The Art of Speaking  

Learning to listen

By Ross Freake

Terror turned into terrific for OChristy Wiley when she joined the Penticton Toastmasters Club.

"I was looking for a venue to overcome my fears as well as something that was just simply mine," she said shortly after placing second in the Toastmasters Division K (Okanagan and the West Kootenays) annual International Speech Contest in Penticton.

"As a mom and a professional, my job is to take care of others, I wanted something that was just for me and for my growth and improvement. The Penticton Toastmasters Club meets at the Shatford Centre Tuesday at 6 p.m.

"The club is full of a variety of interesting and fun people from every walk of life — different ages, different backgrounds," said Wiley, who runs her own business, Cottage to Castle Bookkeeping Services.

"I simply enjoy the opportunity to make friends with them, supporting their individual goals and journeys and cheering them on. There is not a single evening in Toastmasters that I have not spent the meeting smiling, laughing and just being encouraged.

"After a full day of working, it's not always easy to drag yourself to one more thing, but once I am there, sitting with my Toastmaster family, I am always so glad that I came."

Wiley, who joined Toastmasters a year ago, is already a champion speaker, but is also working on her leadership skills — an equally important component of Toastmasters — and is on the club's executive board.

"Every time I attend a meeting, I am accomplishing my goals, I am stretching my limitations and increasing my skills.

"Every time I stand up and speak, I am still terrified, I still feel nauseous and my knees are knocking, but now I have the ability to steady my voice, to breathe and to maintain an outward calm that hides the panic attack.

She is also polishing another important life skill: listening.

"The interesting part of Toastmasters that people do not tend to hear about it is the listening part of the program. Yes, you learn to speak, yet the second half is spent listening.

"I am not a good listener and Toastmasters has done wonders for me, helping me learn to listen and hear what someone is saying. My communication with my spouse, my family and my friends has improved immensely as a result."

Most people never step beyond giving speeches at the club level, but she decided to compete because she believes only in complete participation do people get the full value of Toastmasters.

"Toastmasters International is truly an accomplished and proven track for creating leaders who are effective communicators.

"That is my goal. By embracing the entire experience I will become better, stronger, more confident and those qualities are going to improve all areas of my life."

Wiley has two 19-year-old sons and her International competition speech grew from a conversation with a friend about her boys graduating from high school and staying home to go to Okanagan College.

"I was savouring every moment with them before they were gone."

She delivered it as a 10-minute speech at her club, but had to cut out three minutes for the International Speech competition.

"I practised the speech every day, everywhere. My biggest concern was that in the midst of the stress and anxiety of being in the contest, all eyes on me, that I would lose the words, lose the flow, lose the speech. So I had to have it completely down."

She came second to Reen Rose, of the Kelowna AM club, an accomplished and veteran speaker, who also won the division contest the previous year.

Neil Anthes of Westside Toastmasters was third.

Wiley's speech began this way: "To savour something is to enjoy something by especially or completely dwelling on it. Life is made up of moments becoming minutes, minutes becoming hours, hours to days and days to years.

"Before you know it, time has gone by and when it is gone it cannot be undone or redone. So by urging you to savour life, I am simply suggesting that you are aware of the moments that are worth pausing and reflecting on.

"Grab them with both hands and relish the life, love and richness that they hold."

Ross Freake is the president of Kelowna AM Toastmasters.

Goal-setting strategies

How I became an Accredited Speaker (This article appeared in Toastmaster magazine)

By Eldonna Lewis-Fernandez

In September 2015, I submitted my application to become an Accredited Speaker (AS).  

Almost a year later, I became the 68th Accredited Speaker — only the 15th woman to earn the designation —at the 85th Annual Toastmasters International Convention in August 2016.

How did I accomplish this?

My Toastmasters journey began in 2006, when I joined the Air LA Club in El Segundo, California. In 2007, I started speaking on behalf of a nonprofit to help women in crisis. I also participated in Toastmasters speech contests and benefited from some coaching.

