Toastmaster Skills in Practice

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It’s been a few years now since I first joined Kings Speakers, and it’s been a wonderful journey and I have learned so much, in particular during the time I served as President along with partaking in various roles on the committee. Toastmasters is not just about practicing speaking skills, it’s also a great opportunity to practice leadership skills. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that to improve any skill you need to put in the practice. What I always advise members is to take part at each meeting, doesn’t have to be a speech but take on a role or participate in table topics. The key is commitment, consistency and practice and over time you will see results, it’s not the immediate, exciting and fun solution people usually want to hear but that is where the magic is. 

The results I’ve seen in my own experience is that my confidence has just kept growing, I’ve been a lot more open about having a stutter and I’ve been complimented many times on my communication skills which I know would not have been possible without Kings Speakers. 

Along with practice we also need to continuously expand our comfort zones and take on new challenges and opportunities. Within Toastmasters there are many ways in which you can do that, by taking on leaderships roles within the committee, taking part in contests and visiting other clubs. However what’s most important is that we take these skills and put them into practice in the real world. 

One of the ways which I have decided to really go out of my comfort zone in a way I have never done before is to start my own podcast, which I am in the process of developing right now. If someone had told me on the night that I joined Kings Speakers that a few years down the line I would be creating my own podcast, I would have never believed them. It really is amazing what you can achieve if you put in the work along with being in a very supportive and safe environment with people who believe in you. 

What new challenge will you undertake and how will you put your Toastmaster skills in practice?

Written by Suzana Kalcic, Club Secretary

The culture of the stammer kingdom

Most of you have experience of dealing with classmates, friends, or relatives who stutter. In fact, there are 70 million stuttering people across the globe, comparable to the population of the UK. Yet, little is known about this stammer kingdom and hardly anyone living outside our country has ever visited us and had a taste of our unique lifestyle. This is clearly a failure of our tourism promotion. As most of you are fond of travelling, I would like to share with you our culture. Our unique culture is characterized by distinct mentality of speaking and resultant behavior patterns.

Let’s start off with mentality. As a result of childhood trauma, we never view speaking as a natural flow and innate capability. We care way much about our performance of speaking, especially how others evaluate our performance. Oddly, the performance is only fluency-wise not content-wise. In an effort to be seen as fluent speakers, we are always on the lookout for words that pose potential dangers, i.e. the word we may stumble on. Once a dangerous syllable is identified, we would adopt strategies that are developed over years in an attempt to hide our stammer. Yet, none of these would have a lasting effect and only reinforce our fear of stammer. As a consequence, we feel embarrassed each and every time we stutter, and with the flow of time, we avoid speaking situations that will reveal our confidential citizenship, which also explains the failure of our tourism promotion: after all we rarely speak up in public. These social anxiety and low self-esteem severely degrade our satisfaction with life, leaving us among the least happy countries, together with North Korea.

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If you are given a chance to visit our country, walk in the street, visit the silent cathedral and talk to local people, you may repeatedly identify these behavior patterns.

To begin with, we rarely make eye contacts with the person we speak to. The reason is that we cannot accept the confusing or even dismissive expression on others’ face. Secondly, we rush words and in the meantime stumble on words. This is often explained by our wish to quickly finish the sentence and the difficult words will not stand in the way. Unfortunately, this does not help often. Finally, some coping strategies, as I mentioned earlier, such as adding filler words or tapping foot, are still prevalent in our country.

Now you get a picture of how our country looks like. To be honest, our country is currently not in a good shape. School dropout rate is high, so is unemployment rate. Most importantly, most of them are experiencing a degraded quality of life. Nevertheless, we have not received international aids despite our population as large as UK. People care about countries in poverty, countries at war, and even endangered animals, whereas they tend to neglect their immediate neighbors living in the darkness. On behalf of my fellow citizens who are afraid of revealing their confidential nationality, I ask for patience and understanding from you. As a return, we will offer you our stories, our kindness, and a new perspective of life. I can assure you visiting a country geographically far-away is far less inspiring than visiting a country psychologically distant.

Written by Shaoxiong Sun, Member of Kings Speakers

Toastmasters District 91 Spring Conference – An interview with Brian Skelton

An interview with Brian Skelton about the Conference

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When and where was the Conference?
The Conference was in Ashford in Kent at the Ashford International Hotel from Friday 3rd May to Sunday 6th May.

What was the Programme for Conference over the 3 days?There were 10 Workshops and 4 Contests – Table Topics – International speech – Evaluation – Humorous Speech Contests. The first time all 4 Contests have been run in a weekend I thought it run really well and went very smoothly.

