeling of being valued. It’s important to know where someone is in their skills development journey; it helps to notice facial expressions, tone of voice, body language. Try to appreciate what pressures the person may be under; learn about their larger personal strengths and challenges. “Know your audience” applies just as much in coaching and leading as it does in sales and marketing.

New Coaching and Leadership Skills Take Time

Of course, it’s easier to list failings and leave the recipient to it. Nobody said leadership was easy—or intuitive. But it’s a skill like any other that gets easier over time. Identifying strengths, and wording challenges in positive language makes a difference.  Take the time to find something positive to highlight. Encourage your athlete/employee/novice speaker to address a weakness—no, make that “address the next challenge”! It may take longer than simply identifying a mistake, but positive reinforcement achieves the desired outcomes faster.

A Brain is a Powerful Thing

Whether we are in a leadership position at work, coaching an athlete, or mentoring a novice speechmaker, the good news is positive reinforcement is highly effective for all. And it’s even backed by science. 

Neuroscientists have identified a section of the brain called the limbic system and in particular, the amygdala that control our emotional responses. Feed in negativity and they will focus on that. Positive reinforcement however causes the amygdala to light up, which then motivates us to achieve the desired outcome. If you believe you can achieve something, you are already on the road to success. 

Summary

  • Highlight strengths to build on
  • Make your feedback specific, measurable, timely
  • Put key messages in a sandwich
  • Let them make their own sandwich too
  • Deliver a few key messages often
  • Be mindful of your audience’s needs and environment
  • Take the time to make positive reinforcement sandwiches a habit

Positive reinforcement can be applied not only at work, sport and in speech training, but in any situation in which skill or performance matter. Give it a try and watch the results appear!

Ben Starling

 

A Spark Of Inspiration

In May 2005, I went on a 3-day speech therapy course, where I met Barry Rix. He has become a good friend and has helped me a lot over the years. It was Barry who told me about Toastmasters and how it had helped him with his confidence and stammer. I thought: me join a public speaking club? Don’t be silly! But in January 2007, I went to Chelmsford Speakers Club for the first time. I joined that same night and did my Ice Breaker four weeks later.

I’ve often thought about how I gave my Ice Breaker so soon after joining. I think that if I hadn’t thrown myself in at the deep end, I’d have started making excuses, delayed the big day…and who knows how that would have turned out? 

One of my best decisions was to leave Chelmsford and join Kings Speakers, which gave me the opportunity to visit and join other London TM clubs.

I have always been pushing myself to look for different speaking opportunities. Now I’m proud to say I’ve spoken at different TM clubs, TM conferences, work, and at a Rotary club. I feel that I’ve made good progress but at the back of my mind, I’m always wondering if there are more speaking opportunities out there.

About two years ago I was at a TM event where I spoke to a lady from Spark. She explained it was a story-telling club. I joined the mailing list and received monthly emails about forthcoming events in London.

I wanted to go but I kept making excuses! At Spark you tell true stories and each meeting has a theme that your story must fit. So my excuse was always that I didn’t have a story that was based on the chosen theme.

In May, I received an email about a Spark event in Hackney. The theme was promises. This could be a promise you made to yourself or to somebody else. I thought no more excuses—I need to do this. Then I wondered what I could talk about.

That night I went to the venue alone. I introduced myself to the lady sitting at the entrance desk. I was very nervous and stammered on saying my name. Then I stopped, took a deep breath, made eye contact with her and said, “Brian Skelton”. I explained that I had a stammer to which she replied, “That’s not a problem, dear”. Then I said that I wanted to tell a story.

These venues are completely different from TM. It’s more like a club with tables and chairs where you can buy drinks. I counted twenty-five people as I sat at a table with only a soft drink for company, waiting to be called on stage.

The compare explained how the evening would go. He told the first story, then two other people went up and told theirs. Then it was my turn. You are allotted five minutes and I explained to the audience how I’d made a promise to myself to do something about my stammer. It took me a little while to get going and I noticed that I was speaking too fast. When I started to slow down, it made a big difference. In fact my story went well! 

Another difference to TM is that you speak into a mike. I found this really odd, after being told that I have good voice projection. 

There was a break after my speech, and I rewarded myself with a pint of cider, which went down really well! A lot of people came over and congratulated me. Then six more people told their stories. It was a great evening and I was really pleased I did it.

The people at Spark are all volunteers. They are fantastic and will help you with any problems or questions. It’s a really friendly event and you can feel that everybody is on your side, willing you to do well.

I know that Ben has been to Spark as well, so talk to me or him about it, if you’re interested in going. While it is different from TM, I know how important it is that we step outside our comfort zones. My advice? GO FOR IT!

The speech you can listen to here is a true story about a holiday I gave at another Spark event in July.

Where Leaders Are Made

It was a cold November evening in 2013 when I first stepped into Kings Speakers, all thanks to my dear friend Iyanka and his persistent encouragement. I made sure I sat at the back where I could not be seen or heard. Even though it is a Toastmasters club for people who stammer or have social anxiety, you would never think it. The speakers performed with such confidence, like they were professionals. I felt very intimidated and at that point I would have never dreamed that 3 years later I would be the club’s President. 