I positioned myself with my negotiation expertise and started to get paid for speaking.

When I decided to go for the AS designation, I had already met most of the requirements laid out in the application — 25 speaking gigs, 15 of which are paid­, to non-Toastmasters audiences of 20 or more.

But I still needed to submit a 25-45-minute unedited video of a speech delivered to a non-Toastmasters audience of 20 or more. In November 2015, I recorded a presentation that I delivered to about 80 people.

I took the following steps to achieve my goal, and you can too.

  • Set big goals and visualize success. I set my goal, made a statement of achievement (It is now August 19, 2016, and I am Toastmasters Accredited Speaker number 68), and visualized myself doing the talk and receiving the award. Visualizing it made it real to me. 
  • Enlist the help of coaches. I sought advice from Accredited Speaker Sheryl Roush, DTM. She reviewed my video and application and helped me brainstorm some of the accomplishments that I didn’t think to include.
  • I also reached out to five organizers of my paid speaking engagements and asked them to submit a form with information about my performance directly to World Headquarters, as required. Knowing that the application is due between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1 every year, it came down to the wire when the last letter arrived a couple of days before the deadline. 

In February, my application was accepted and I moved to Level 1, where five judges reviewed my video and application. It’s a pass or fail to Level 2, which entails speaking for 20 minutes at the convention with five anonymous judges in the audience.

I passed!

  • Feedback: Take what you like and leave the rest. I began preparing for my Level 2 speech by shrinking down a previously delivered hour-long talk into 20 minutes and began delivering it in front of as many groups as I could. When I delivered it at my club, they shredded it! The feedback was longer than my talk! I went home wondering if I was ready for the AS accreditation. After watching each recording of my speech, and the feedback, I realized that I needed to write a new one. 

Armed with a new speech, I started working with a coach on slides and everything from gestures to vocal variety. I began presenting at various clubs and organizations and reached out to at least a dozen other Accredited Speakers for ­advice. I also watched videos from last year’s three speakers.

  • Prepare. I practised my presentation at least 200 times. I went over it every day — at home, in the car, on the beach — until it became a part of my DNA, and I visualized speaking and receiving the award.
  • Enjoy the process and celebrate your success! Before the convention, I walked the stage to plan my position. For the next two days, I watched where other speakers stood to determine what looked best to the audience.

I was to speak first. Music was playing as I was introduced. The audience was engaged; there was laughter and applause. I felt great! After I spoke, I watched four others give their presentations. Then we waited to be notified by phone.

I made it! Wow! Goal accomplished. Fellow Toastmaster and 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix also earned the designation.

Toastmasters is a great organization. I met many amazing people at the convention; it was so much fun. Afterward, I celebrated by hosting a dinner at home. The entire experience changed my life.ʉ۬

Use these strategies to set your next goal. Do the work and you will have the power to succeed.

For more information about the application process, please visit the Accredited Speaker Program page on the Toastmasters website.  

Eldonna Lewis-Fernandez, CEO of Dynamic Vision International, is a veteran negotiation and contracts expert and author of Think Like a Negotiator. She is a keynote speaker, session leader and panelist on the art of negotiation, and is a trainer of negotiation. Click here to learn more. 

Great story, wrong hero

Audiences are getting tired of My Struggle and Your Lesson talks 
(This article appeared in Toastmaster magazine)

By Jack Vincent 

So you’re preparing for an important presentation or pitch, and you’ve crafted a great story. But do you have the wrong hero?

Here’s why it’s more compelling — and valuable — to position yourself not as the hero in the story, but as the mentor.

Several years ago, I was coaching the CEO of a startup who was preparing a pitch to a prospective client. He also planned to use much of the material for that in his upcoming talk at an important industry conference. He had several anecdotes and stories, all of them powerful in their own right.

When he began his third story my discomfort became ­noticeable.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“You’re not going to like this,” I replied. “All your stories are about you.”

