Monthly Archives: July 2015

Come To The Contest

FOTM Speech Contest_FLYER_for FACEBOOK

Take The Fear Factor Out Of Evaluations

Perhaps only second to giving an IceBreaker speech, newcomers to Toastmasters fear giving their first evaluation of somebody else’s speech.dscf6327

In most clubs, you’ll be asked to be an evaluator after you’ve given five or six of your own speeches. By then, you’ll have had the opportunity to receive your own evaluations and if you’re attending your meetings on a regular basis you’ll have heard many other evaluations.

In order to take out the fear factor when it comes to evaluations, Toastmasters offers lots of tools. For example, the Effective Evaluation manual which is available online is essential reading.2015-04-23 20.12.18

Here you’ll learn the importance of preparation before the speech and there’s an excellent description of the role of the evaluator.

Preparation is key to delivering an evaluation that your speaker can actually use. Your evaluation should focus on the objectives of the speech as outlined in the speech manual and you should have made the opportunity to talk to your speaker before the meeting to discover what specific challenges the speaker is hoping to accomplish.

While there are a variety of outlines that some evaluators use (content, style and deliver; what I liked, what I loved, what I’d suggest) all evaluations should begin and end with praise.

I was once asked to be an evaluator at another club’s speaking contest and one of the speeches was so challenging 🙂 I wasn’t sure what I could say that was praiseworthy.2015-04-23 20.09.04

Thankfully as I rose to give my evaluation I was struck with the thought that this speaker had done the best he could and that was worthy of praise so I began by saying “I am guessing that speech was huge challenge for you and I want to acknowledge what a big step this must have been for you tonight.”

Our speaker just glowed with pride and from there I was able to offer that in upcoming speeches I would be looking to see even more vocal variety and even more volume so the people at the back of the room could enjoy the speech. And, again I ended with praise for this brave new speaker.

This type of evaluation is what keeps speakers coming back. There’s lots of learning here with praise on either side. It’s kind of like an evaluation sandwich.

All evaluations are in themselves mini speeches. You start with praise and you offer your opinions on what went right and what to practice for next time and you end with a summary that includes more praise.

That’s the key to successful evaluations that are fear free.

The Challenge For Women In Leadership Roles

Most people join Toastmasters to develop their ability to speak in public. We do so by creating short speeches of our own design that must meet certain criteria such as including gestures or using vocal variety. After completing ten speeches by objectives set out in The Competent Communications manual, members are eligible to receive their Competent Communicator designation.

There are several other levels of achievement possible in the communication track but somewhere in their first year new members are introduced to Toastmaster’s leadership track. Using The Competent Leadership manual members work on ten projects leading to the designation of Competent Leader and again there are advanced designations available.

The leadership track can be a real eye-opener especially for women looking to advance in the business world.

Today in The Globe and Mail’s Life and Art section there’s a major article on why women in business hesitate to negotiate for better salaries. The article’s author speculates that Canadian girls learn to “play nice” in order to avoid appearing aggressive or greedy and these life skills hamper them later in life when dealing with men in their workplaces.

“Girls who attempt to take on a leadership role can sometimes come into conflict with people’s expectations about what it means to be female” says Erin Rajca of Toronto’s Child Development Institute who is quoted in the newspaper article.

Oddly today both the Globe and Mail in this article and The National Post in an article called “Land of the trolls” which details the seismic shocks that are rippling through the online site Reddit both use the sudden dismissal of Reddit CEO Ellen Pao.Ellen_Pao_2015

Pao, an American lawyer, earlier this month unexpectedly fired a much beloved Reddit staffer who had been responsible for working with the multi-million member plus Reddit community. Outraged the volunteer community moderators shut down their chat groups or made them private thus depriving Reddit of control and possible revenue from their own company.

Pao received death threats and much of her personal information was released online (a practiced called doxing) without her permission.

Within days Pao was making public apologies everywhere online and in the mainstream media but to no avail and she was dismissed within a few days.

In the Globe and Mail article the reporter related a back story about Pao who lost a gender-discrimination lawsuit against a former employer and then subsequently banned salary negotiations at Reddit. Her reasoning claims the article was: Men tend to negotiate harder than women and when they do, women are penalized in the process.

In a sidebar story a National Household Survey said that women working full-time in Canada (including those with university degrees) bring home 20 per cent less than men in their field.

While joining Toastmasters isn’t a cure-all for all that ails society today including wage parity between men and women, it’s a start.

How To Win At Table Topics

I’m doing a workshop on Table Topics later this morning at the Union Gas Ramblers Toastmaster  Club in Stoney Creek, where I am one of the club mentors. (Reema Duggal, who many of you know, is the other mentor.)

I was asked to do the workshop following my win at the District 86 Table Topics Contest two years ago.dscf6327

I knew what I wanted to say but the outline for my 10-minute workshop just wasn’t coming so I did what I always do when I want to get my brain working: I Googled the question.

What popped up was a fabulous 10 Tips for Terrific Table Topics written by District 71’s Chris Cox, ATM-S, AL-S, Cambridge Speakers Club, England.