Given the opportunity and with the support and encouragement of others, you’d be surprised at what you are capable of achieving. Toastmasters and especially Kings Speakers is an environment designed for members to learn and thrive in a supportive and safe space and the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. While I had no ambition to become the president I was committed to overcoming my own fears and developing my skills. I made sure I attended and took part in every meeting and as a result of my dedication I was invited to serve on the club’s committee. Slowly I moved up the ranks and became the Vice President of Education and as the Toastmaster year was coming to an end, the Club President Graeme and Club Founder Harminder suggested that I should be the next president. Really?? Me?? How could someone like me be a president? All of the past presidents where men in suits and I am just a simple girl… All sorts of thoughts came up of why I wouldn't be good enough to be the president, but then I said to myself… hang on a minute if Graeme and Harminder think I am capable of doing this, then surely I should at least try and who knows when I could get an opportunity like this again. Thanks to their encouragement and belief in me, it gave me the courage to take on the challenge. 

The club was handed over to me in June 2016 and little did I know that I would have to lead the club through it’s toughest year to date. There wasn’t much time to settle in before I had to jump the first hurdle. Our beloved venue The Commander Bar was closing down and we urgently needed to find a new home for our club. Looking for a meeting room in a convenient location, close to a tube station at a very modest price in London is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The pressure was on. It was a nail biting search full of false hopes and with just days to go to the next meeting I had finally found our new home Number 63, just a minute’s walk from the tube station, in central London and all within our tight budget. And just when I thought I could relax a little, the challenges kept coming. Some members dropped out of the committee due to work and other commitments putting extra pressure on senior members, our member numbers were dwindling and as a result our Vice President of Education Paul found it increasingly harder to fill the agenda and had to seek out Toastmasters from other clubs to help us out. The club was at it’s lowest point and it was my responsibility to turn things around. 

I had a vision to take the club in a new direction and wanted my leadership to leave a mark and make a real difference. The first thing I set out to work on was our branding and online presence. Kings Speakers didn’t have a logo, a tagline or an up to date website. I felt these were really important in creating an identity and sense of purpose of what we are about and who we are. Our tag line - ‘Transform your biggest weakness into your greatest strength' really sums up what we have set out to achieve as we all want to excel at the the very thing we struggle with. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the new website to function and look but unfortunately I had no idea how to do it. We were so lucky to have Iyanka on our committee who is an expert in all things tech and design and I am so grateful for his patience when working with me and my fussiness and perfectionism and his incredible ability to materialise everything I had in my mind from the logo to the website. Having a blog was something I wanted to introduce as a way of not just communicating to the outside world but also for our own members to share their own experiences, which we can all find great value in. Our online presence and how we communicate to those interested through our subscription mailing list was a really important aspect of our marketing not by doing any hard sell but by simply letting people get to know us and what we’re about. We launched our new website before Christmas 2016 and that comforting feeling that I could relax a little started to set in… Iyanka informs me he needs to leave the club due to work commitments. He always found the simplest solutions to our tech and design problems and we could have never have achieved all we did without him. What on earth am I going to do now? As much as I wanted to wallow in self pity, there was no time for that and I took it upon myself to carry on with the PR duties of maintaining the website and our communication with members and subscribers. Iyanka made that really easy for me by teaching me and supporting me all the way, and if I can manage all of this techy stuff then anyone can! 

While attracting guests to the club was a big priority, building a strong and connected culture amongst our members is vital. It was really important to spend time together outside of the club and to give us a chance to get to know each other as people and create genuine friendships so after a meeting we always go to the pub next door for some banter and have a good catch up. I do love any excuse for a get together so I organised our Christmas social, a prime opportunity for members to show off their dancing skills. Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of this but let me assure our members know how to boogie! And I couldn’t wait all the way until next Christmas for another social so I organised a walk on Hampstead Heath in May. It was a great turnout and wonderful to create memories and spend quality time together away from Toastmasters. We even had an honorary four legged member joining us for the day!

To break up the monotony of meetings and to provide our members with an opportunity to gain new skills, I organised 2 workshops through out the year. We are very fortunate to have published author Ben Starling as one of our members and he very kindly created a workshop sharing some of his writing tips and tricks in a bid to Lift our Language and improve our speech writing. The second workshop was created by fellow Toastmaster and empowerment coach Christine Alaby where she gave us some practical tools to tackle nerves and feel more confident and empowered while giving a speech. 

 

To develop my own skills and knowledge I wanted to learn as much as I could about leadership. I am a bit of a geek so I used any spare time to watch lectures and talks online as well as listening to podcasts when I’m cleaning the house or reading on my commute to work. One of my favourite leadership and public speaking experts is Simon Sinek. When I heard he was giving a talk in London I knew I had to be there. He was signing books after his event and I had the chance to meet him and asked him to sign books for Kings Speakers so that I could share Simon’s work with the rest of the club and I was able to briefly tell him what we do and he absolutely loved it! Definitely one the highlights of the year.

