The Art of Speaking  

Acing your job interview

A 4-step formula to acing your job interview
How to prepare to impress.

By Jennifer L Blanck
Toastmaster Magazine

You might be pretty good at interviewing for a job. You may have even searched for information on how to make yourself stand above the crowd.

In today’s competitive environment, that’s a good start, but it’s not enough.

The real key to success lies in four steps you can take before your next interview. These steps will help you answer the tough questions better, decrease your nerves and increase your chances of getting the right job for you.

These steps aren’t revolutionary; however, most people skip at least one, if not more. By completing all four, you will be on your way to giving your strongest interview ever.

STEP 1: Know Yourself

Sound simple? It might appear easy, but this first step involves critical reflection and self-awareness. It will help you with every aspect of the job search, not just interview preparation. It’s a step that ideally should be taken long before you ever apply for a job. And it’s probably the step that most people skip.

Knowing yourself starts with understanding your values and priorities. Your values can be lofty (e.g., I want to make a difference) or very practical (e.g., I want a short commute).

They can include an interest in developing specific skills, making more money, being entrepreneurial or working on a particular issue. Once you’ve identified your values, you need to prioritize them. Which ones are the most relevant to your job?

After values and priorities, you’ll want to consider strengths and interests. Jan Fischoeder, career services consultant at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany, says:

“You should consider your own strengths and weaknesses and how to present them. The crucial point in conveying your weaknesses is to present them as challenges or dynamic strengths. For example, if one has a problem delegating work to team members, it’s good to mention that one knows about this problem and has developed an open communication strategy to meet this challenge. This, in turn, makes you come across as open to learning and [having] a thought-through personality.”

Make a list in each category: priorities, values, strengths and interests, and focus on those relevant to your job search and, more specifically, your upcoming interview.

Using your four lists, you will be able to develop questions for your interviewer. Questions demonstrate your knowledge of the organization.

They also show that you’re seriously interested in the position, have taken initiative and understand how you could fit in the organization. As you develop your questions, show your knowledge of the organization or industry, when possible.

This is also a time to prepare concrete examples or anecdotes that demonstrate your relevant strengths, skills and experience.

Paul Binkley, director of student career development at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, says:

“Too many people don’t know their own résumé. This may seem obvious, but many don’t think they need to review what they included in their application. Remembering what you put on your résumé will help you remember different examples to use.”

This preparation is especially helpful for behavioural-based interviews, where the interviewer looks at past performance in similar situations as the most accurate predictor of future performance.

You also want to think about your salary requirements. What do you want, and what do you need? Research the field and learn what is realistic for compensation. By doing this ahead of time, you will be more prepared to handle any surprise salary questions.

Fischoeder notes, “Once you know your values, you are also in a much better position to present your value in terms of salary expectations.” Just remember, you want to avoid discussions related to salary until you have an offer; this is when you have the most negotiating power.

STEP 2: Know the Organization and the Job

It’s time to learn more about where you’re potentially going. Of course, you should have conducted extensive research into the job and organization before you submitted an application. Now, it’s time to revisit that research.

Even if you examined it before, study the organization’s website. In addition to the obvious sections, review press releases, executive summaries, what other jobs are offered and even obscure pages. Leave no link unchecked.

Know the organization’s mission, vision, history, accomplishments and current projects. Review all of the organization’s social media channels to see what it’s promoting and how it’s positioning itself. Follow the organization to stay informed of the latest announcements.

Examine the online presence of the supervisor and team members — including social media, blogs, profiles and interviews — to learn about their background and search for common interests.

This is also the time to double check that your online footprint is professional. Make sure you have a LinkedIn profile that is consistent with your résumé. Remove any unprofessional or embarrassing text or pictures from any of your online sites.

Employers conduct searches to see how you’re presenting yourself, and some can access password-protected platforms.

Review any other information you can find about the organization. Study similar organizations, including competitors. Talk to people in the organization or field. The more you know, the better answers and questions you will have at the interview.

