The Art of Speaking  

A laughing adventure

When we embark on an adventure; we often have a goal in mind. 

When I started on my Toastmaster adventure at Kelowna AM Toastmasters, I had a totally immobilizing fear of speaking with strangers one on one. It was so bad, I avoided social gatherings. 

I soon conquered that fear with weekly practise and “gifts” – suggestions from members on how I could improve — given in a kind, positive way that made changing easy.

Along this journey, I also took some interesting turns and learned much more than I had thought possible. 

The first surprise — I truly learned to listen, to hear what someone was saying rather then having my own thoughts of what I wanted to say block out their message. 

I soon found out other people's stories and thoughts enriched my experience and learning.

The second turn in the road was a total surprise. 

I found having writing skills helpful when making speeches and organizing my thoughts. I hadn’t used these skills since school, and usually not in a very interesting way. 

Putting words to paper (yes, not on a computer until the final phase) and letting them ripen overnight soon let me see which word was worthy of presentation. 

This was fun!

On the way to becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster are 40 speeches to write and present, 40 opportunities to fine tune and grow. 

Didn’t see that coming.

The last surprise turn in my Toastmaster journey, so far, is storytelling. I love hearing other members’ stories and adventures.These stories often continue after the meeting at coffee. 

Hearing others’ adventures gives me great satisfaction and I love to make them laugh at my escapades. 

Toastmasters creates a learning environment that welcomes the sharing of experiences and nurtures self betterment.

My adventure in Toastmasters is not even remotely over. 

  • It is a place where I can learn, share and grow weekly. 
  • It’s a place where I can laugh and cry without judgment. It has become a place where I have an eclectic group of like-minded friends – life-long learners. 
  • It is a place where anyone is encouraged to join the adventure to a more self-assured future.

PS: Kelowna AM Toastmasters meet at 6:45 a.m. on Thursdays at the Royal Anne Hotel, 348 Bernard Ave. Come join us. It is worth waking up for.

Sue Skinner, secretary of Kelowna AM Toastmasters, is an opera singer, actress, voice teacher and choral conductor.


One hell of a story

By Wade Paterson

Have you ever experienced an incredibly embarrassing moment?

Good! You probably have one hell of a story.

Shortly after joining Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club in November 2015, I realized the power of injecting humour into my speeches.

As an audience member, you don’t always know what to expect when a speaker takes the stage. If the speaker can make you laugh, you instantly become more relaxed and you’re more receptive to the message being delivered.

As a speaker, you don’t always know how the audience will react to the content you are presenting. If you’re able to trigger laughter from the crowd, you gain confidence.

This epiphany came to me toward the latter half of working through my Competent Communicator manual (the first speaking guide new Toastmasters work on when they join a club).

I had completed six speeches, and five of those speeches were created with the intention of making the audience laugh. Many also featured incredibly embarrassing moments from my life.

Any humour is great, but self-deprecating humour is one of the most effective tools a speaker can leverage. Audiences respect someone who can laugh at themselves, and this type of humour reduces your risk of offending others because you are taking the brunt of the joke.

The audience will often put themselves in your shoes, and, in some cases, even sympathize with your situation.

In other words, an embarrassing story has the power to shift an apprehensive crowd into an audience that is rooting for you to succeed.

How do I know this?

In October 2016, I entered the Kelowna AM Toastmasters Humorous Speech competition. I decided to dust off a story from my high school days, which I’d hidden deep within the cavern of my mind.

The story — which featured a blindfolded kiss and a lot of kids pointing and laughing — was a huge hit. The audience didn’t just laugh: they howled. The more embarrassing the details; the more the audience reacted to the speech.

I won that speech contest, as well as the area humorous speech contest, and then continued to use adaptations of my embarrassing high school story during a handful of speech opportunities that came my way through my senior communications co-ordinator job with RE/MAX of Western Canada.

Best of all, when you begin to see embarrassment as a positive rather than a negative, you are filled with a sense of empowerment.

All of a sudden, the next time you’re in a traumatically embarrassing situation, you can think to yourself: “Hmm… this sucks right now, but it’s going to make for one hell of a story.”

And if that’s the way you approach embarrassment, you quickly realize, there’s really nothing at all to be embarrassed about.

Wade Paterson, senior communications co-ordinator with RE/MAX of Western Canada, is the sergeant at arms at Kelowna AM Toastmasters.

Secret of success

What every leader should know and practise: 
The most important, yet unexpected skill I learned at Toastmasters

By Christy Webb

I once read a quote by voice coach Roger Love that deeply resonated with me:

“All speaking is public speaking whether it’s to one person or a thousand.”

I immediately knew that was true and that I had to hone my speaking skills, which is why I joined Toastmasters.

The goal was simple, be a better public speaker, for which I thought a year of practise would be sufficient. I didn’t think there was more to this communication group than just practising that one skill.

However, I quickly discovered that the true learning came when I closed my mouth. 

Active listening is not what I thought I would learn in Toastmasters; yet here I am, almost three years after attending my first club meeting, a changed person because of this skill.

On average, it has been said that we retain just 25 per cent of what we hear.

Imagine that! You only recall 25 per cent of what your clients, your employees, your co-workers say in the hours following a conversation.