There was two Keynote speeches a gala Dinner Dance on the Saturday night.

I was asked by Andy Hammond the outgoing District 91 Director if I would do a Toast to TMI Toastmasters International. I was very happy and honoured to be asked.

You can see a video of the Toast I did at the bottom of this Blog.

There was two top tables at the Dinner and I sat at the 2and top table to be honest I was scared as I did not know any of the other guests at the Table and I found it difficult to hold a conversation once the Dinner started I felt less nervous and was able to talk to the other guests.

One of the things I was pleased with was that I did not use a mike and I was able to project my voice which is one of the things that helps you when you have a stammer.

How many Conferences have you been to and do you think they are value for the money?
This was my 6th Toastmasters Conference.

Yes they are quite expensive you pay for the Conference which includes the food, but you can pay for separate events 1, 2, or 3 days or as I did an early bird ticket which included everything. Then you pay for the Hotel if you are staying or you can stay elsewhere if you wish a B&B.

I do think they are value for money it all depends what you want to get out of it you learn so much as well.

Do you know anything about next year’s event?
Yes I do I know it’s going to be held in Canary Wharf in London so it will be easier to get to if you live around London.

It will be held over the May Bank holiday 2020 as soon as I know anything I will let the Members of the club know. 

Do you know anything about the International speech Contest 2020?
Yes I know it’s going to be held in Paris I have never been to an International speech contest so this would be a good chance to be able to go to one. 

Enna Khan – The Contest Experience

In Spring this year, Enna Khan, President of Kings Speakers entered the international club contest and successfully made it to Divisional contest level.

Here’s a 60 second interview to find out her thoughts on the contest experience:

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Why did you join the contest?
When I first entered a humorous contest in 2018, I was disqualified due to my speech being too short. I was mortified! One piece of constant feedback I have received from evaluations is that I conclude my speeches too soon and I run off stage. The contest was an opportunity to challenge myself on that feedback and ultimately not be disqualified!

What preparation did you do for the contest?
I had a burning desire to write about race and my upbringing. I wrote my speech just capturing my thoughts and then I refined it when I go into practice to make it flow. I then practice and practice as much as I can, like in my lunch breaks and walking in the park! I shared my speech with Graeme Bass who has been at contest level and I videoed myself and shared it with others for their opinions. I think it is useful to listen to feedback and use it to do what feels natural for you. I didn’t want my speech to be too theatrical, I wanted it to be an authentic.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about the contest?
I would say go for it because I promise you will come out stronger. The whole experience is fun and a growing process. I did have a “wobbly” before the Divisional contest where I questioned whether I was good enough but my Mentor, Paul Mitchell encouraged me that I was. The support was amazing, even people from other clubs gave me feedback! The great thing about participating in a contest is that it challenges you to be a better speaker and go out of your comfort zone which we always talk about at Kings Speakers.

What was contest day like?
In the morning, I rehearsed in my garden because it’s a large open space that I could walk and practice in. I got to the venue early, to rehearse again and get familiar with the space. I was very nervous but getting to know the space and the seating area helps. The contest began and I waited outside the room until my turn! I could hear rapturous applauses and the nerves built up again as I was waiting! When it was my turn, I did my best and I went for it. People are always supportive in the crowd and it helps to see friendly familiar faces like Brian Skelton, one of our members. I didn’t place in the contest but I was so proud that I did it and I feel much more confident in my communication.

Will you enter another contest?
I will definitely enter another contest and I recommend other people to experience it. Contests are a massive opportunity to meet people from other clubs and learn from them. It does take effort to join a contest but the more you give, the more you’ll receive in terms of speaking tips, confidence and experience. I believe it is a great opportunity to grow, and achieve better public speaking which is the reason we go to Toastmasters. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.  

Women or men? Who are better communicators?

Almost every list of great speeches in history is dominated by speeches by men. If it's business presentations, they talk about Steve Jobs; if it's motivational speeches, they reference Churchill; if it's human rights, all hail Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

What about all the great speeches by women?

Public speaking skills like most everything else are not more often found in any race, religion or gender. I've heard great speeches by a 13 year old boy, a 6 foot tall transgender woman, and a paralysed scientist. They just don't get as much publicity.

So, let's put this nonsense right!

Here is my personal list of the great speeches by women. I think #1 will surprise you.