Here’s what I plan on saying using Chris’s posting as an outline:

Don’t Panic

I was terrified of Table Topics when I started attending Toastmaster meetings 22 years ago. I had no idea what was happening but, as happens in Toastmasters, sooner or later somebody handed me a table topic. I can’t remember now how it went but I bet I didn’t see the green light before I sat down. Rather than being critical of my shortcomings, everyone applauded my first attempt. I was heartened by this reception and eager to try again.

Buy Timeimages

This is the one point where I disagree with Chris. I find so many contestants walk soooo slowly to the lectern while they’re frantically trying to think what to say. This slow walk usually leads to a slow low-key start to the table topic. What I discovered is walking slowly was a hinderance to making a BIG first impression. Whenever possible I ran to the lectern when my name was called. I jumped up on stage and vigorously shock the Table Topics Master’s hand. I then started talking louder than I thought I should with larger gestures than I would normally use in a regular speech.

Go with the first little idea that comes into your head

I agree entirely here. There is no time to wait for the best idea to show up. Go with whatever is in your head and work it out. Most times this works just fine.

Express an opinion right at the startimages-2

Jump right in and make a declarative statement. Follow that up with an example and end with a reference to your being position and you’re done.

Remember the rule of three

My first mentor told me two decades ago that I could prepare myself for table topics. What he suggested was I put some structure into my talk. I could talk about what I didn’t liked, what I liked and what I loved relating to the topic.

Remember the six honest men

Here Chris means the journalist’s who, what, where, why, when and how. Again it’s a structure you can use.

Know when to stop

I tell my mentees to stop when they see the green light. Find someway to land your speech because, as I say to them, the next time you look at the clock it will be red and you’ll not know where you stand when it comes to the timing.

Prepare something in advance

This is tricky but it can be done. For example I read two newspapers daily. When it comes to Table Topics my mind is filled with current information that I can turn into a mini speech at the drop of a gavel.

Draw on your own experiences

If I can find something in my own life that relates that’s great but I find often real-life experiences take too long to introduce or explain. If I can use one example from my own life that’s okay but if I try to turn the entire topic to my life I find I get lost in the complexity of my own thinking.

Be eccentric

Being eccentric comes easily to me. I once ended a speech about visiting a nudist colony wearing only a Speedo. In the Table Topics contest wanted to be seen to be different from my competitors so I always wore a bright white button-downed formal shirt, dark pants and a bright belt. My competitors almost always wore dark (sometimes dreary) business attire and they all ended up looking pretty much the same especially in some of poorly illuminated venues. There was no wow factor or difference in their look and they tended to blend into the background.

Read Chris Cox’s post for his excellent opinions on what works and here’s his point # 11 bonus tip:

Keep doing table topics

My surprising district-level win came after 20 years of taking a table topic at every meeting where someone would let me compete 🙂

Gates of Fire

I think almost everyone comes to Toastmasters thinking they’re going to learn how to speak in public with more confidence. And certainly that’s true but those of us who hang around for more than a season or two discover that Toastmasters is about two other important things.

The first is Toastmasters trains us to listen much more intently to others when they speak. This is a huge advantage in both our personal and professional lives.

Think about it yourself: Don’t you love it when you get the sense that someone is actually listening to what you have to say? It’s a thrilling experience and increasingly rare in this social media world of ours.

The second thing seasoned Toastmasters discover after attending meetings for a year or two is the leadership track in Toastmasters is what keeps people coming back year after year. This is true even for those of us who have completed their speaking program.

Leadership in this day of autonomous, deregulated groups and social media is a real challenge. The old top-down, centralized bureaucratic ways of leading are fading fast. We’re in a time of massive deregulation and everything from governments (think Greece) to companies (Reddit a social media with a huge online membership self-emploded over the weekend when a beloved manager was unceremoniously and mysteriously let go by a very unpopular young CEO who it is predicted won’t last out the year) to Toastmaster clubs where engagement of the members is key to a successful club experience.

So how do we engage the membership?

Four-star US General Stanley McChrystal was confronted with this issue when he took over the Afghanistan theatre of war. Confronting a decentralized enemy capable of waging war on an individual basis without the top-down structure that was limiting the American response, McChrystal implemented some startling changes to how he communicated with his 8,000 troops in the field.800px-Leonidas_evlahos

Here’s a link to the two-hour interview of McChrystal conducted by the Four-Hour Week guy Tim Ferriss. I highly recommend you listen to at least the first 15 minutes or so and all two hours if you can. Engagement is the solution to creating a leadership model that people will follow.

How far will people go?

Read Gates of Fire (referenced in the interview). It tells the story of the 300 Spartans who took on an army estimated at one million (but more likely around 100,000) at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

Defending their homeland, the Spartan response from King Xerxes to the Persian demand that “they hand over your arms” was the famous reply” “Come and take them.”

August Get-Away?

Still not made vacation plans? How about a quick trip to Las Vegas baby?


No not for the gambling or the night life or the rest that Las Vegas has to offer! How about the 2015 Toastmasters International Convention August 12-15?

Early bird discounts end soon so register today!