The Art of Speaking  

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.

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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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