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Posted by Tony Weiss, Kings Speakers

Graeme Bass: Humorous Speech Contest

It seemed like only yesterday that I was preparing for a speech contest, when in fact it had been nearly six months since the last one.  But then in August this year I received an email from Enna asking if I would compete in the Humorous speech contest.  This is a contest that for a number of reasons I had never competed in before.  This is the contest where by very definition you have to be humorous, which if any of you had seen the Facebook post by my sister, I am not renowned, at least in my family, for being particularly funny.  But as is often said at Kings Speakers, you can only grow when you are outside your comfort zone.  So I thought, “what the heck” what’s the worst that can happen and agreed to compete.

 

I began as I always do with a lot of thinking time about what themes I want to talk about and then see if I can come up with some personal examples.  I had always thought that the meeting of my wife for the first time was fairly humorous and so that was always going to be the ending.  I had previously done a speech about meeting my wife (it was my wedding speech!) and  I did not want to copy that, so I thought up some other failed attempts at falling in love which I could adapt at being fairly funny.  It did occur to me when preparing for this speech that when I was going through those experiences they did not seem funny at all, in fact they were kind of heart-breaking, but as the old adage goes “time is a great healer” and “you will laugh at this one day.” Thankfully, people did!

 

Once the speech was drafted, I practised the speech in front of an audience, and it went OK, but there was something missing.  I then spent a week or so re drafting the speech, taking out the parts that did not seem to work and then adding some new material.  I was then ready to compete in the Club contest.  I felt nervous on the day but once I was speaking I was happy and fairly confident that I had done a good job.  The competition was strong and the speakers at club level were really good.  Anyone of the other competitors who had got through would have had a real chance of winning at Area level.  I was lucky enough to win through to Area level which then meant that I had to do the speech once more.

 

I felt that there was still something missing in the speech, so I thought – what can I do to improve this speech.  I came up with something that I had never done before – I added a bit of singing to the speech.  I can’t sing, I have never sung in public before – what was I thinking?  All of these thoughts were going through my head when I started the speech and this lead me to giving what I considered to be quite a nervy performance – in fact I forgot some of the lines which did not help.  But again, whether it was the singing or whether the judges were engaged with the speech, I managed to win through to the Division B contest.

 

The Division B contest was held in a hotel in Euston, it was unfortunate that it rained heavily on the day of the contest, as the room that the contest took place in had a glass roof, which meant that it was difficult to hear some of the competitors.  I must say that on the day itself I was as calm and relaxed as I had ever been in a speech contest.  This may have been because I had competed at this level before, but I think it was mainly to do with all the support that I received on the day.  I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to receive so many messages from Kings Speakers before the speech and to see Anjum, Vicky and Brian in the audience was amazing.   Whilst I did not place at the contest, which was obviously disappointing, I can honestly say that I did the best that I could, once again there is no better feeling in the world making a room full of people (I think there were over a 100 people in audience) laugh.

 

It was a very good experience and one that I will try to replicate again next year – may be with less singing!!

 

Thank you all once again for your support.

 

Best Wishes

Graeme

7 Deadly Sins of Public Speaking to be avoided at all costs

7 Deadly Sins of Public Speaking to be avoided at all costs:

1. I WAS JUST TOO BUSY TO PREPARE

You’ve got a presentation to give. You make a mental note to set aside some time to properly prepare. Then work, kids, Netflix, and general life intervene and before you know it, it’s an hour before the presentation and your sweating buckets trying to figure out what to say. 

The single biggest mistake you can make as you strive to be a better communicator is to put insufficient effort into your preparation. As the saying goes: Fail to prepare and you should prepare to fail. So do yourself a favour and prepare, practise, and prepare some more.

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2. FACTS, FACTS, AND MORE FACTS

I used to struggle to convince people about this one until 2016 changed what all of us think about facts vs feelings. If there is any silver-lining on the whole Trump, Brexit, and other surprising election results it is that people now appreciate the primacy of emotions over reason when it comes to communication.

Within just a few hours of your speech, people will have forgotten most of what you said. This means that packing your presentation with facts and minute detail is pointless and counter-productive. 

Facts are important. But feelings trump facts. If you don’t move your audience emotionally in some way, they will not engage with your speech. If you do move them, as 2016 has shown, you can pretty much say anything and they’ll buy it. Sad (as President Trump would tweet) – but true!

3. Sorry, I’m not really used to public speaking

Stop starting your speeches with an apology!

We get it. You’re nervous. Every public speaker gets nervous. Deal with it. We don’t need to be told. More to the point if you didn’t tell us, we probably wouldn’t even notice, but now because you did, we do. So don’t!

