Impromptu Speaking

At Toastmasters meetings the second section of the meeting is focused on impromptu speaking; our Table Topics section.  The ‘Table Topics Master’ prepares a set of questions aligned to the meeting theme.  Each question is asked then there is usually a pause before they say ‘and this question goes to ….’, allowing everyone to consider the answer they might give if they are selected.

Anyone can participate in this part of the meeting, including guests.  It gives speaking opportunities for people who do not have a specific role in the meeting.

Some people love Table Topics and some dread it.  If you are in the second camp, hoping for divine inspiration or desperately trying not to catch the eye of the Table Topics Masters then this blog is to help you.

In November 2020 we ran a training session to give club members some potential tips and structures they could use to frame their answer which I ran.  I was particularly interested in researching the topic as I personally need to improve my impromptu speaking.

To make our principles more memorable we formed our tips into an acronym as below.

Principles of being a MEGA POP STAR

  • M : Myth = you cannot prepare for table topics.  You can prepare by building your personal narratives and group by theme eg: love, loss, pain, hope, redemption, uncertainty, joy
  • E : Embrace white lies – but make them believable by sprinkling with the truth
  • G : Get going with your opinion from the start
  • A : Anecdote bank – listen for the underlying question and answer with your personal anecdotes
  • P : Don’t panic
  • O : OPENING question words -Rudyard Kipling’s “six honest serving men” (what, why, when, how, where and who) can help to trigger ideas in your mind.
  • P : Keep your remarks brief and to the POINT.
  • S : It is still a SPEECH so you need a beginning, middle and end
  • T : Take time – it is ok to think for 10-15 seconds
  • A : Don’t apologize
  • R : ask for question to be REPEATED or you repeat it to buy thinking time

Structuring Your Answer

When we are asked a question but we’re unprepared, it is easy to panic, stumble or waffle.  Toastmasters provides a great safe environment to improve this skill.  Giving your answer some structure can really help those listening follow your answer.  In our training session we looked at 7 potential structures that could help you frame your answer.  Why don’t you try one of these structures the next time you are called upon to answer.  Below I have set out what the structure is and then given an example of a table topics question (TTQ)  and how this structure has been used to answer it (TTA).

1 Power of 3

  • I like this because of X, Y, Z

TTQ: What’s your favourite fruit?

TTA: My favourite fruit is a banana, let me tell you why.   Bananas taste great, they’re easy to eat and they’re full of potassium. And that’s why my favourite fruit is banana.

2 Point + counter point (When the question asks for your opinion)

  • Some people think X, some people think Y
  • Summarise with the one you side with

TTQ: Do you believe in lockdown?

TTA: Let me explain my feelings about lockdown.  Lockdown is good for stopping the spread of the virus, but it is bad for people’s mental health.  Weighing things up, my personal feeling is that lockdown is essential with the current R number. 

 3 PREP  – Point, Reason, Example, Point(When the question asks for your opinion)

  • State your POINT or opinion, and give a REASON why you think this way. Illustrate your point with an EXAMPLE. Conclude by re-stating your POINT.

TTQ: Should children be told Santa exists?

TTA: Yes I believe that children should be told about Santa.  I think believing in Santa brings a little bit of joy and magic to our lives.  When I was a child I remember the exciting feeling waiting for Santa, writing to Santa and receiving presents from Santa.  That’s why I feel children should be told about Santa.

 4 Past, present, future

  • When I was young I would have answered that this X
  • Now married I answer it Y as I have a young family
  • In the future when my children have left I would answer it z

 TTQ : What’s your favourite activity?

TTA: Prior to COVID I used to love drinking in bars until the wee small hours.  At the moment I enjoy a simple walk in the park in the sunshine.  In the future I hope to be able to drink in the park with friends!

5 Sequential

  • Eg you could use the seasons

TTQ: If you won a £1000 what would you buy?

