I'm scared to death of speaking! Why should I look into Toastmasters?

Everyone is afraid of speaking. In poll after poll, public speaking comes up as more feared than death. Public speaking is the nation's #1 fear. You are no different. Even if you think you're really good at speaking, there will come times when your heart stops and your palms sweat and you freeze before an audience. Toastmasters can help with that.

Remember that everyone in a Toastmasters chapter is there because at some point they realized they needed help communicating and speaking before audiences. Almost everyone will remember how wretched they felt when they gave their first speech. You may be startled to find out how supportive a Toastmasters chapter really can be. [One member recruited a friend to Toastmasters who was so overwrought and nervous that she sobbed as if her heart was broken after her first speech. Ditto for the second. Some tears after the third. Eventually she realized that we weren't going to eat her alive and she came to enjoy it. By the time she earned her CC, she consistently won "best speaker" votes at our meetings.]

If you're aware how nervous you are but aren't convinced that you should do anything about it, stop and think: what skill is more important than any other when it comes to getting and keeping a good job?
Think you're already an excellent speaker? People who think they're really good sometimes come into Toastmasters and find out how unstructured and sloppy they really are. Being comfortable doesn't mean that you're actually good. Even if you are good, you can always get better. Toastmasters can give you a lot of skills and keep good speakers improving.

If you still don't know whether you'd like Toastmasters, why not visit a meeting? If you don't think it's your cup of tea, we'll still be happy you came by.

Do I have to ask permission before attending a meeting of Hackettstown Toastmasters?

No. Feel free to drop in at any of our meetings in the Hackettstown Community Center, 293 Main Street, Hackettstown, NJ from 7:00 until 8:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month. A meeting consists of several parts so watching for only a few minutes may not give you a full idea of our activities. There's no obligation to participate, so just sit, watch, and listen.

Is Toastmasters a social or drinking organization in some regard?

The name "Toastmasters"is a holdover from the founding of the organization, when one of the main types of public speaking a member of society would engage in was after-dinner speaking, a.k.a. toastmastering. It is rare that formal drinking and toasts take place, and these are usually at major banquets or conferences.

How is Toastmasters more beneficial than other forms of speaking improvement?

College and high school courses in public speaking usually involve the students sitting through dozens of lectures followed by one or two speaking opportunities. When the speeches are over, you get a grade. Often, you get graded on what you did wrong. This isn't a way to build reassurance and motivation. Then too, you rarely get much of a chance to practice by doing. You get up at the end of the semester, give your speech, and sit down. Toastmasters is constant reinforcement and constant improvement. You learn by doing, not by sitting there while someone lectures for hours.
For-profit courses such as Dale Carnegie can be very good for their participants. They also cost a lot and when they're over, they're over. Toastmasters costs $96 per year and it can last a lifetime.


What happens at a meeting?

The format may vary slightly, but the basics of a normal meeting include:
  • introduction of the Toastmaster of the Meeting, who presides over the program that day and explains the meeting as it goes along
  • prepared speeches from members (of which more below)
  • oral evaluations of the prepared speeches (of which more below)
  • impromptu speeches from members (also known as Table Topics, of which more below)
  • reports from other evaluation personnel, such as speech timer, grammarian/"ah"counter, and General Evaluator.

Meetings last one and one-half hours. The Timer and Ah-Counter roles are good ones for new members because there is no preparation required, there are limited, well-defined duties, and only a 1-2 minute report of results is given.

What's a "prepared speech?"

When you join Toastmasters you receive a basic speaking manual with ten speech projects. Each project calls on you to prepare a speech on a subject of your own choosing but using certain speaking principles. Each manual project lists the objectives for that speech and includes a written checklist for your evaluator to use when evaluating the speech. Thus, if you're scheduled to speak at a meeting, you generally pull out your manual a week or two in advance and put together a speech on whatever you like but paying attention to your goals and objectives for that speech. Then, when you go to the meeting, you hand your manual to your evaluator and that person makes written comments on the checklist while you speak. At the end of the meeting, that person (your evaluator) will rise to give oral commentary as well. The purpose of the extensive preparation and commentary is to show you what you're doing well and what you need to work on, and to drive these lessons home so you're constantly improving.

MEETINGS -cont.-

What speech projects are there for me to work on?