4. Going on and on and on…and on and on and on

Martin Luther King’s – ‘I have a dream speech’. The seminal moment of the civil rights movement that changed the entire trajectory of American society: Length – 16 minutes

If these amazing speeches could change the world in just a few minutes, what on God’s green earth do you have to say that is so important that you need an hour to say it (or even half an hour, or even 20 minutes)?

K.I.S.S. – Keep it short and simple!

The impact of what you say is inversely proportional to the length of time it takes for you to say it. So the longer you go on, the less effective your words.

So K.I.S.S. (which I prefer to say really stands for) Keep it short, STUPID!

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5. Fast-talking 

And don’t think you can get around the ‘keep it short’ thing by just cramming in as many words as you can in a short space of time.

Speaking too quickly just means you give yourself less time to think, and your audience gets no chance to fully digest your words.

Silence is an underrated tool in the arsenal of any speechmaker. The Power of the Pregnant Pause is formidable. Speaking more slowly and more deliberately will infuse your words with a greater sense of authority and gravitas.

6. What’s the point?

If you give a speech without first having worked out what the purpose is, you are by definition giving a pointless speech.

The only thing worse than listening to a speech that has no point, is giving one.

Don’t waste people’s time or value by giving a speech that has no point.

Have a purpose. Make your speech valuable enough to make it worthwhile to listen to you.

If what you have to say is really not worth the effort of turning up to hear it, send them an email instead!

7. Do you even know who you’re talking to? 

If you don’t know who you are speaking with, how will you know what to say?

Novice speechmakers will prepare their words in isolation without any real regard to the audience in front of them. Then when the moment comes, words fail to connect, jokes fall flat, and the whole speech is a washout.

Audience analysis is a big deal with many sides to it. I could give you a long list of things you should know about your audience, but when it comes down to it, there are really only two things you need to know:

1) Who is in your audience?

2) What do they currently think, feel, or believe, about the topic of your speech?

If you know those two things, you’ll be clear about how to and how not to speak to that audience.

 

There it is. Seven Deadly Sins to avoid.

Commit them and you will be condemned to public speaking hell – audience indifference (believe me, it hurts when you give a speech and people’s response is just ‘meh’!).

Avoid them and it’s public speaking heaven – cue the applause!


Original article from Kolarele Sonaike, Public Speaking Consultant, The Great Speech Consultancy


A couple of other articles that may be of interest: 

  1. Famous people that struggled with public speaking

  2. How to prepare for a speech 

  3. If your answer to this question is ‘Yes!’ then you can be a brilliant public speaker

First photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Second photo by Liam Martens on Unsplash

In this first video, you’re going to find out:

Why great communication is the single most important skill that you must develop.

The One Big Reason that causes almost all bad speeches 

The One Key Secret that will change the way you think about public speaking (once you know it).

We’re going to identify the 7 key elements you need to master to improve your public speaking ability.

How do you master your public speaking? This video walks you step by step through the big things to do to master your presentation skills

Parachuting in to the unknown

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Parachuting in to the unknown

Any King’s Speaker will be able to testify that one of the most difficult doors they have ever walked through is the door to their first King’s Speaker’s meeting. This really is no great mystery, and if you think you are alone in this, you couldn’t be more wrong. It makes perfect sense of course - walking into the scarily unknown is, by its very nature, something we are all inclined to shy away from.

However, let’s not forget how incredibly normal and logical this is. As stammerers or people with social anxiety, we are pre-conditioned to have an inbuilt aversion to “scary” speaking or social situations – I know, because my aversion is probably bigger than yours.

It is far too easy to let this fear hold us back, and to prevent us from doing things. If, as I have all too often done, let fear rule us or hold us back from doing things, we let ourselves be controlled by it. However, by confronting this fear we very quickly and very effectively turn the tables on it, we starve the fear of the oxygen it needs to make life difficult for us and we take away its power – and, magically, all of a sudden we are back in control.

“Feel the fear and do it anyway” is probably one of the most over-used clichés you will ever hear, but like most clichés, it is invariably true. What is the worst that can happen? We stammer, feel awkward, feel embarrassed – well that is fine, we have all felt those things before, so nothing new there. However, if we feel these things on our own terms, in a room full of friendly kindred spirits who know all too well what we are feeling, at a time of our choosing  and on our own terms, we immediately give ourselves the upper hand. In this situation the fear has to work even harder to compromise us, we make the fear afraid of us, not the other way around.

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway isn’t about jumping headfirst into the scarily unknown and not knowing whether we will live or die. It is about saying to ourselves “it makes sense that I will find this hard, but I can do this, people far less brave than me have done it and survived, therefore so will I”.