One of the reasons why I love Simon’s work is that he emphasises the importance of working together and taking care of each other and that is something that really stood out to me through out this whole year. My vision and hope was to turn things around for the club and I am absolutely delighted that we have indeed managed to do that. We have achieved 10 DCP points which is the highest amount of points a club can achieve making us a President’s Distinguished Club. These points are made up of attending training, completing speech manuals, advanced manuals, leadership manuals, paying dues on time and taking on new members. We have also matched our record membership numbers. We have gone from struggling to fill the agenda to now struggling how we can fit everyone on the agenda. The reason why we where able to achieve all this is through great teamwork and taking care and supporting one another. Harminder was always there for guidance and advice and he played a key role in communicating with guests and turning them into members. Paul took excellent care of new members and got them settled in the club, organised mentoring and helped them to begin their Toastmaster journey as well as ensuring we had a packed agenda. Brian is always volunteering to help and has been a great support as well as inspiring us all with his Distinguished Toastmaster Award, the highest honour any Toastmaster can achieve. The rest of the committee and members have also shown so much dedication and made such valuable contributions to the club. 

This blog is much longer than I had intended and there is so much I have missed out, but if I keep writing it will end up being a novel! I just wanted to share some of the main challenges and highlights of the year. I am as grateful for the challenges as I am for the highlights, because had it all been plain sailing I wouldn't have learnt a thing or grown as a person. It’s been such a great year and experience, I’ve really loved it and I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of the encouragement and support and for giving me this opportunity, for believing in me and trusting me to lead the club, I can’t express how much it means to me. 

So if you thought Toastmasters was only about public speaking, think again, after all the Toastmasters tagline is - Where Leaders Are Made

Why Joining Kings Speakers Was The Right Decision

When I first joined toastmasters back in June 2012 I didn't realise it was a Toastmasters club. It had been advertised on meet-up as King's, a public speaking group for people with a stammer or social anxiety. I wouldn't necessarily say that I have either but I certainly had one huge fear of public speaking, such a fear that I found it impossible to do a presentation in uni, such a fear that I would avoid any type of situation where I may need to speak out in front of a group, such a fear that if I had known at the time that it was a Toastmasters club, I wouldn't have set one foot inside that door.

 

You see, I had a misconception, I had heard about Toastmasters and thought of it as this big club where people went to show off how amazing they were at public speaking, where people with amazing grammar and command of the English language spoke eloquently and with sophistication, I could never stand up and speak in front of these people!! However this club advertised on meet-up sounded friendly and encouraging, so a much easier way to face one of my biggest fears. After all, it was in a pub, so I could at least go for a pint if it all went really badly, or indeed if it all went well. Win win.

 

Well it turns out Toastmasters sometimes is a little like that, members at King's can give the most amazing, inspiring, well-structured speeches that we all look up to, but it's not a competition, well, you can win best speaker/evaluator/table topics, what I mean is, it's not competitive. Each member of King's are there to better themselves, and to encourage each other, egging each other on on our personal quests to better ourselves and become comfortable with public speaking.

I still remember my first night, I did a table topic and it was absolutely terrible, I think I lasted 10 seconds and that probably includes the walk up there and back down again. So embarrassing I felt awful, but then, for some reason, I stuck around at the end of the night, had a chat with the other members, they didn't care how badly I had done, I was new and they had all been new at one stage, the rest is history.

 

It wasn't long before I was signing up for the various roles, each one giving me more and more confidence to stand up and speak in front of an audience, then, my first ever speech! Oh my god, was I nervous? Yes! Did I get through it? Yes! Was it awful? No!!! It felt amazing, yes of course I was shaking, with the adrenaline running through me, but for the first time ever it felt positive, an achievement rather than something scary and horrible.

 

Next thing I had a presentation to do in uni, but instead of running away and making excuses that I couldn't be there, I was right up there, me, doing a presentation! Was I scared? Yes! Was I shaking a little? Yes! Was it the worst thing in the world? No!! Now, this can only come with time, a little bit of practice, and the right supportive environment where you're allowed to make mistakes, allowed to be nervous, allowed to grow and get better and be encouraged to do so from a room full of smiling faces. Who could ask for better?!

 

When I sat back down after my presentation in uni I knew I had made the right decision to join this public-speaking group of mystical origin, I am a member of a toastmasters club, yes, me.

Joyce 

 

Humorous Speech Contest 2017—Coming Soon!

September is coming

September is fast approaching and that means our thoughts, twitching with excitement, wander back to the most important historical event ever associated with that auspicious month. But what could it be? Instantly springing to mind are:

  • 1 September 1159: The death of Adrian IV, the only English Pope.
  • 3 September 1848: chewing gum is produced commercially for the first time.
  • 13 September 1902: Harry Jackson becomes the first person in Britain to be convicted on fingerprint evidence.

All perfectly sensible guesses—which I’m sure occurred to you too—but wrong, I’m afraid. I refer to that stellar annual event (I am reliably informed) that has saved marriages, ended wars and filled hospital beds with victims suffering from cracked ribs. I refer, of course, to the first round of the Toastmasters Humorous Speech contest this September.

I am uniquely qualified

And, as your Vice President for Public Relations, I happen to be uniquely qualified to write this post. In fact the events upon a balmy 3rd September, 2015 evening will stay with me until I draw my last breath. Allow me to explain…

…But before I do, I’m here to encourage you to enter the Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest. To take all you’ve learned from the Competent Communication manual, and put it to new and exciting uses. Be brave—step outside your comfort zone—ignore my clichés—and give it a try! Nothing compares with the thrill of having the room laugh at your carefully constructed joke; to risk deafness at the hands (literally) of a wildly clapping audience. 