In the basic ("Communication") manual, there are ten speech projects. All are five to seven minutes long except for numbers one and ten:
  1. Icebreaker - 4 to 6 minutes - get over nervousness by introducing yourself to the chapter.
  2. Organize Your Speech - work on giving a well-organized speech.
  3. Get to the Point - understand the general and specific purposes for speaking.
  4. How to Say It - work on proper word choice, avoiding jargon and generalizations.
  5. Your Body Speaks - not a "Show and Tell" speech, this project calls on you to work with gestures and body language during your speech.
  6. Vocal Variety - work on rate of delivery, volume, speed, pitch, emphasis, etc.
  7. Research Your Topic - Learn to collect information and to support your points and opinions with specific facts, examples, and illustrations.
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids -illustrate and emphasize your message using visual aids, in this speech: props.
  9. Persuade with Power - give a persuasive speech on a controversial issue.
  10. Inspire Your Audience - 8 to 10 minutes - the final speech in the manual calls on you to move and inspire your audience in a well-presented and well-prepared speech.

As you can see, all ten projects above are wide-open for you to choose whatever topic you like. Even if you pick a controversial subject, most Toastmasters audiences will evaluate you on how well you present your subject, not on whether they agree with you or not.

What is "Table Topics" and what does the TopicMaster do?

Table Topics is fun! It's also terrifying. Basically, it calls on you to present a one to two minute impromptu speech on a subject not known to you until the moment you get up to speak! A member of the chapter assigned to be Topicmaster will prepare a few (±10) impromptu topics and call on members (or guests, if they've given assent in advance to being called on) to stand up and speak on the topic. Topics might include current events (e.g."What would you do about the economy if you were President?") or philosophy ("If you had no shoes and met a man who had no feet, how would you feel? ") or the wacky ("Reach into this bag. Pull an item out. Tell us about it.").

If you really don't have an answer for the question you could move in a different direction. For example, one member was asked, "Are you rooting for the New York Yankees to win the World Series this year?" The member was not very familiar with baseball and so responded, "I'm sure that many people are passionate about baseball but, as for me, soccer is the top sport in the world." He then proceeded to describe the World Cup competitors and his picks.

What is Evaluation?

The Evaluation program is the third of the three main parts to the meeting. All prepared speakers, as noted above, should have their speaking manuals with them and should have passed them on to their evaluators beforehand. During the speech, and after, each person's evaluator should make written notes and plan what to say during the two to three minute oral evaluation.

Evaluation is tough to do well because it requires an evaluator to do more than say "here's what you did wrong." A good evaluator will say "here's what you did well, and here's why doing that was good, and here are some things you might want to work on for your next speech, and here's how you might work on them." It's important to remember that the evaluator is just one point of view, although one that has focused in on your speech closely. Other members of the audience can and should give you written or spoken comments on aspects of your speech they feel important.

What is an "Ah-Counter?"

Most of us unconsciously use non-words or filler words when speaking; things like "ah," "um," "and so on," or "you know." The Ah-Counter helps us become aware of these and eliminate them by counting and reporting on each speaker's use of non-words.

What's all this emphasis on time limits? What's the Timer's role?

As noted above, speeches have time limits, Table Topics have time limits (1-2 minutes) and evaluations have time limits (2-3 minutes). This is in order to drive home the point that a good speaker makes effective use of the time allotted and does not keep going and going and going until the audience is bored. In the real world, quite often there are practical limits on how long a meeting can or should go; by setting time limits on speeches and presentations, participants learn brevity and time management and the chapter meeting itself can be expected to end on schedule.

We use a set of colored cards to warn the speakers of the advance of time. All speeches and presentations have a time limit expressed as an interval, e.g. 5 to 7 minutes. A green card would be shown at 5 minutes, yellow at 6, and red at 7. In Table Topics, the cards would go 1, 1½, and 2 minutes respectively. When the green card comes up, you've at least spoken enough, though you need not finish right away, and when the yellow card comes up, you should begin wrapping up. If you're not done by the time the red card comes up, you should finish as soon as possible without mangling the ending of your speech. The Timer's role in a meeting is to hold up the cards (or operate lights) and record and report on each speaker's time.

The only times you're actually penalized for going over or under time is in speaking competition; in speech contests you must remain within the interval or be disqualified.

Why all this structure to the meeting?

If meetings sound complicated, we're sorry. Meetings generally are not complicated once you get used to the colored timing cards in the back and the different roles that members of the group play. Since the average chapter is expected to have 20 or more members, you need a lot of roles for people to play in order to involve everyone. And, since meeting assignments vary from meeting to meeting, everyone gets practice doing everything over the course of several meetings. One meeting, you'll be assigned to give a speech; the next, you might be timer; the next, you might be the Toastmaster of the Meeting, running the whole show. It keeps you flexible and it keeps you from having to prepare a speech every meeting, which would get old quickly.

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