With information at our figure tips at all time, we are training our brain to use memory less and less. That 25 per cent could be a much smaller number if the skill of active listening is not developed.

The payoffs of active listening are lengthy and include:

  • Strengthen relationships
  • Builds loyalty (for clients as well as staff)
  • Enhances your ability to retain information
  • Earns trust and respect
  • Helps avoid misunderstandings

So, what is active listening and how do you learn it?

Active listening is concentrating on what someone has said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker. It is using all your senses to absorb the information from the speaker.

This skill is only learned through patience and practice; And, there is no better place to practise than Toastmasters.

Using a variety of assigned roles, Toastmasters has perfected the art of learning how to actively listen. Most people know Toastmasters as a public speaking practice group (as was noted at the beginning as my original understanding).

But it is so much more. Famous Toastmaster members include:

  • Tim Allen (actor, comedian)
  • William Bennett (for whom we fondly named our bridge)
  • Peter Coors (founder for Coors Brewing co.)
  • Carl Dixon (singer for The Guess Who)
  • Leonard Nimoy (actor)

To name only a few.

How do you get involved? Join Toastmasters. The first step is the hardest, but always the most rewarding. Join and you will quickly realize why so many prominent people of influence rely on the Toastmasters organization to build on their skills.

Make visiting a club your February goal — visit our club, visit multiple clubs; find the one that works for your schedule.

Our club details:

Come develop your skills as a leader, a business owner, a person on a journey of self-improvement. The skills you will learn are priceless.

Toastmasters is worth waking up for.

Christy Webb, a senior financial adviser with Valley First, is treasurer of Kelowna AM Toastmasters. She can be reached at [email protected]


It's not about me

By Gary Johnston

I attended my first Toastmasters meeting two years ago, and it had a profound effect on my life. 

Who knew?  

What I knew about Toastmasters at that time was the same as most non-Toastmasters. It was where you went to conquer your fear of public speaking.  

That wasn’t, however, my reason for attending. I didn’t have a fear of public speaking.  

I spent the first part of my working life as a broadcaster. After a few decades of seasoning, I was quite comfortable in front of a microphone and comfortable in front of an audience — as long as I had that microphone in my hand. 

That first Toastmasters meeting affected me profoundly because it showed me that I was an “announcer,” not a communicator. Microphone in hand, I could deliver any message with conviction and authority. I could announce any desired message and make myself heard. 

In fact, my day job was, and is, a voice-over artist and I do it every day. But that industry has changed. The announcer approach is old school. Today, commercials all feature the guy, or girl, who lives next door just talking to a friend. 

I knew change was in the air and I had to build a deeper connection.

In my very first meeting, I saw all the other roles that complete a meeting such as:

  • Humourist
  • Timer
  • Ah Counter

When I saw all of those parts come together to deliver an amazing 75 minutes of education, communication and fun, I realized Toastmasters was not only enjoyable, but it could help me learn how to stop announcing and really connect with an audience.

In learning how to make that connection the first and most important lesson I learned was, it’s not about me. 

That’s where most of your fear comes from when you think of public speaking. 

You think of how embarrassed you’ll be if you use the wrong words. 

You think of how people will laugh at your foibles. 

But they won’t because what I learned was it is not about me, or you. It is about the audience. It’s about connecting with that audience, communicating with them and engaging them in your story. 

Once you get out of your own way and just allow yourself to tell your story, in your own words, with your own emotions, people will listen and they will respond positively.

Lesson two on the road to better public speaking was learning to be a better listener. 

We learn to improve that skill at Toastmasters through the evaluations that are given for every speech and every meeting role performed. To give good evaluations, you must be a good listener. 

It is fabulous to get insightful feedback on how you’ve communicated. It is even better when you get a gift: a simple suggestion how you can improve. 

Our growth as speakers and as communicators comes from these insightful evaluations. It’s my favourite part of the meeting, where all the real learning takes place.

In the last two years, I’ve also better understood the Toastmaster tagline “Where leaders are made.” 

The roles that make up each of our meetings, such as the Toastmaster, Table Topics Master or General Evaluator, are all about leadership, presentation, time management, team work and delegation. 

These are skills critical for any successful business.  Performing these roles on a regular basis helps keep the skills sharp.

When I said it’s not about me, I was only half right.

  • In reality, it is me who grows
  • it is me who benefits from being a better speaker and communicator
  • it is me who is still enjoying every Toastmaster meeting. 

It was not fear of public speaking that brought me here, but maybe that is what is holding you back. Attend a free meeting. Who knows where you may end up?

I thank Mayor Colin Basran for recognizing the value of Toastmasters by proclaiming February Toastmasters Month in Kelowna. 

What a great time to give it a try. 

As president of Kelowna AM Toastmasters, I invite you to join us any Thursday morning at the Royal Anne Hotel from 6:45-8 a.m. 

There are six other clubs in the city (and one in West Kelowna) and each of them will welcome you with open arms and great evaluations. 

Drop by for a visit and learn how to connect to your audience.

Gary Johnston, a voice-over artist, award-winning speaker and media producer, is president of Kelowna AM Toastmasters. He can be reached at [email protected].

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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