My first speech at King’s Speakers was something I put off time and time again. My excuses were becoming ever more imaginative,  but at the same time my fear grew ever bigger. So I finally took that leap into the unknown. 

Afterwards, when I realised nothing terrible had happened and that I had somehow survived, the parallels between this speech and a parachute jump struck me. Both are scary and intimidating leaps from a great height into the unknown. More importantly, anybody who has ever done a parachute jump will tell you that the first 2 seconds are terrifying, then the reminder of the jump is a glorious, life enriching gentle but exhilarating glide that makes you want to do it again the second you land – just like your first King’s Speech will feel (don’t take my word for it, ask any King’s Speaker and they will agree).

Fear is nothing new, it’s an emotion our cavemen ancestor’s evolved to keep them safe from Sabre Toothed Tigers and hungry dinosaurs. It is also an emotion we can use to our advantage. The adrenalin that pumps around us when we feel fear is a powerful secret weapon – it is fuel, a turbo boost, a perfectly legal and socially acceptable performance enhancing drug – so why not use it to your advantage? Those four letters – F,E,A and R stand for False Expectations Appearing Real. Fear allows our minds to tell us scary and highly imaginative (but very wrong) stories about what is going to happen. Ignore this fake news.

So, the next time you feel fear – whether it be the first time you walk through the door of a King’s Speaker’s meeting, you give a speech, take on a role or indeed anything at all in Kings Speaker’s (or indeed in life in general), remember to “feel the fear and do it anyway” – it won’t be anywhere near as bad as your furtive imagination lead you to believe. Best of all, it allows you to take the control back. Better still, the next time will be even easier because you have already proven to yourself that you can do it, and that nothing bad happened.

So, go on, give it a go – you will genuinely surprise yourself – trust me, if I can do it, anybody can.

 

Andrew Hill, Kings Speakers member

Pathways is here!

Why Pathways?

Toastmasters’ Board of Directors called on the Toastmasters organization to modernize the communication track and renew the focus on leadership learning.  Additionally, there is a growing need to provide greater access to educational materials, expanded learning resources and an educational experience in which you learn skills you can transfer out into the world. 

What will I get?

With Pathways you can work on dynamic new projects:

  • Podcasting
  • Ethical Leadership
  • Blogging
  • Conducting online meeting and more!

Moreover, some of the new competencies are: understanding short- and long-term goals, speaking about personal strengths and weaknesses, answering questions effectively, leading with resourcefulness and flexibility, and demonstrating the value of volunteering.

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Sounds good! Now what?

The suggestion is that if you've only done your 1st, 2nd or 3rd speech from the Competent Communicator manual, that you leave it behind and start afresh with Pathways. If you've done speeches 4 and/or 5 it's really up to you how to proceed and if you've already done 6 or more speeches from the manual, you should continue with it in order to complete all 10 speeches and get your CC award.

However please consult your mentor, Tony Weiss or Paul Mitchell if in any doubt whatsoever. That's what we're here for.

If you are starting the new Pathways system, it's important that you spend a bit of time checking which of the 10 Pathways paths are right for you.

It could be that Presentation Mastery is the one for you as this has similar objectives to the Competent Communicator manual or maybe one of the other paths is more aligned to your goals. It's strongly suggested that you go to the main Toastmasters International website and after logging in, look for Pathways along the top row and then choose Take the Assessment. It's fun to do and you can do it as many times as you like. You don't have to choose the recommended path, you're free to choose whichever path you think is right for you and there's lots of further information on the Toastmasters International website.

Don't worry if you change your mind about your chosen path after having started it. You have 30 days to change your mind without any penalty. If you change your mind after more than 30 days or simply want to start a second path, Toastmasters International will charge $20 for each additional path.

 

Alternatively, to get a quick taste of Pathways, check the sample Icebreaker project here.

Managing Kings Speakers

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Kings Speakers is not only about making speeches it is also about managing a business.

I wonder whether Ralph Smedley (The Toastmasters founder) ever imagined what a success Toastmasters would be? There are now thousands of clubs around the world. Aside from being a platform to make speeches from it also houses an ever-changing organisation comprising a structure of several layers - District, Division, Area and then Club. All have management opportunities. 

At club level, we have Kings Speakers which is managed by our committee. Being a part of the committee provides a springboard to practice your managerial skills. You see familiar situations and scenarios unfolding in front of your eyes. You learn new strategies and how to deal with some difficult situations.

The committee has a president, an existing member department, a new member department, a marketing department, a Secretary, a logistics department and a Treasurer. It mimics a commercial organisation in every way. Unfortunately, the pay is lousy (there isn’t any) but your financial rewards come when you take your new skills into the outside world. 