Learn your craft - google your way to glory!

Some people are naturally amusing. The rest of us have to work at it. Remember that professional comics dedicate years to perfecting their craft. As a first step, I’d suggest you google “Secrets of delivering a humorous/funny speech” because lots of articles will come up. Here’s one I just read and I think is useful: http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Funny-Speech

A google caveat

Please remember, however, that you are googling how to write a humorous speech, i.e. the structure of a humour speech or story. Toastmasters requires that the actual content be original. We’re looking forward to hearing your own original stories!

That balmy 3rd September, 2015

So, what makes me uniquely equipped to encourage you to enter? What life-changing events transpired on that balmy September evening two years ago? Not wishing to blow my own trumpet, it is with considerable shyness that I admit to holding a Toastmasters’ record. They are still designing the certificate.

I was the only speaker to enter a Humorous Speech contest at our club on September 3rd, 2015 and achieve no laughs. Not one. 

This coming September

You can only improve on my performance. Please don’t make the mistakes I made! Do your research, understand the mechanics of humour and then deliver. Be sure to enjoy the experience as you google your way to glory! I’m told that making people laugh is a great high. Don’t forget to tell me what it feels like because I’ll be your Contest Chair. 

By the way, Robert Pakter, interventional radiologist at Hopkins Medical confirms it is possible to crack a rib from laughing. 

St Mary’s Paddington will be on stand-by...

 

Ben Starling 

Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone - Try A New Role!

Okay. You've done your self-introduction Icebreaker Speech and survived. Well done! You've started your personal journey to becoming the best public speaker you can be. Hurrah! The first time you stand up on stage is the hardest. The good news is that it only gets easier every time thereafter.

 

New Skills to Gain

 

The Competent Communicators Manual--the first 10 speeches in the Toastmasters curriculum--guides you through developing the basics of speech delivery. But there are so many other different public speaking techniques to learn which will round out your public speaking skill set: impromptu speaking, facilitation, time management, diplomacy, leadership and more. And the various roles you see at Toastmasters meetings each give a different opportunity to improve these skills.

 

Visit the Kings Speakers page at the Easyspeak Toastmasters website http://toastmasterclub.org/view_agenda.php?t=26120. Log in and click on My Participation / Sign Up For Meetings. Then you'll see where you can sign up for your next speech. But there are also a variety of roles next to which you can place your green tick mark (only one tick mark per meeting)! 

 

Roles To Try in a Toastmasters meeting

 

There are 7 functional roles that must be filled so that Toastmasters meetings can proceed smoothly. Here is a short description of each of them from easiest to most challenging (in my opinion). You can dip your toe in with a Harkmaster or Timekeeper role and work your way up to... Toastmaster!

 

  1. Harkmaster - Take notes on what each speaker said during the evening. Then at the end, stand up and quiz the club on what was said with questions from your notes. Toss chocolates to whoever gets the answer right.
  2. Timekeeper - Keep a record of the time elapsed for everyone who speaks on stage during the evening. Give a report at the end of the meeting.
  3. Table Topics Master - Invent fun questions on a theme for members to speak on for 1-3 minutes and invite brave participants to the stage.
  4. Grammarian - Note interesting phrases, metaphors, alliteration, images that you hear during the evening and give a report at the end of the meeting. Also introduce a Word-of-the-Day, and give extra kudos if any speaker uses it.
  5. Speech Evaluator - Commend, Recommend, Commend. Find the good points in one speech you heard and identify one challenge for the speech-maker to work on for next time. Present your evaluation at the end of the first half of the meeting.
  6. Table Topics Evaluator - Commend, Recommend, Commend. Find the good points in the table topics you heard. Try to identify one challenge for all participants to work on for next time. Present your evaluation at the end of the second half of the meeting.
  7. General Evaluator - Commend, Recommend, Commend. Give an evaluation of the speakers on stage (other than those who made a formal speech or did Table Topics). Present your evaluation at the end of the second half of the meeting.
  8. Toastmaster of the Evening - Guide the entire meeting, announcing and welcoming each speaker to the stage. Welcome guests. Maintain timeliness. Clearly explain each segment of the meeting. Thank all participants at the end of the meeting.

 

Come Join the Fun!

 

As I write this summary, I realise... I've never been Toastmaster before! So, I'm off to Easyspeak Kings Speakers page on the Toastmasters site to sign up for a new role. 

 

Step outside your comfort zone today. Please come and join me!
 

Robin

Overcoming Fear and Stammering - Different Nationalities, Same Solutions

Fear doesn’t recognise nationalities; nor does it understand cultures or languages. Instead, it finds a comfortable home in whoever suffers from shyness, social anxiety or a stutter. At Kings Speakers, of course, we learn to look fear in the eyes, and smile. But what about those who live thousands of miles away and cannot attend the club?

If people cannot come to Kings, then the Kings message can be taken to them. And this is exactly what we do. For many years, I have been fortunate enough to work with charitable organisations in Europe, helping to run courses which range from weekend affairs to 9-day youth camps. These are aimed at those who stutter, coaching them to become more confident communicators, building their self-esteem and changing their belief systems. 

