The Art of Speaking  

Learning to listen

By Justina LeeStolz

Many people know of Toastmasters as an international speaking organization that churns out brilliant public speakers, but the less known or less advertised benefit of this organization is the incredible direction and focus on teaching people how to listen.

You can talk and talk for days and get nowhere, but true progress and advancement of communication comes from affective and active listening.

Think, for instance, of that one person you always see who just loves telling you all about their world; their life, their dog, their car and their troubles.

What a bore!

Now, think of that one person who you absolutely love talking to and running into even for a few minutes because you always walk away feeling fulfilled, inspired, motivated and satisfied.

The difference, likely, is that the second person is someone who talks with you rather than gabs at you.

When we dialogue with someone who shows a genuine interest in who we are, what we have to say and what we are up to, there is a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment because we have the opportunity to give and also to receive meaningful content.

How do we become better listeners? Just listen more? No, that’s obviously not working.

There is a skill and effort required to listen well and to be an active participant in an interaction and conversation with another. Toastmasters is an incredible starting place to learn the skills necessary to become an excellent listener; skills such as:

  • detail mapping
  • probing
  • attentiveness

What in the world are these fandangled listening skills?

Detail mapping is being able to hear, remember and organize key points that someone expresses to you that can be used to help understand and relate to their character and their overall viewpoint of the world.

Probing is an extension of detail mapping, which helps you to pull out key pieces of information to propel the conversation forward by asking more questions that allow the other person to keep talking and provide fuel to the dialogue fire.

It is always awkward to end up in a conversation where things seem to go stale and quiet because no one knows what to say next. Probing is a necessary skill to pull out easy conversation and talking points.

Finally, attentiveness. In a world of constant distraction and instantaneous responses, remaining attentive to a single conversation with a real life human can be, well, challenging.

One simple, simple key to focusing is to put your phone away. Sounds simple, right? Not so much.

When I say put your phone away, I don’t mean simply put it in your pocket, so you can’t see it; I mean, put it on silent (not vibrate as that’s still a distraction) and put it out of sight and out of reach.

Knowing your schedule, where you need to be next and setting that awareness and time expectation with your conversation partner is key to being able to remain present in the conversation until the moment that you need to leave.

You can read all about how to be a good listener, but the proof is in the practice. The more you practise, the better you get and the faster you improve.

What better place to be vulnerable in learning a new skill than with a group of people who are supportive and on their own learning pathway to success?

Toastmasters offers many useful and transferable tools to its members with listening being foremost one of the most valuable and underrated benefits.

Check out your local Kelowna AM Toastmasters group today.

Justina LeeStolz, Personal Real Estate Corporation | Realtor with Century 21. Contact her at 
[email protected]; 250-808-3638.


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]

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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