Next, revisit the job description. Know exactly which job you’re interviewing for. But don’t just read the announcement, study it.

Katharine S. Brooks, Evans Family Executive Director of the Career Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, recommends: 

“When you read the job description, note the characteristics or skills the employer is seeking and then match yourself to them. Be ready to tell stories that illustrate your skills—don’t just tell an employer that, ‘yes, I am a hard worker.’ Instead, explain how you’re a hard worker, as in, ‘I noticed that your job description mentioned the hard work involved in this position. You might be interested to know that last year I worked on three projects simultaneously while also …’ or any story that illustrates how/why you have the skills or knowledge the employer is seeking.”

Have two or three anecdotes for each skill or experience sought.

At this point, you should develop additional questions. Beyond the regular interviewing questions you have, what do you want or need to know about this position or organization? Write the questions down, and take them to the interview.

An interview can be stressful, so don’t assume you’ll remember all the questions you have.

In the corner of the page in small print, make a concise list of the key items about yourself that you want to mention. You can refer to this throughout the interview to ensure you’ve covered all you have to offer.

STEP 3: Practice

Now, it’s time to practice. Answer typical interview questions, including the ones offered in the sidebar to this article, and anticipate questions related to the job description. Just like Table Topics, make sure you answer thoroughly but concisely. Focus on any questions that challenge you.

Research and try the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) or CCAR (Challenge, Context, Action, Result) techniques, especially for behavioural-based questions. Practising with questions from different interview systems can help you add more clarity and depth to your answers.

As you practice, always answer in the most relevant way. (Of course, do this in the real interview too.) Don’t share a fact, such as where you grew up, unless it matters.

Brooks notes:

 “It’s great to know your strengths generally, but you need to articulate them in a manner that speaks to the position and the organization. Bringing up strengths that aren’t needed for the position will indicate you haven’t done the research and don’t understand the position.”

If you can, demonstrate knowledge of the organization by paralleling what you’ve done and inserting examples of projects, approaches or techniques similar to what the organization is doing. Be concrete, positive and naturally enthusiastic. Take a moment to think about your answers.

And don’t forget to smile.

It’s also important to practice out loud.

Catherine Stace, career education advisor at McGill University in Montreal, says:

“If you’re a student, visit your career centre for a mock interview. If you’re not a student, there are many community organizations that offer interview skills workshops and practice sessions. If all else fails, ask a friend to find someone you don’t know to conduct a mock interview.”

Of course, your Toastmasters club meeting is also a perfect place to practice. Arrange a Table Topics session dedicated to interview questions or videotape yourself practicing with fellow Toastmasters.

If you are interviewing via a web-based video platform, such as Skype or Google Talk, practice with it.

This will ensure you can use the system properly and understand what will appear onscreen so you can prepare the most professional presentation not only by what you say but also by what is visible to the camera.

Regardless of how you practice, it’s important to vocalize your answers. Don’t memorize answers word for word. Instead, work to reach a comfort level. You might be asked a tough question—one you never anticipated—but your research and practice will make it easier to handle.

STEP 4: Make the Right Impression

Unless you are told differently, dress in standard business attire. Most often, this means a suit. Look completely polished. Take a briefcase, professional bag or portfolio. Bring extra copies of your résumé, and consider bringing references or samples of past work. And don’t forget your sheet of questions, with the list of items you want to share about yourself.

Arrive 10-15 minutes before your interview. Any earlier will be an imposition. You can arrive earlier to the general area, as long as you don’t go into the office. Arriving extra early can help you regain composure if you’ve had a stressful day or travel experience.

Visit a nearby restroom to put that final polish on your appearance and recheck your portfolio items.

For video interviews, log on at least 10-15 minutes beforehand to ensure you won’t be surprised by a last-minute software update or technology glitch.

Now, you’re ready. Take the time to go through each of these four steps and you will find yourself giving your best interview ever.