“Hey! You’re the guy who says that emotions sell,” he said. “This stuff comes from deep within. What better way to tell an emotional story than to tell my story?”

“You want to give the most compelling presentation you can, right? Ultimately, you want to sell.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Stay with stories,” I said, “but tell someone else’s story! When it comes to conference speeches, audiences today are getting tired of the My Struggle and Your Lesson talks.

"This will sound brutal, and I’m not singling you out but, rather, an entire army of presenters and vendors out there today. It’s all becoming a bit narcissistic.”

“But I want to show the audience that I’m battle-tested. What better way to show my expertise than to show them I’ve been through this too?”

“Do you want your prospects to see you as likable and emotionally vulnerable … or professional and commercially valuable?”


“A knee surgeon may have never had knee surgery. Does that make the guy with the bad knee the expert? Which one of the two would you wish to give you advice on your knee, or even ­operate on it?”

You are not the hero. Your customer is.

The best salespeople know this. So do the best writers throughout history. They know what makes a great hero … and what makes a compelling and valuable mentor.

In storytelling, heroes are not who many of us, exposed to pop culture, think they are. They are not the ones who have all the answers and solutions. They are not the ones who rescue cats from trees.

Over the centuries, in great literature and in great storytelling, timelessly and universally, heroes struggle. They don’t have all the answers, and they crave love and guidance. No struggle, no story. And the more compelling the struggle, the more compelling the story.

Harry Potter is a classic example. One of the great lines in this enormously popular book and movie series comes when Professor Dumbledore tells Harry, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry is the hero. And Harry was, at this point in the story, struggling with a decision, a choice. Your prospective clients have a choice too: to go with the competition, make no decision at all or choose you.

Now you have a choice.

When you prepare your next pitch or conference presentation or club speech around a story, do you want to be the hero or the expert? Before you answer that, also consider this: Do you want to captivate your audience and be seen as valuable?

If you stand up in front of a few hundred people, and essentially say, “I’m going to tell you about my struggle and what you can learn from this,” isn’t it possible that a third of the audience will switch off and another third will think, Here we go again. Another touchy-feely, vulnerable narcissist.

If that happens, then a mere third of the audience will still be with you, but it might not even be the top third of your target audience.

Cynical? Perhaps I am. But I’ve sat in audiences — surrounded by other audience members — and this is the reality. Sure, some will smile endearingly. But don’t limit your observation to the supporters.

Some will quietly look at their mobile device. Some will quietly leave the room. Some will look around hoping others will join them in the Here we go again roll of the eyes.

So, yeah! Give me a struggle. Just make sure it’s somebody else’s.

Crafting a speech, and certainly opening a speech, around your “glorious struggle” really puts you in danger of positioning yourself as self-absorbed. If, however, you build your pitch around someone else’s struggle, it will position you as someone who has, at the very least, done some good research or, even better, as a professional who has helped heroes through their struggles to succeed.

Whether you’re making a presentation at a conference or a pitch to a prospective client, sometimes you’ll have an audience with whom you haven’t yet worked, so your story relates to the listeners in general — but it’s specifically about a past customer you helped. You’re using their story as a case study, an example.

The story is about the audience or prospective client in the sense that they are in this same situation, yet it happened to someone else. The bigger point, of course, is that it’s not about you, the presenter.

The mentor is also a great salesperson.

The mentor doesn’t tell the hero too much too soon. The mentor, or one of his tribe, entices the hero to cross the threshold, then persuades the hero to walk through the fire.

The mentor can’t accomplish the mission alone, usually because they don’t have the power or the ability. Clients do have the power and ability, but they lack the knowledge and wisdom.

The mentor often helps the hero — the client — discover three things:

  • That no one else can accomplish the mission, only the hero is capable.
  • If the hero decides not to do it, the world will go to hell in a hand basket and evil will rule.
  • The hero doesn’t have to go it alone — they can rely on a ­trusted adviser.

This is very persuasive.

So be the mentor and make a customer your hero.