The committee extends to every one of our members. When you speak to a guest, you are an ambassador for Kings. Guests walk through the door uncertain of what is going to happen to them. What you say will sway their decision as to whether they should become a member. Helping members is what we are all about. The more we have, the greater our success. Remember we can all have a hand in shaping the future of our club. 

In terms of management, there is more. When you have finished your time on the committee you can expand even further by becoming an Area, Division and then District officer. All bring new challenges and experiences.

I have learnt so much. It is a privilege and an honour to be President of such a great club.

 

Paul Mitchell, President

Me and my friend, Mr Stammer

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My name is Ayo Adesanya, and I have a friend called Mr Stammer. I have been a member of King Speakers since September 2017, and this is my story. 

The long drive on this hazardous and pothole laid road to self-acceptance has been a difficult one to navigate. It is not an easy route for anyone to take, especially someone facing such an affiliation with their arch-nemesis, who presents themselves in the form of a stammer - Mr Stammer.  For years, I was unable to come to terms with him, for most my life. We did not agree on anything, and to my detriment, he would out think me, out will me and win the argument every time.  He dictated to me what I could and could not do; he perched himself firmly in the driving seat and took the helm! Taking me wherever he wanted on our many and long, painful drives.  I was merely a quiet and servant-like passenger in our car, and there was nothing, myself or anyone outside of our relationship could do about it.
 
On our travels, we would stop at the most ghastly of destinations, such as self-doubt-ville, Anxiety Park, Confusion-bury and Avoidance-shire. My least favourite place and the one that I begged Mr Stammer not to stop at was Depression City. We would often stay at this city for weeks on end. There was no escaping it. I would hope and wish that he would forget to pick me up just for one day, giving me a day of rest - a day of relief, a day where I could be somebody else - but it never came. Consequently, those hopeful and wishful thoughts would quickly turn into guilt, self-hate and a sense of detachment from reality. Mr Stammer knocked on my door every morning reminding to keep quiet and get in the car. Should he fail to turn up in the morning, he would certainly pick me up by the afternoon or by evening - usually, just before I had to do something publicly. He was heartless and unsympathetic in his timing. If you asked me to describe how passionately I hated Mr Stammer, I'd have told you that the English language could not do an effective job.  

One evening when Mr Stammer was knocking on my door, prompting me to get ready for another ride. I decided to answer back, something I had never done before. I refused to get in that godforsaken vehicle if he was driving. I told him exactly this. "I have had enough of your leadership, and from now on, I will be the one driving and the one making the decisions". I firmly repeated over and over again, "I will no longer be coming along for the ride; I will no longer let you dictate to me where we chose to stop off; I am taking action and taking the wheel for my life’s sake".  Lastly, I told myself there and then that I am responsible for my journey, for my feelings, and for my results.  I am the one driving to where I want to go from now on, and if he didn’t like it, I made it clear there was nothing he could do about it. And funnily enough, Mr Stammer didn’t say a word, for a brief spell. He calmly took the back seat and let me drive, “So I had this power all along, I could have done this years ago” I said this to myself, it was an unbelievable moment, one I would never forget. 

But Mr Stammer is a resilient and stubborn fellow and every now again he would reach for the wheel and try to take me off-course. Although it was a struggle at times, However, I do not allow him to take the wheel for too long. I always maintained control a level of control; I no longer let Mr Stammer control my life any longer. My mindset has changed.  

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This experience has given me the energy, the self-esteem and the faith to make Mr Stammer a permanent resident in the back seat of our car. He and I now speak. We talk about a lot of things, topics are ever-changing often depending on the season and what is going on in my life at the present time. However, the most reoccurring topic is our feelings towards each other, and in light of this, we have developed a sort relationship. Over-time we have learnt to co-exist and do not fight with each other as often as we used to and I can honestly say Mr Stammer has since helped me strengthening my character, increased my persistence in achieving goals, given me a newly found energy reservoir for life among many other things. But, one thing which Mr Stammer had said, which I will never forget and will always stick with me is, “As soon as you stop hiding me,  I’ll stop hurting you”. Thus began my journey on the road to self-actualisation and my journey to freedom.  

 

Watch Ayo's first video at Toastmasters.

Ayo Adesanya
http://www.thertsa.com/

Finding my voice through Toastmasters

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One of my biggest regrets in life was opting out of every class presentation during university; I didn’t have the guts to speak in front of people because I was too insecure about my stutter. So I would email the professor explaining that I had a speech impediment and requested to do the presentation in private. I was disgusted at myself because I gave in to my insecurities and let fear take over, from that point I knew I had to do something about it and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t confront my demons.