One such youth course was last October in a remote forest in northern Italy. Delegates came from countries as varied as Iceland, Israel, Portugal, Holland, Italy, and of course, the UK. A group of about 25 adults, aged between 18-26 assembled nervously on the first day. The tension, anxiety and sense of anticipation was radiating from their faces, as they arrived, not knowing what to expect. But what followed was a whirlwind of interactive workshops, games, outdoor pursuits, and experiences all aimed at helping the delegates to grow in confidence. Although there were workshops in public speaking, body language, building connections, understanding fear etc, there was no classroom, no blackboard, no lecture notes. In fact, there were no lectures. Everything was interactive; everything was done outdoors, under rustling trees and the whistling wind. And in the evenings, people took turns to help cook, and the communal dinner was decorated with friendships, laughter and Italian house wine. Then of course, there was an after-dinner party every night…..and for those people like me, who have the dancing ability of a three-legged donkey, there was the option to chill in theforest, enjoy conversation and connection, with the Milky Way glimmering overhead and the night creatures singing their chorus. And like this, the nine days quickly disappeared in a colourful blur.

The delegates may have arrived nervous and unsure, but they left the camp with hope and excitement and new friends.

The skills I have learnt at Kings Speakers are helping me to run such workshops. Kings Speakers may be a public speaking club, but like all Toastmasters clubs, it’s much more than that. It’s a personal growth program. It’s a fear-destroying program. It’s a belief-system changing program. Public speaking just happens to be the medium. And fear? If fear is the disease, then personal growth is the cure. And it works for every nationality, and every culture. 

I am proud to be part of Kings Speakers and to help spread the message.

Harminder Dhillon 

 

My Journey to Toastmaster

I’ve always stammered; hence I never enjoyed public speaking. I was the quiet person both in my family and at school. So my parents took me to the LAMDA drama school and Stagecoach Performing Arts to try to help. Sadly, it didn’t improve things. In fact I hated them!

My dyslexia and speech impediment have been a long-term burden. I gained a place at Nottingham University but being far from home, I knew I’d get little family support. But I was determined to do my very best there!

My degree was in biochemistry which involved many presentations in which I had to explain my findings and results to my fellow students. I got around this by uploading private Youtube videos for my lecturer. 

The reason I started public speaking at university was because I met this Polish student who asked what my name was. But her great beauty got the better of me and I couldn't say it! I felt so naked and embarrassed. Finally, I claimed I didn’t know my name, which didn’t go down too well…

So I joined my university public speaking society and enrolled in Level 4 diploma presentation skills. I did 20 presentations on cancer, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It felt like I was about to give birth to my heart—but somehow I got through them.

When I completed my degree, a friend recommended Toastmasters so I joined King’s Speakers. The club specialises in people with stammers and social anxiety. They are a wonderfully supportive and experienced club and none of my difficulties are new to them. The president takes time to help with my breathing techniques and while it’s not easy, I’m definitely improving. I’ve only been a member for a few months but am already up to my seventh speech. With each one, I take a step forward…and grow in confidence. 

 

My greatest thrill is when the audience laughs during a speech! I remember when I was describing how I struggle at job interviews. The room was silent. Two dozen people were nodding in sympathy and understanding. Then I explained that when things were going badly, I’d start flirting with my interviewer—male or female! After a few disbelieving glances, the whole room erupted—I’ll never forget that feeling! It was such a rush!

One day, I will talk without stammer. That’s my goal and what an achievement it will be! Maybe I’ll become a world-class public speaker or even a stand-up comic. No matter what happens, I’m enjoying my Toastmasters journey.

 

Thanks so much, King’s Speakers!

 

Vibesan Illampooranan

 

Add Some Humour To Your Speech

There are few speeches that can’t be lifted with a little humour, and here I’m going to explain two rhetorical devices that are comedic favourites. Both take a level of thought to craft successfully, but the end result is well worth the effort. They have something in common: both rely on the unexpected for humour. They achieve this by (mis)leading the listener with their opening sections before going off in another direction. 

The first is bathos.

Bathos starts off by building a serious and powerful scene, then wrong-foots the audience with an unexpected punchline.

 

Examples: 

 

  • Sarah: “Once we had something that was pure, and wonderful and good. Something others only dream of. What’s happened to it?

David: “You spent it.”

  • For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.
  • He spent his final hour of life doing what he loved most: arguing with his dog.
  • Through the verdant plains of North Umbria walked Waylon Ogglethorpe and, as he walked, the clouds whispered his name, the birds of the air sang his praises, and the beasts of the fields from smallest to greatest said, “There goes the most noble among men” – in other words, a typical stroll for a schizophrenic ventriloquist with delusions of grandeur.

  

The second device is difficult to say, easy to understand and highly effective when crafted skilfully. Meet the paraprosdokian. 

Paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the listener to reinterpret the first part. So you lead your listeners along, framing your words in a way that makes them expect a certain outcome. When the reversal is employed, they experience a little shock—followed by humour—when they realise they were led astray.

Examples:

  • I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, not screaming and yelling like his passengers. 
  • Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.
  • Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak. 