TTA: If it was in April, I’d treat myself as it’s my birthday month, if it was summer a nice vacation would be in order, in November I’d squander it on an amazing firework display, and it if was in December I’d go for an amazing Christmas feast for my friends and family.

6 STAR model like in interview competency questions

  • Situation, Task, Action, Result

TTQ: Have you ever experienced a difficult situation where you were trying to balance 2 important priorities in your job?

TTA: Let me tell you a story, I was working as an agent and the megastar George Clooney asked me out for dinner which was great as I needed to land him as a client.  However I already had arrangements with Jeremy Clarkson so had to think of an excuse to put Jeremy off without offending him.  Luckily I knew the following week that Elon Musk was bringing his new car to show me and that Jeremy really wanted a test drive.   I persuaded Jeremy to wait a week so that we could all have dinner.  The result was Jeremy thinks I am great and George is a new client!!

7 AIDA Attention, Interest, Desire, Action – When you want your listeners to take action

  • Draw their ATTENTION to the issue you wish to address.
  • Create INTEREST by showing how this issue affects them.
  • Instil a DESIRE in your audience to take action.
  • State the ACTION(s) you recommend and call them to join you!

TTQ: What’s your favourite past time?

TTA: Well as it happens my favourite pastime is sunbathing but this comes with a big risk of skin cancer which 1 in 5 people will get, however, the feeling of the hot sun on your back is so warming, and lovely, there is a way around this, and next time you hit the shops, pop a bottle of factor 50 in your basket, because who knows maybe George will be around to rub it all over you!

I hope this has given you some food for thought and has provided some guidance you can use the next time you are called upon to answer an impromptu question.

Tracey Rogers

 

Repeating a Speech

The Power of Repeating a Speech for you and the Audience

The second project on all the Pathways is to prepare and give a speech, gain feedback and then give the same speech again.  This enables you to think about the evaluation and suggestions you were given, practice incorporating the improvements and then of course, give it a second go.  When you think about it there aren’t many times in life where you get a second chance to nail a project so this is a gift.

 

However, when I was working on this project I didn’t see it like that.  As I was new to Toastmasters I hadn’t seen anyone else give a speech and repeat it.  I knew that it was important to focus on the audience and the speech being about the audience not you so, as a result, I was really worried that it would be very boring for the audience to hear the speech a second time and let this add to my nerves.  On reflection I can see how silly this was.

 

When I gave this speech, my topic was on my skiing holiday sharing a day in my life; getting up all excited, trudging to the slopes, my exhilarating day on the slopes, rounding off in the evening with great company.  I used lots of props in this speech which was liked but I was given feedback that I was taking too much time finding the props and leaning down to fetch them.  The feedback I had suggested I have the props closer to hand.  I also had good feedback on how to pace the speech better.  All things I was then able to practice improving at home in front of the mirror.

 

I have now seen many people give a speech and repeat it and it is far from boring for me in the audience.  It is interesting to see how that person has taken on feedback and applied it.  On the second time of hearing a speech, you often take notice of elements you had missed in the first round.  It is fun to do a kind of ‘spot the difference’ in your head around what they have done to improve it.  Seeing others progress and take on feedback naturally gets you thinking yourself.  If I had that feedback what would I personally do next time?

 

Often the same evaluator, evaluates the speech again the second time.  Again this is a good challenge for the evaluator to notice the improvements and importantly ensure they are not just doing a carbon-copy of their previous evaluation speech.

 

Every time I have seen a repeated speech I’ve seen a marked improvement in the speech delivery.  It’s as though the person increases in confidence as they are now more familiar with the topic and what the audience is looking for so they can go for it.

 

If fact, often the audience differs from week to week so not everyone will hear you give the same speech anyway.

 

So when you are facing the ‘repeated speech’ project see it for the gift that it is – the opportunity to build your skills and showcase them to the club.

Tracey Rogers

Embracing Competitions

Competition season is in full swing again.  At Toastmasters there a 4 types of competition: The Humorous Speech, Evaluation, Table Topics and International Speech Competition.

