I have a confession.
I write a lot of columns and produce a lot of video content about Toastmasters and the importance of practising public speaking, however, from January to June 2022, I only attended three of our club’s weekly meetings.
It's embarrassing to admit, but I tell you this is because I want to share my recent experience of finally going back to a Toastmasters meeting and realizing my skills had gotten rusty.
There is a section of every Toastmasters meeting called “Table Topics,” which consists of a Table Topics Master asking attendees random questions. These questions can be about anything: What is your greatest fear? What is your favourite summertime activity? If you could be any superhero, who would you be?
The goal of Table Topics is to force attendees to think quickly on their feet and speak for between one to two minutes.
After a span of several months without attending a Toastmasters meeting, I finally made it back to my club and I was asked a question during the Table Topics segment of the meeting. As I walked toward the front of the room to face the audience, my mind went blank.
For the next minute-and-a-half, I clumsily fumbled through an answer that lacked quality and conviction. The club gave me a courtesy round of applause, but I could see on their faces they were surprised by just how poor of a job I did.
So why did this happen?
What I’ve learned over the years is that public speaking is a lot like working out. I’ve met people who have said,
“I don’t need to go to Toastmasters because I attended meetings a few years ago.” In my mind, this is the equivalent of someone saying, “I don’t work out anymore because I used to exercise three years ago.”
Just as our bodies require a healthy routine of physical activity to stay in shape, our public speaking skills are strongest when exercised on a regular basis.
When you attend weekly Toastmasters meetings, the idea of standing in front of a crowd becomes less daunting because it becomes a regular part of your routine.
Even if Toastmasters isn’t a viable option for you, there are still ways you can practise public speaking. Try recording your speech on your phone and watching it back. You may notice your body is doing certain things that you didn’t even realize, such as leaning on a chair, swaying from side to side, etc.
Many of us also unknowingly add in crutch words such as “umm” or “ahh” to fill in the silence while speaking. Once we are aware of our own tendencies, we can take steps to eliminate unnecessary distractions from our speeches.
You can also practise your speech in front of a friend or family member. (Although, keep in mind, family members and friends may be hesitant to give constructive criticism to avoid the risk of hurting your feelings.)
A final piece of advice is to always have a speech on the go. Perhaps you are attending a wedding this summer or maybe you have an important upcoming office meeting. If you look hard enough, there is likely an opportunity for you to give a speech at some point in the future.
Start working on that speech now to give yourself material to practice with, and ensure that you will come across as a polished speaker when you finally get the chance to deliver your speech.
If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.