The comedian Emo Philips is a master of the paraprosdokian. One of my favourite examples of his (dark) genius is: “I don’t know why I got into trouble with my girlfriend’s parents for not opening her car door. All I did was open mine and swim for the surface.”

Bathos and paraprosdokian—both are fun to construct and funny. Why not try using them in your next speech?

Ben-Starling.com

 

How I went from dreading public speaking to finally enjoying it!

It's a Thursday evening. I've just worked a ten hour day. All I want is to get into bed and switch off from the world. But I don't. Instead, I'm on a train. My stomach is bubbling away, this familiar dread haunting me. I still cannot believe I am doing this. I must be crazy. I am voluntarily going to a meeting for public speaking. Doesn’t sound appealing does it? There are at least a thousand things I would rather be doing. But there's one thing in particular that is tightening that nervous knot in my stomach. Public speaking is my idea of hell. I have a stammer. 

I have stammered my whole life. From dreading answering the register in school (just my luck I had a teacher called Mr Wilimont!) to hating class presentations, I've felt all the pain of having a stammer. Yet, it is something I have never let define me. I have worked on it my whole life to the point where I can control it. It has almost become a second thought. But I wasn't going to settle for that. I wanted that extra push, that extra practice so I can stand before anyone and inspire them with my words. The reason? Because I want to be an officer in the British Army.

I found out about King’s Speakers, one of only three Toastmaster public speaking clubs in the world aimed at those with a stammer or social anxiety. I walk up to the meeting door, my stomach still somersaulting. My mouth has gone dry. I think about turning back, just going to the pub I passed. But I know that I won't. I need to be here. I sigh. I walk through the door. I have never looked back.

King’s Speakers is really a club like no other. With a variety of stammerers, members with anxiety and those who just want the practice, the atmosphere that greeted me was amazing. It was so relaxed and supportive. I was blown away by the fantastic speeches I heard from people who had a stammer like me. It was the first time I had met other adults who stammered. I was in complete awe of them. I wasn't alone in the world! When I left, my whole body was buzzing. There was one emotion that filled me. I was inspired. I was inspired by every single person I had met. They refused to be controlled by their fears. They were there to face their demons head on. I knew that I could too. 

That was six months ago. My demons are firmly being destroyed every session. With the fantastic support of other members, I raced through every speaking role I could. Then it was on to the real fun… The speeches. I have just completed my third one with my fourth already in the planning stage. The feedback has been amazing with each one. The sense of achievement has been unreal.

    The benefits are already showing. I have blitzed all my army interview stages so far, with feedback including how impressive and confident my presentations have been. I am now down to my final assessment in May. My only fear about applying for the army had been that my stammer would hold me back. With the support of King’s Speakers, I know that my stammer isn't even an issue anymore. 

Of course, the nerves still come with every speech. But speaking in front of people isn't the hardest part of King’s Speakers. Walking through the door for the first time is. Once you are through, you can achieve anything you want with hard work. You just have to decide that you want it. And the crazy thing? I now actually enjoy public speaking!

Accepting Yourself and Your Stammer

Two years ago I made one of my smartest moves. I joined Kings Speakers, part of Toastmasters International 90 year old worldwide organisation of nearly 16,000 clubs with around 350,000 members in 140 countries. Kings Speakers so named after the film The King’s Speech and is one of only 3 TM clubs in the world specifically for anyone with a stammer or other social anxiety

I’ve had a stammer on and off all my life and have tried numerous methods to “cure” myself of it. Hypnotherapy, NLP, Meditation to name but a few and none of these worked. This was largely my fault as in joining Kings Speakers I realised that there wasn’t anything to cure, it was a question of accepting whom I am and being happy with that.

It was all about learning that in any face to face communication, the words that come out of your mouth only account for around 10% of the total communication, the remaining 90% is communicated by your physiology eg. your facial expressions, eyes, mouth, and all other body movements, even the tonality of your voice and the clothes you wear and the way you walk up to the stage or wherever you’re speaking from. I learned that the communication starts long before the speaker has opened their mouth.

Therefore, the odd stammer is not going to make any difference whatsoever to the overall communication and if you’re authentic and sincere, the listener(s) will get 100% of what you’re saying totally regardless of any stammer or disfluency.

I have given several speeches within the club, and have also filled many of the other functions which involve speaking at the meeting to give a report, e.g. Timekeeper, Evaluator, Table-Topics Master, and Toastmaster of the evening.  It has given me untold confidence to speak in front of a group.

Thus, I learned that if I’m not bothered by stammering, other people aren’t going to be bothered by it either and if I get that others aren’t bothered by it, I’m going to be even less inclined to be bothered by it and probably won’t even think about it. I learned that stammering is no more important than whether or not you wear glasses or hearing aids or the colour of your hair. If other people get that I’m being myself, sincere and genuine they will be truly interested in what I have to say and not bothered in the slightest bit if I do stammer on the occasional word.

Being heard

One of my greatest inspirations has been David Seidler, the screen writer of the film The Kings Speech When he accepted his Academy award for best original screenplay, he said on stage “I accept this award on behalf of all the stammerers throughout the world, we have a voice, we have been heard.”