When I first joined Toastmasters I thought ‘why on earth would I put myself through the pain of a speaking competition’.  However, after a while I saw the light; if I really wanted to grow my skills competing would be an excellent vehicle to really push me out of my comfort zone but still in a safe environment.  Competing has really helped me to hone my presentation writing and delivery.  For me it is all about delivering my speech to the best of my ability rather than worrying about winning or losing.

I’ve learnt competitions add huge value both to those competing and to those facilitating the process.  It really demonstrates how the Toastmasters organisation pulls together both within and across clubs.

To run a successful competition you need many hands on deck volunteering for the various roles and a competent organiser/contest chair.  Assisting as a judge, timer, ballot counter, zoommaster, contest chair etc is very fulfilling and can provide the opportunity to get to know people across other clubs as clubs tend to help each other out.

In this blog I’ve asked people across Windsor Speakers to provide thoughts on their experience:

Competing

‘Taking part as a contestant in a competition is an experience, win or lose.  I remember winning my first Table Topics area competition, being my first event in front of a large audience I was aiming just to make the time and concentrated on that alone!  Division was a different matter, I was completely thrown by the question being a subject matter I knew nothing about, but I took the chance to take in the audience and try things a little on the wild side that maybe I wouldn’t have done I had known the topic.’  WG

‘I feel the best thing about attending competitions is getting to know people from outside of your club you wouldn’t normally meet.’  SB

Judging

‘If you’re a good organiser or want to develop your organisational skills then being Chief Judge is the role to consider for any Toastmaster speech contest.  Next to the Contest Chair, the role comes with a number of responsibilities.  The Chief Judge is in charge of the judges, speech timers and ballot counters and includes co-ordinating the paperwork associated with those roles, ensuring the team is fully briefed prior to the contest and assisting with the management of logistics during the contest.  I had the pleasure of being Chief Judge at our last speech contest and it was very satisfying to see everything come together to make for a successful evening.’   JH

Zoom Master

‘The last year has challenged us in how we deliver the same great experience to our members and guest, albeit all from the comfort of our own homes. We all had to very quickly get to grips with Zoom and all it has to offer.  As Zoom Master, I’ve learned new skills and discover something different every time I use it.  We have adapted our ways of working and Zoom has been at the forefront of keeping us together as a club. I look forward to see how we can keep using the technology at hand to reach a diverse number of people once face to face meetings are allowed again.’  YC

Other Support Functions

‘As a new member of the Windsor Speakers Club, I had the opportunity of attending three speech contests including Windsor, Wokingham, and Burnham Speakers clubs.  I was amazed to see the level of skills Toastmaster speakers have and how well the Evaluators had listened to the speeches and provided detailed feedback.  I wish I had joined Toastmasters at the start of my profession.’  UT

 

I hope these words of wisdom from Windsor Speaker members will encourage you to consider playing a role in a Toastmasters speaking competition.

Tracey Rogers

Why I Joined Windsor Speakers

You’re reading this blog so I guess you must have some interest in Windsor Speakers.  In today’s blog I’ll share with you why I joined Windsor Speakers and the additional benefits I gained I was not expecting. 

We’ll look at speaking improvement, speech writing, leadership and the friends you can make.

Improving my Speaking

As with many other members I joined Toastmasters to increase my confidence speaking in front of large groups.  I didn’t know why I was sometimes very comfortable doing this but at other times I would feel rather anxious.  I just wanted to be in that place of consistently feeling confident.

The interesting thing I have learnt is that there is no silver bullet; you will always feel some nerves, but importantly it is how you manage them and Toastmasters has really helped me with that.  I also think the focus Toastmasters puts on the speech being all about the audience and not you is really helpful too.  When you focus on ensuring you are giving something of value to the audience your focus moves away from yourself to the message.

Practice is an important element of raising your confidence.  Toastmasters really reinforce the value of practice.  If you know your material really well you will feel more at ease.  I used to think some people were just really confident but I’ve learnt we can all become more confident if we know we have put the groundwork in with practice.