Jennifer L Blanck, DTM is a member of the Conestoga Toastmasters club in Lancaster, Penn. This article appeared in the October issue of Toastmaster Magazine.


Giving a dynamic speech

By William Neuman

You just gave your fourth speech and you’re still using notes. Maybe it was a great speech; you might have even received a ribbon for “Most Improved” or “Best Speaker.”

Could it have been better? Absolutely! If you review the instructions in your Toastmasters manuals, they encourage you to deliver your speeches without referring to notes.

Why is that so important? There are several reasons. Eye contact, rhythm, confidence and connection with the audience are all affected when you read your speech. And you’re probably not going to get far in speech contests if you have to rely on written notes.

Is memorization the answer?


It is much harder than you might think to memorize a seven-minute speech. I have given 53 speeches without notes, and only one was memorized — and that was the worst speech I have ever delivered.

I should not have even tried. I delivered it with so many awkward pauses as I fumbled, and tried to recover, that I failed to notice that the red timing light had come on. When the timer began frantically waving the dreaded red card, I knew I was running out of time. I spoke the next two sentences so fast that I confused everyone. And then I abruptly stopped speaking. Disaster.

So how do you do it? Here are some ideas.

  • Decide on a subject.
  • Write down a working title.
  • Jot down the key points of your speech.
  • Reduce each point to one word.
  • Put the words in logical order so that the speech flows with a rhythm that makes sense.

Each word will become a “trigger” that will remind you of each point you want to discuss in your speech.

If you hear a short story you can pretty well repeat that story just about the way you heard it, not word-for-word, but in a way that makes sense.

Just remember six or seven key words, each of which will serve to remind you, collectively, of your speech “story.” If you try to speak about more points than that, your speech will confuse many of your listeners.

Still not convinced that you can speak without notes? Let me issue a challenge. Think of it as an extended version of Table Topics (impromptu speaking). I will come up with a few words that I believe you will immediately be able to tell a five-minute story about.

Here they are: Cinderella and Robin Hood.

Can you do it? Of course, you can, if you know the stories. Even though you haven’t memorized the stories word-for-word, you can summarize each one without difficulty.

Know the stories that make up your next speech, and let the trigger words remind you of the stories. You’ll be able to deliver your speech — without notes — and then collect the Best Speaker ribbon.

William Neuman is a member of Chats Toastmasters club in Scottsdale, Arizona and Talk of the Town Toastmasters in Batavia, Illinois. He has been a Toastmaster since 2013. This article appeared in the June edition of Toastmaster magazine.

Where's your blind spot?

Are you ready to look at yourself through the eyes of others?

By Craig Harrison
Toastmaster magazine

Did you know you have blind spots? It’s OK, we all do.

As a speaker and leader, there are things you cannot see, hear or independently know about yourself.

The good news:

  • once you learn what’s in your blind spot and incorporate this information into your own development, the more likely you are to win contests and elections and garner the trust and confidence of colleagues and club mates.

When you drive a car, despite rear and side view mirrors, there is an area that you, as a driver, physically can’t see, a spot where another car, motorcycle or bicycle may be lurking, yet you are not aware of it.

How do you deal with your blind spots? Only when others reflect back to you what they see do you gain insight into how you’re perceived. And many times it’s not as you intended to be seen or heard. Therein lies the disparity.

Feedback illuminates your blind spots

To compensate for natural blind spots, we rely on tools like mirrors when we’re getting dressed and 360-degree reviews in our employment appraisals.

As speakers and leaders, we don’t know what we don’t know, but key members in Toastmasters clubs can help illuminate our blind spots.

Key members, for example, can include a speech evaluator, an assigned mentor or a guidance committee for your hand-picked High Performance Leadership project. These colleagues can help you see what you cannot, and help you know how you come across to others.

Through their feedback you improve and grow as you harmonize your projections with the perceptions of others, and your intentions with actual results.

Are you ready to look at yourself through the eyes of others? The more you know about how others see you, the more informed your decisions will become.