I found out about Kings speakers while browsing reddit, a thread caught my attention under the /r/stutter subreddit mentioning a public speaking club for people who had a stutter or social anxiety, and it is based in London. I knew it was something I needed to do so I decided to bookmark the page, then promptly closing it because the thoughts of public speaking were about to give me an anxiety attack.

I joined Kings Speakers at the start of 2017 where I received a warm welcome by the members and making me feel at home. I remember my first time on stage, and it was for a table topic where I lasted just under a minute, I don’t recall what I said, but I was just happy I got it over and done with. 

Every second and last Thursday I woke up dreading the fact that I had to attend Toastmasters, I was questioning myself saying why do I put myself through this. My day would be spent full of nerves and anxiety preparing for the role I accepted and hoping that I’d be fluent enough so the audience could understand me. At some point I found enjoyment in the discomfort, I learned to embrace the challenge of going up on stage and feeling glad I had the opportunity to contribute to the meetings. 

The one thing that stood out to me about Kings Speakers was how inspirational the speeches are; members would add that personal touch to their speeches, sharing stories about their struggles and what they’ve done to overcome them. For me, this really put things into perspective, realising that going up on stage was such a big deal for people and how brave they were for taking up the challenge.

My Toastmasters experience allowed me to accept my stutter and gain the confidence to freely express myself, something I wasn’t able to do for most of my life. Being a covert stutterer, I would always avoid social situations, and that’s where my favourite part of the meeting comes in, the drinks at the local pub after every meeting. I got to meet new friends from Toastmasters, getting to know people from different types of backgrounds and different walks in life and being able to work on my social skills, something that I’ve been lacking my entire life. 

Kings Speakers gave me a voice and allowed me to express myself in an environment where I am free from judgement, everybody is supportive and wants you to succeed. The skills I gained transferred to my personal life where I built up the confidence to speak up during work and socialise with peers from university instead letting my stutter control my life. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, and I have grown so much from the experience in such a short period of time. 

 

Tony Hoang

Make it memorable!

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The annual Toastmasters humorous speech contest. A contest where speakers compete for the most laughs through smart wit or just pure shock. And a contest where I would reach the divisional round and compete against the best speakers in west London. Yeah… I was as shocked as most of you are. Here is my journey.

I had my eye on the humorous contest for the past year. One of my first meetings at Kings Speakers had been the previous years' contest. I saw the confidence of the speakers. I heard the laughs they received. I wanted to be up there. When the date for the club contest was announced, I knew I had to give it a go.

The key to the contest (and ironically any other speaking contest) is the speech (who would have thought it!). And I just happened to have an ace up my sleeve. My second speech for the club back in February had been about my experience working as a cowboy in the Australian outback. It had got a few laughs, so I set to work rewriting it. If I was to give one tip on humorous speech writing, it would to be original. Make it memorable. Make it so horrifically embarrassing to you that the audience can’t even look you in the eye after. 

For those who have not heard it, my speech can best be summarised as the experiences of a ginger cowboy where everything is trying to kill him in the Outback combined with a heavy dose of Brokeback Mountain. (Yeah, you all missed out). And I would unleash it upon many unsuspecting people. 

Contest day arrived. I was up against the best that Kings Speakers had to offer. The room was packed, and the atmosphere was brilliant with laughs all round for five fantastic speeches. And to my amazement, it was announced that I had won. I even managed to muster a slight smile much to the annoyance of my facial muscles. But the sense of elation was quickly replaced by a grave realisation. I would have to do it all again at the next round...

This was a very unusual feeling for me. For most of my life, I have tried to avoid speaking in public. And now here I was, voluntarily going to speak to yet more people. 

And two weeks later, I was up on stage once more. The standard was raised to a whole new level. (And everyone was bloody using props!) The speakers brought an element of acting to their speeches which I hadn’t seen before. But to my amazement, I came second. And guess what? Yep. You’ve got it. I was told I would have to do it all over again in the divisional contest.

 

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The divisional contest pitches the best humorous speakers in West London against one another to battle it out to reach the grand final. And I would be one of them. I knew I would be up against some brilliant competition from people who live for public speaking. I made a decision. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself. I didn’t want to be disappointed if I didn’t win. I just wanted to enjoy myself and celebrate how far I had come in the past year with my speech. And I wanted to show my friends and family what I can do. 