Working through the Toastmasters Pathway and volunteering for roles at club meetings you find yourself gradually pushing on the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Everyone is experiencing or has experienced the same thing so it is a very supportive environment.  You get a real sense of achievement each time you have delivered a speech, evaluation, or role at a meeting if you know you have done it to the best of your ability.  It doesn’t matter if you were not perfect; for me it’s all about learning and improving.

At toastmasters we are encouraged to give speeches without notes or few notes.  This can be daunting at first but it means you just need to practice more.  If you can give speeches at Toastmasters with no notes when you are in other contexts like at work with slides – it should be easy in comparison.

Speech Writing

I’ve been surprised that I really enjoy the process of writing speeches.  I feel especially proud if an evaluator comments on the structure and content.  The better you get at writing your speeches and structuring them simply, the easier they are to learn and deliver.

There is great value to be found from the Toastmasters magazine, Podcasts and of course the Pathways guidance and videos to give you hints and tips.  Due to Covid19 many people have been able to attend the conferences virtually and again there has been a wealth of examples and guidance sessions in them to improve these skills.

Leadership

When I joined Toastmasters my focus was on the speaking but I have realised Toastmasters is also great for developing your leadership skills.  I’m on one of the leadership Pathways, but even if you are on one of the other Pathways you are still learning leadership skills by taking on roles at the meetings.  Plus you can also lead your club via committee roles which I’ve also found both interesting and helpful in my development.

Friendship

Another aspect of Toastmasters I hadn’t expected was the friends you make.  Windsor is a nice size club so you get to know everyone.  I have found everyone to be really supportive and I would call all the members friends.

So if you want to improve you speaking or leadership skills in a friendly supportive atmosphere I would thoroughly recommend joining Toastmasters, especially Windsor Speakers.

Tracey Rogers

The Gift of Feedback

Have you ever given a presentation or speech and wondered if it landed well with your audience?

In this blog I will cover:

  1. The value of Toastmasters evaluations
  2. How to give a good evaluation
  3. How to evaluate yourself and typical improvement areas you’ll notice from self-evaluation

1) The Value of Toastmasters Evaluations

At work we often give presentations.  If we’re lucky a colleague might say ‘thanks’ or ‘well done’.  If it bombed people will just say nothing or avoid eye contact.  Neither of these responses is particularly helpful if you want to continuously improve your presentation skills.

The thing I really love about Toastmasters is the evaluations you get from the audience.  For each speech you have an assigned evaluator who will give you detailed feedback but everyone in the audience also provides feedback.  On a ‘Zoom’ call this is done via the ‘chat’ function and in an in person meeting via slips.  This is their personal perception and it is done in a supportive way to help each individual grow.

A Toastmasters evaluation is done in a certain style; the sandwich technique; with  commendations, improvement ideas and then ending on a high with the things the evaluator most liked about your speech.  Both speaking and evaluating will improve your speaking skills as evaluating others gets you to think about all aspects of the speech; how it was written, structured, the vocal variety in the delivery, did the story influence you etc, etc.  So actually evaluating others provides ideas and inspiration for your next speech.

If you are continually seeing the same feedback from the audience you know that is something you either need to work on to improve, or keep doing if it was something they liked.  It is really interesting to see the array of feedback as we all listen in our own unique way so people pick up on different things.

There is naturally value in keeping all this feedback so you can track your progress.

2) How to Give a Good Evaluation

If you are an evaluator you should contact the speaker ahead of the meeting to understand the objectives of their speech and to understand what they are personally seeking to work on.  Being an evaluator is an excellent opportunity to both improve your listening and speaking skills as you too will be giving a speech at the meeting.  Your speech will be 2-3 minutes long providing your constructive feedback on the speech.  You make brief notes during the speech and then write up your speech during the break; ahead of delivering it.