There are two benefits to playing the role of the mentor — when done tactfully, of course.

  • You won’t run the risk of two-thirds of the audience emotionally checking out of your talk early on. A story of someone else’s struggle, on the other hand, doesn’t make the presenter seem self-important, and it is insightful.
  • You will be seen as valuable. As always, be careful not to sell from the stage. Don’t talk about your value but, indeed, show it. Weave your value statement into your story. That’s the craft of great business storytelling.

Albert Einstein said, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value.”

When people see you as the mentor, they see your value. And they more often buy from you.

Jack Vincent, a member of Toastmasters Zug in ­Switzerland, is a sales consultant and the author of A Sale Is A Love Affair — Seduce, Engage & Win Customers’ Hearts. Read his blog at www.JackVincent.com.


A champ at listening

Wade Peterson did a mini fist pump as he walked onto the stage to accept the award as the best listener in Southern B.C.

He had just won the Toastmasters District 21 — which includes 152 clubs on Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the southern Interior — evaluation contest in Surrey.

“Hearing my name called as the winner was the highlight of my Toastmasters career,” said Paterson, social media/communications coordinator with Re/Max of Western Canada.

“In the year-and-a-half I've been with the Kelowna AM Toastmasters club, I've felt as though I've gained a lot of confidence speaking in front of crowds.

“It was an incredible feeling to win an award at the District level, knowing the level of speaking talent that surrounded me in that room.”

He joined the Kelowna club, which meets Thursday at 6:45 a.m. at the Royal Anne Hotel, because his job requires him to give presentations to 60-70 people.

“Although I was confident in my abilities, I'd get incredibly nervous before every speaking opportunity, and I wanted to reduce that stress," he said.

“I felt I was a good speaker, but I want to go from good to great."

Most people who have heard him speak marvel at his ability as a speaker, but his ability to listen isn’t as obvious – until he evaluates a speech.

When he joined Toastmasters he didn’t realize how good he would become at listening, which has enhanced his work and his life — “something my girlfriend probably appreciates.”

Unlike giving a speech, which can be practised again and again, evaluators can only practise generally while honing their listening and evaluation skills.

In an evaluation contest, listening, the ability to pick out nuances that most people miss, is crucial. Contestants then have five minutes to spin a coherent three-minute story that teaches the speaker and the audience.

“The test speaker, Rob Evans, is an elite speaker, so it was difficult to find areas where he could improve because there were no glaring weaknesses.

 “Rob's body language was incredibly effective and engaged the audience, he injected humour in all the right places and his speech was expertly organized.

“I acknowledged all these strengths, and gave minor suggestions for improvement, such as: using more variety in word choice and standing closer to the front of the stage to create a deeper connection with the audience.”

Paterson arrived at the Surrey competition on a high note, after winning a soccer game the night before.

“I play for the Kelowna Red Devils (Men's 3B Kelowna Men's Soccer League). I play striker.”

He rode that winning high all the way to the district championship.

“I truly felt that I had given it my best effort. I would have been proud of my performance whether or not I won the contest.

“The one thing I was nervous about was that I never looked at the timing lights. Before they announced the winner, they explained at least one contestant had been disqualified for going over time. I was pretty nervous that it could have been me.”

It is only the second time in 10 years that an Okanagan Toastmaster has won at the district level.

Two years ago, Jennifer Mlazgar of Penticton, won at impromptu speaking, called table topics in Toastmasters. Contestants are read a question twice and they have a few seconds to compose an inspiring, coherent two-minute story that has a beginning, middle and an end.

That sounds quite logical, but it is difficult to accomplish with accompanying body language, gestures and vocal variety.

Ross Freake is president of Kelowna AM Toastmasters.

More The Art of Speaking articles

About the Author

The mission of a Toastmaster Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment that offers every member the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.

There are eight Toastmasters clubs in the Central Okanagan.

For more information and/or to find a club near you, check http://www.toastmasters.org.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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