He also said on another occasion said that the King’s Speech therapist Lionel Logue effectively taught the King that he was no longer the “stammering King” but that he was just the King who occasionally had a stammer. Therefore, whatever your name is, you’re not John or Alice or Peter the stammerer, you’re John or Alice or Peter who just occasionally has a stammer.

 

Tony Weiss

 

 

My Experience of The International Speech Contest

Graeme blog photo.jpg

This time last year, I preparing for the annual international speech contest that Toastmasters International arrange each year.  I had competed the previous year and had reached the Area Contest where I came third, this year I was hoping to do that little bit better, but I never dreamed that I would end up speaking in front of 250 people from all over London and giving a speech about my stammer.

Finding the right speech topic is often the most difficult part of the whole process.  Toastmasters allows you to speak about any subject, but for a successful competition speech the speech needs to be motivational and inspirational to the audience.  I have a young daughter and she often provides the inspiration for my speeches.  When I began planning my speech, my daughter had recently started to learn to swim.  Unfortunately, things were not going to plan and she cried and cried when she got in the pool.  However, in adversity, she suddenly took a deep breath and began to do as her teacher was telling her to do and with arm bands began to swim across the pool.  Here was my inspiration.  I just needed to craft a speech around the topic of overcoming demons, for my daughter it was swimming.

The first speech that I gave in the competition is the Club Contest, where you compete against fellow club members.  The competition was fierce, and the standard was exceptional.  I gave my speech in two parts one about my daughter and the second part was about giving a speech and the feelings that people have when they give a speech; how scary giving a speech, standing on a stage all alone, with everyone sitting and watching you.  The speech went down well, and the audience empathised with the speech.  I won the contest and was on to the next round, the Area Contest.

However, I did not have long to bask in the glory of winning the Club Contest, because after the contest, I received feedback on the speech from a very experienced Toastmaster.  He said to me that my speech was good, but it needed to be so much better if I wanted to go any further in the contest.  He advised me that what I really needed to do was to try to come up with a time that I had struggled to over come something and that ultimately, I succeeded.  This would allow a greater audience to empathise and be inspired by the speech and with any luck I should do well at the Area Contest.

Almost immediately, I went home, back to my keyboard and I began working on the speech again.  I could not rest upon my laurels as I wanted to do as well as I possibly good.  This was potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity to go far – who knows, I may end up in the final in Washington DC representing my country. I could but dream.

So I came up with a speech, keeping my daughter’s swimming experience but also interspersing it with my own struggles with my speech.  I have struggled with a stammer for most of my life, the worst time was when I first started work and had to answer the telephone, these were terrible times, but ultimately with the support of friends and just putting myself out there I have managed to gain confidence that has limited the times that I stammer.

The speech was written, but now I needed to practice it.  There was a club meeting between the two contests and I was able to give my speech before the club.  I was confident before the speech.  I gave it.  But people did not like it as much as they had before.  What had gone wrong.  I must say that I was devastated.  The Area Contest was a week away, I had friends coming to support me. But the speech was no good.  Back to the drawing board.  I worked through the speech, line by line.  Word by Word, making it flow better.  Making it funnier.  Making it better.

The day of the Area Contest.  A room of about 75 people.  Friends there to support me.  People from Kings Speakers supporting me.  The competition was great.  I went last.  Nerves jangling.  Away I went.  People laughed.  People looked engaged.  People looked as if they enjoyed it.  I came third at the contest the year before, could I do better?  The speeches had finished, the judges had considered their results and now it was time for the announcement.  In third place was ……. (not me).  In second place……. (not me – ah well – I’m sure I have not won).  In first place was ……. Graeme Bass.  Oh my I’ve won.  I’m in to the next round of the contest!  The Division B contest.

The Contest was held at the Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden.  An audience of 250 people. Competing against the best speakers in West London.  Oh my.  This was nerve wracking.  The fellow competitors were amazing.  The hall was enormous, yet we did not have any microphones.  We had to rely upon the power of our voice.  I had bene practicing in a church hall, which helped immensely.  There were six competitors and I went fifth.  I gave the best I could.  What a feeling everyone laughed.  I wish I could have stayed on that stage forever.  Sadly, the competition was too strong for me and I did not win.  But what an amazing experience.

The speech contest last year was a great example of the Toastmasters’ experience.  Thesupport that I received from Kings Speakers and other members of the Toastmasters’ community was incredible and that sums up the people who are members of this great club and organisation.

Preparing Your Speech

One of the great things about Toastmasters is that the organisation (and your mentor, if you have requested one) holds your hand at every stage: from the moment you sign up to give your speech, until you get up on stage…and then, when safely back in your comfy chair, a fellow club member gives helpful feedback.

The Competent Communication manual (your starting point on your Toastmasters journey) consists of ten projects, each of which addresses a particular aspect of speech making (like body language, persuasion, using visual aids). The first step is to read the manual so you understand what you are intending to achieve with a particular project. Then it’s time to think of a subject that allows you to achieve your objective and begin planning your speech. Here are some guidelines that apply to all speeches.