Guidance sheets – if you click on the Windsor Speakers website ‘Meeting tools’ you will find some evaluation guidance templates that can get you started.  I particularly find this part useful for thinking about what to look for in a speech:

What I saw: 
+ / –  Stood at ease with confident body language+ / –  Made sufficient eye contact with the audience
+ / –  Facial expressions conveyed emotions+ / –  Gestures were meaningful and appropriate
What I heard: 
+ / –  Voice was clear and audible even at the back / above background noise+ / –  Pace of speaking changed to match sections of content
+ / –  Main points were supported by examples+ / –  Vocal variety added to the message
What I felt: 
+ / –  Opening captured the audience’s attention+ / –  Pauses were used effectively, where needed
+ / –  Humour was appropriate and supported the theme+ / –  Closing was effective and memorable

Some people find it useful to simply draw a type of ‘tennis court’ line on paper with + on left and – on right to make their notes.  You can work out what works best for you.

The consistent thing we all try to do speak in 3rd person ie ‘David said’ rather than ‘You said’ and to use the sandwich technique; commendations, improvement ideas and then ending on a high with the things the evaluator most liked about your speech.

At Windsor Speakers we regularly have training sessions.  We held a session to improve and practice our evaluation technique.  At that session we looked at 5 areas:

  • Listening for the core message of the speech
  • Teaching the audience through your evaluation
  • Explaining why a gesture or sentence moved you
  • Providing richness and depth to an evaluation eg explain what you really liked and break it down to explain why
  • Don’t comment on everything but rank and select the most significant areas that will help the speaker

3) How to Evaluate Yourself

Have you ever thought of evaluating yourself? 

Yes it sounds strange but it is a very useful technique to do.  We all hate hearing ourselves recorded but the more you do it the more comfortable you get with it.  So video yourself and then play it back.  Zoom has the facility where you can record yourself, or alternatively use a smart phone or tablet.  If you have a mentor or buddy who is willing to help you with your developing speech, you can also share your video to get their feedback too to help you polish your presentation ahead of the big day.  Even presenting in front of a mirror can help you notice small things you would otherwise miss.

Look at your video as if it is a different person and write a constructive evaluation.  This not only gives you feedback but helps you practice writing evaluations too!  If you are trying to improve areas like gestures or body language try watching it with the sound off as this can also be very enlightening.

Typical Improvement Areas You’ll Notice from Self-evaluation

Evaluating yourself will highlight early points you need to work on.  Below I will point out some common areas and what you might do to correct them.

Time keeping: Are you constantly going over time or rushing the end?

Toastmasters is a great place to learn how to give a speech in a set time frame.  Most of the speeches are 5-7 minutes long in duration.  Green light at 5 mins, Amber light at 6 mins and Red and 7 mins then you have 30 seconds to wrap up where you will either get a flashing red light or bell.

When you are new to being timed, as soon as any light goes on it can make you panic and lose your place.  Therefore a very good strategy in your self-evaluation preparation is to know where in your speech you should be at Green, Amber and Red so you know how to pace yourself to avoid going over time but importantly you will see a light as a reassurance you are where you expect to be.  There are several good timing apps you can download onto your phone using this colour coding that can help you when you are practicing at home.

Flapping Arms: Are your arms flapping around in a distracting way?

The self-evaluation video will highlight if you are making annoying gestures, making the same gesture too often or lacking in interest from too few gestures.

If you are presenting on a Zoom call and standing, it is best to keep your hands down until you are making a specific gesture.  Keep your gestures simple and deliberate.

Ums &  Ahs: Are you filling in gaps with filler words?

We often use filler words without even realising we are doing it.  Videoing yourself will quickly illuminate if you are prone to doing this and thus help you eliminate them.  Just pause instead.

Summary

In summary this blog has shared the value Toastmasters evaluations provide, given you guidance on how to give a good evaluation and how to prepare for a speech by evaluating yourself.

 Feedback as a precious gift and giving feedback is also an honour.