Opening the doors of perception

One speaker sees himself as bold, but audience members perceive him as arrogant. Another speaker sees himself as the ultimate improviser, while others regard him as unprepared.

Perceptions are often in the eyes of beholders; they don’t often match our own sense of how we are perceived. Worse yet, we don’t even realize the disparity.

Why don’t people see us the way we see ourselves? Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen address this question in their 2014 book Thanks for the Feedback.

Universal blind spots: our leaky face and leaky tone

“Some blind spots are common to all people,” explains co-author Stone, the founder of Triad Consulting and a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “Our face when giving a presentation is a literal blind spot. We tend not to be aware of the unintended signals our facial expressions may be conveying.”

Our eyes literally can’t see ourselves when we are speaking. Our audience not only sees, but also interprets our facial expressions which may belie our words. For example, a speaker’s furrowed brow or look of disdain will contradict a verbal message intended to convey ­concern, care or love.

We literally can’t hear our own tone the way others can. We don’t realize how we sound.

“We also have trouble hearing our voice the way others hear it,” writes Stone, explaining the physiological reasons for this.

From the time we are infants, we humans develop an ability to hear through our superior temporal sulcus (STS) located just above our ears. This helps us interpret human sounds and the emotions embedded in them, and helps us decipher tone and meaning.

Yet, when we speak, our own STS turns off 

It’s often a big surprise when our evaluator, mentor or loved one tells us we sound sarcastic, tired or disinterested, distrustful or dismissive. It’s a blind spot we all have.

Stone recommends coaching and videotaping in instances where blind spots exist.

When perception doesn’t match intention

“Many of us have trouble understanding the impact we have on others,” explains Stone. “It’s because we tend to judge our impact based on our intentions, and they are often very different than how others perceive us.”

Some people are naturally more empathetic, and some less so. How aware are you of how you “come across” to others? Sometimes feedback from listeners derived from this gap between a speaker’s intention and the audience member’s perception can range from mild surprise to disbelief.

Seemingly innocuous feedback from a speech evaluator that illuminates a speaker’s blind spot may nevertheless land harshly. While it’s no big deal to the evaluator, “to the receiver, feedback that illuminates a blind spot can (sometimes) be devastating. It impacts a speaker’s sense of who he or she is, and wants to be, in the world,” says Stone.

Stone offers this example: “If I think of myself as generous and kind and learn that others don’t think of me that way, that can take a long time to make sense of.”

The speaker and evaluator should be aware of the power of feedback. It’s all in how it’s received. Many factors may be at play, including one’s upbringing, past traumas or psychological make-up.

If the parties know and trust each other, the degree of feedback and candor can be calibrated to what the speaker is able to handle. Yet the evaluator often doesn’t know the speaker well, and therefore well-intentioned suggestions or critiques can hit a vulnerable speaker hard and deep when shared right after a speech is delivered, despite the evaluator’s best intentions.

Factors affecting feedback

Receiving permission to evaluate, provide feedback or coach a speaker or leader is the first step. Unsolicited feedback may be unwanted, untimely and thus unwise to bestow. Good timing is also essential.

Often speakers are vulnerable right after they finish their speech; they haven’t processed their own performance yet and are ripe for bruising. Toastmasters are trained to temper criticism with praise, and lead and end with praise using the sandwich approach in an official speech evaluation.

Stone points out a common flaw in such an evaluation. Many times the praise given is general while the criticism is specific. Stone advises a more even-handed approach, “Too often we give general positive comments, specific and lengthy negative ones and then finish with more general positive ones. Better to be as specific with the positive as the negative.”

Professional speaker and speech coach Max Dixon of Seattle, Wash., says one key to coaching speakers around perceived blind spots is to go slowly. In his coaching he emphasizes implementing that “one single, simple, doable thing” that eases a client into change. Too often speakers being coached are given too much to think about, or to try to implement at once.

Stone concurs, “A good guideline is that people can take in one thing at a time (if that).”

