The Art of Speaking  

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].


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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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