 

I’d suggest that the “high level” components include:

  1. Relevance – choose a topic that will be of interest to everyone in the room. It could be something in the news, maybe an issue we’re all familiar with. Equally important, think carefully about your audience and be careful not to include material that could offend.
  2. Clarity – your message must be clear and easily understood. You only have five to seven minutes, so don’t try to make lots of points…make one!
  3. Passion – pick a topic that excites you!
  4. Interaction – passive listening can be boring and experienced public speakers know an audience gets more from a speech when people are involved. So look to incorporate feedback by inviting opinions. A powerful device is to pose a question at the beginning and build towards the answer…drawing your audience along until you cross the “question answered” finishing line together.
  5. Memorable – your message should confirm or reinforce a deeply held conviction or, (better still), get your audience thinking for the first time or differently about a subject. 

With those points in mind, we need to look at the structure, or “middle level”, of your speech. In a short speech, you should divide it into three sections: introduction (say, 20%), body (say, 70%) and conclusion (say, 10%).

  1. Introduction – grab people’s attention with a thought-provoking opening that states your premise (e.g. “School children should meditate for ten minutes every day”). Asking a powerful question also works well here (“What is the most important thing missing form a child’s school day?”), then answer this question and explain that you intend to convince the room of your viewpoint. You could ask for a show of hands at the start and finish to gauge your success.
  2. Body of speech – here you will build your case with supporting evidence. Pick three or four examples that support your premise from different perspectives. You might (a) describe a personal experience with your own child, (b) quote a research study by child psychologists, (c) pick a school in which, following the introduction of meditation, bullying went down and exam results improved and (d) quote feedback from delighted parents.  
  3. Ending – you can now restate your thesis and “prove” your premise by reminding the audience of your supporting evidence: “So child psychologists, teachers and parents all agree that…” Finally, end on a memorable thought that could, for example, suggest that society as a whole (and perhaps the economy too) would benefit if the present generation of children left school less stressed. 

Finally, have you ever wondered why Winston Churchill and Barak Obama’s speeches are enjoyable and powerful? It’s because they increase impact through the use of rhetorical devices. Skilfully employed, these devices will lift (and make memorable) any speech. You can explore a number of them here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK6yjJGp1v0 I’ll be blogging soon about using rhetorical devices in your speeches.

 

Ben Starling

Top 10 Tips to Win a Speech Contest

Graeme blog photo.jpg

It is competition season at Toastmasters International.  Each member of Toastmasters is only 4 wins away from representing their country at the International Speech Contest in Vancouver in Canada.

 

Here are my top ten tips to be a success in the contests:

 

  1. Look at the Judging Criteria – all speech contests are judged by members of Toastmasters using a set criteria.  The criteria can be found at (https://www.toastmasters.org/~/media/A26980987C5643BBAFB6F9FA367A6F65.ashx).  Look at the criteria and try to get your speech to score as highly in the criteria as possible.
  2. Make sure the speech has an emotional impact on the audience – every story that you will ever have heard will have a beginning where the scene is set, there will be a hero (in the case of a Toastmasters speech this is best if it is you), the hero will then go through difficulties but at the end of the story, with the audience willing the hero on, will overcome those difficulties.  Think of any story that you heard of a child and the same structure is used (think of Cinderella or Snow White or even a more modern classic Frozen (you can guess that I have a young daughter), they all have the same structure.  Your speech should follow this structure as it will have an impact on the audience;
  3. Try to be funny – whilst this is not a humorous speech contest, it is amazing how the speeches that generate the most laughter are often the speeches that do well.  The audience is there to be entertained.  Who does not like to laugh.  Try and inject humour into your speech – it will make it more memorable and fun to give.  There is no greater feeling than standing on stage and making people laugh.
  4. Concentrate on body language – not only do you receive 10 marks for body language – good use of the stage and body language will do two things, firstly it will relax you by moving around you will not be tense and will give the appearance of being confident.  It will also make the audience more engaged in the speech.  The body language should be natural and not forced.  This will need practice.
  5. Practice. Practice Practice -   This is your moment and you do not want to leave anything to chance.  Try and practice in front of someone who will provide you with constructive feedback.   If you do not have anyone to practice in front of, practice in front of a mirror.  It is also a good idea to try and video the speech when you are practicing.  It is amazing how many movements and tics that you have that you do not know that you do, whether it be rocking from side to side or cupping your hands.
  6. Timings – the speech must be between 5 and 7 minutes.  In a speech contest you do not get told that you have gone over time,  You are simply disqualified.  The timings are not something that you want to be worrying about.  So make sure when you are practicing you are also timing yourself.
  7. Visualise – you can only practice so much.  However, I find it really helps to visualise how you are going to perform.  Imagine it going well and the audience are engaged and enthused by the speech that you are giving.  This will assist with your confidence when giving the speech;
  8. Get to the venue early – There can be nothing worse than rushing to the venue and being late.  It is so important to get to the venue in plenty of time.  Once at the venue, go up on stage and look out.  Try to visualise giving the speech.  This will help you relax and will make the experience much more enjoyable;
  9. Deep breath and go for it – This is your chance, you’ve done all your preparation, you are ready, now go for it and give it your best chance.  You’ve given many speeches (at least 6).  You’ve done it before.  There is nothing to worry about .  Just get up and give it your best shot.
  10. Enjoy it – The audience are there to hear you speak.  You have something to say and you are there to entertain the audience.  This is a great experience and one to enjoy.

 

Good luck everybody.