Professional speakers have blind spots too

Like Toastmasters, professional speakers strive for continuous improvement. They have a vested interest in discovering blind spots that could offend or alienate clients and mitigate repeat business. The most astute professional speakers seek feedback from meeting planners, those who hire them, and speaking bureaus who procure them for clients. 

Professional speakers need to be mindful of such issues as excessive selling from the platform, allowing their religious or political beliefs to filter into their business presentations and being respectful of the diversity in their audiences, to name a few of the many challenges.

Set your sights on insights

“Our perception could either be our path to nirvana or an invisible cage that bottles us up,” states author and technology leader Pawan Mishra.

When you seek to discover your blind spots you create opportunities for growth and self-improvement. Are you ready to open your blinds?

Craig Harrison, of Berkeley, Ca., believes in recycling. As a professional conference speaker and storyteller, Craig retells tales of humour and humanity from his childhood in his keynote presentations and training programs. 


You need more than goals

You Need More Than Goals To Succeed

By Ravi Raman

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein

It is my opinion that to maximize one’s potential, not just to achieve but to contribute, that goals are a vital tool.

Goals enable the mind and body to organize resources in a manner that create a favorable outcome. Goals are the north star by which we can build the habits and systems that lead to a brighter future.

I’d go so far as to say that humans are designed to be goal-seeking animals, with important aspects of our brain and physiology “lighting up” when pursuing a worthy goal.

You might think, by the tone of the past few sentences, that I think goals, and their achievement, are all that matter when it comes to living a full and successful life.

If you believe that, you are incorrect.

When we want to break free from the predictable and achieve something entirely new, we require more than just a worthy target.

We need something beyond a destination that is predetermined. We need fresh ideas and new thoughts that will help us get to where we need to go.

The new thought does not spring from predictability, planning or extrapolation from the past. New thinking comes from a different place.

The Value of Emptiness

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
Henry David Thoreau

New thoughts come from blank space, free time and quiet moments.

They can be triggered by a good book, new conversations, a fantastic movie, or fresh perspectives shared by a new friend. New thoughts can, and often do, come from the sudden embrace of a meandering mind.

Albert Einstein, for example, stumbled upon his special theory of relativity while taking a break from intensive mathematical work to allow his mind to wander and daydream.

Nothing I am saying contradicts the fact that goals are immensely useful and, dare I say, vital. What I am saying is that in addition to a habit of setting goals, be open enough to allow new thoughts into your world.


Cultivate a greater awareness to what you are doing moment by moment. Increase your curiosity, and strike up conversations with the people around you, even if you don’t think they would be of any direct relevance to your current projects or goals.

Most crucially, create blank space in your day, both free time and free mental space and quietude, to allow the fresh thought to emerge.

Anyone Can Do It

Even the busiest among us can create this time and space. Here are three examples:

  • Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn is known to block up to two hours of free time per day on his calendar, divided into four, 30-minute increments. Why? To allow new thought and fresh ideas to emerge.
  • Bill Gate famously retreated from his busy job as leader of Microsoft for a week, twice a year, to think about the future.
  • Yuval Harari, the author of the outstanding book, Sapiens (I recently read it, as did Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg), takes 30–60 days away from his busy teaching, writing and travel schedule to go on meditation retreat each year. Harari does this in addition to a twice-a-day hour-long meditation practice.

My Challenge to You

Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.
Sir Ken Robinson

My challenge to you, particularly the goal-crazy ones among us (I include myself in this cohort), is to create empty time and space in your day to unleash your originality and creativity.

Use this time to be bored, daydream and allow new thoughts to enter your world. Be it 10 minutes or two hours, see what this fallow ground will yield regarding creative ideas and insights.

It’s my belief that through entering this void, you will ultimately gain more progress than even the best SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results focused, timely) goal could create on its own.

Ravi Raman is an executive career coach and long-time veteran of Microsoft. raviraman.com. This article appeared on his blog and in Toastmaster magazine.

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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