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Better Communication Made Easy

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  • Bruce Rule

Best Way to Practice Public Speaking: Take a Course or Join Toastmasters



Rule communications Toastmasters public speaking

To become a better public speaker and effective communicator you need to practice. Practice regularly and often so you can determine what works best for you and improve your skills.

 

One of the best ways to ensure you have opportunities to speak in a low-risk environment is to take a course in public speaking or join an organization like Toastmasters International that is dedicated to helping members up their presentation game.

 

Dale Carnegie Training offers classes, as do many colleges and universities. I have never taken a Dale Carnegie class but I have heard good things about the organization. One drawback is that the costs can be a stretch for some people. But some companies are willing to pick up the tab, depending on whether presentations are part of the job. You can check into that.

 

I recommend Toastmasters in my workshops and to my private clients. (I should note I don’t get any commission for this). I have found it to be a low-cost, low-pressure way for people to get regular practice and feedback. Importantly, Toastmasters also helps you improve skills that are related to public speaking, such as becoming a better extemporaneous communicator and a better listener.

 

Each Toastmaster club runs things differently, but for the most part there are three segments to each meeting.

 

Prepared Speeches

 

One part of the meeting is the prepared speeches. They have set time lengths and are delivered by a few members who have signed up ahead of time. These members take the floor and deliver their speech, which is usually five to seven minutes long. Another member pays attention to the time and signals the member when he is getting close to the end of his time.

 

These prepared speeches enable you to practice putting together an effective presentation and help you determine which of your hand gestures and movements are effective, just as important, comfortable for you when you are in front of a group. You also can work on maintaining eye contact with an audience and improving your vocal variety.

 

Evaluations

 

A second part of the meeting is the evaluations. In this segment, a pre-selected fellow member will get up and provide feedback to the speaker about the speech and presentation. The feedback emphasizes what was good but also offers areas that could be improved.

 

Being an evaluator can help you improve your own public speaking because the role forces you to pay close attention to what works and doesn’t work in someone else’s speech. You should try to copy what works when you speak and see if it helps your presentation. I wrote more on how to do that in the my earlier post “Watch Good Speakers.” 

 

Doing an evaluation can enable you to work on becoming a more effective communicator. When you are an evaluator you have to pay attention and listen carefully to the speaker. That is something that most of us can improve. In everyday life we sometimes let our minds wander when someone else is speaking, or we start thinking about how we are going to respond before the person is even done talking. When you are an evaluator, and you know you are going to get up in front of the audience and give feedback, you learn to pay attention pretty quickly. Because it is obvious when you don’t.

 

Improving your listening skills will carry over into all aspects of your life. Better listeners are better communicators because they understand what the other person is saying and can more clearly address their statements and concerns.

 

Giving evaluations also helps you become more persuasive because you learn how to give feedback in a constructive way. That helps you not only with the person who is the recipient of the feedback but also with everyone else in the audience. They see that you care enough to try to help the speaker. When people see you care, you become more likeable. When people like you, they are more open to your ideas and suggestions.

 

Speaking Off the Cuff

 

The third segment of a typical Toastmasters meeting is something the organization calls “Table Topics,” which is really just extemporaneous speaking. In this segment, members are called up at random and asked to respond to a question for one to two minutes. The questions are usually simple and open-ended: “What was the favorite car you owned and why?” or “What was something that made you smile today?” Or the member could be asked to talk about a favorite vacation or childhood memory.

 

These are not trick questions. They are designed simply to get you used to speaking about something on the spur of the moment in front of other people.   

 

I’ve always said this was the most valuable part of Toastmasters for many people. After all, you may not do many scheduled presentations, but how often are you asked a question that you weren’t expecting? Probably every day.

 

Corporate vs. Community

 

In general, there are two types of Toastmasters clubs: corporate and community. Some clubs meet weekly, some every other week, or twice a month. Some meet only on Zoom, others meet in person, and still others alternate. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of clubs.

 

Corporate clubs tend to meet during work hours or lunchtime, which can be a benefit if you have busy evenings. They may be free if the company picks up all costs. I have even known some companies to provide food for the meetings. If your company does have a Toastmasters club, see if it works for you. If nothing else, attending a meeting may enable you to meet co-workers you haven’t met before, and there is a benefit to networking. (By the way, the photo accompanying this post is from the Toastmasters club at the U.S. Department of the Interior.)

 

Most community clubs do charge a fee for joining (though you can visit as a guest for free). The fees are not prohibitive. The clubs I have dealt have charged $10-$20 a month. Other than the cost, the other disadvantage to a community club is that it does cut into your personal time. Meetings are usually close to two hours long, and if you have a busy personal life and a family that kind of commitment can be hard to squeeze in.

 

There are two advantages to joining a community club. The first is that these clubs tend to be more diverse, bringing people from all walks of life with different professions and backgrounds. (Corporate clubs, of course, are comprised mostly of people of similar education working in the same company.) The diversity enables you to receive feedback from a wider variety of people. It is also more entertaining because you hear more varied speeches.

 

The other reason a community club might be a better choice for you than a corporate one is that you can work on improving your skills away from the presence of co-workers. You will feel much less self-conscious getting up and practicing different hand gestures if your colleagues aren’t in the meeting. Or your supervisor.

 

Toastmasters clubs tend to be very welcoming to guests. I would suggest that you put “Toastmasters International” in your search engine. At the top of the group’s website there will be a “Find a Club” button. Locate the nearest club and check it out. If there are several in your area try each one. Check with your company to see if it has a club you can sample. Try a few clubs before making a choice.

 

If Toastmasters is not something that you think could work for you, then forget it. If you check out a Dale Carnegie course, or a class at your local educational institution, and it doesn’t feel right, skip it. Remember, everyone learns differently. The main thing I want you to do is to try different ways to improve your public speaking.

 

Then stick with what works.

 

 

 

      

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