My parents haven’t seen me speak in public since I was about five years old giving a far from Oscar-worthy performance as a shepherd in the school nativity play. It was time to put that right. Besides, I had to show them that I don’t actually make toast twice a month…

With a 9.30am start, I was up at 6 am for the divisional. I did seriously reconsider my life choices in those waking moments. Especially as I was slightly hungover. But I had my club to represent so off I went. To a packed crowd, the contest kicked off. The first three speeches were fantastic. Smart and sophisticated (everything my speech is not). And the fourth speaker was called. It was my turn. I strolled up to the stage, the corks on my cowboy hat smacking me in the face. I turned to face the audience. I began. “It is 48°C…” It was the best speech I have ever given. 

I loved every moment. From start to finish, from every laughter to groan. I have never felt so in control speaking. But nothing was better than seeing my family and friends in hysterics. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. 

The rest of the contest continued with more brilliant speeches including the eventual winner. I didn’t place in the top three but I didn’t care. When I first joined Kings Speakers I just wanted some practice speaking in front of people. And in just a year, I had held my own against some of the best speakers around. And more scarily? I enjoyed it. 

Representing Kings Speakers at the divisional round was an honour. 

 

Michael Rock

Secretary of Kings Speakers

Public Speaking in the land of Fire and Ice

Every year, Malbjorg, the Icelandic Stuttering Association, celebrates ISAD, the International Stuttering Awareness Day, by inviting their members to an event in October each year.

Last summer, the board of the association started to organize the event, and it was decided to have it in the form of an interactive workshop. After evaluating some options, we decided to contact my dear friend Harminder Dhilllon. I met Harminder for the first time on a Nordic stuttering conference in Finland in 2006.  Nordic stuttering conferences are held every year in one of the Nordic countries.  I have attended most of those conferences held this century, and since the one Harminder attended in 2006, he has attended those quite regularly too.  Amongst those he has attended are the two conferences held in Iceland in 2009 and 2014.   He has visited Iceland quite often and has held workshops and lectures a few times at various events of Malbjorg.  In fact, he was one of the main speakers on the Nordic conference in 2014. He was very happy to visit Iceland once again and was more than ready to deliver a 3-hour workshop about public speaking.

It was on a beautiful Saturday, the 7th of October when Harminder and I drove to downtown Reykjavik in good advance before the workshop started. It was a warm autumn day of  8°C (hey, it´s Iceland, and yes, it is considered warm for this time of the year!) 

Iceland has a small population, of around 330.000 people, so the attendance to our events are usually not huge, and we were expecting 10-12 people to attend this time. The workshop started fashionably late, at around 15:15. The theme was Public Speaking. Around 12 people were in the room at the beginning, but a few more joined in later during the day, so we were 15 when the workshop ended. It was enjoyable to see such a big crowd for the event, and I can guarantee that it exceeded everyone´s expectations.

The workshop was very challenging for most people, but also very interesting and entertaining, as is expected from Harminder. He started by giving us some advice about public speaking, and then divided us into small groups, where we had to deliver a speech to each other.  This was repeated a few times. Harminder gave more and more excellent advice, and we had to deliver further speeches and make sure we implemented the advice, tips and methods he had been teaching us.

It was really inspiring to see how everyone´s performance in the group improved significantly from the first speech to the last one. In the beginning, most people were quite insecure, looking up and down, with no idea what to do with their hands, etc. Confidence grew speech by speech, and when doing the final speeches, everyone was much more comfortable, making great eye contact with the crowd, with fantastic use of their hands, excellent body language and this made the speeches much more interesting to listen to.  We even discovered a few hidden stars in the group who flourished when they discovered that adding drama to a certain type of speeches simply made them much better.

Harminder dhillion, founder of kings speakers, in iceland

Harminder dhillion, founder of kings speakers, in iceland

People were thrilled by the workshop, and each and every one left feeling better about themselves and more comfortable at making speeches than ever before. After the workshop, the whole group went to a beautiful Italian restaurant for a nice dinner before heading to a pub for few drinks and a great chat about life, the universe, and everything. The day was a great success for the Icelandic Stuttering Association as well as for Harminder Dhillon.

I´m also incredibly happy to inform that, as a result of this workshop, two board members of the association have started working on creating our own Toastmasters club in Iceland.  There used to be an active club in the country some years ago, but that one, like many of our volcanoes, has been dormant for years now. Three of us have visited Kings Speakers in London, and we would love to create something similar in Reykjavik.

I also want to use this opportunity to tell you about the 13th World Congress for people who stutter which will be held in Iceland in 2019 from June 23rd to June 27th in the incredibly beautiful town of Hveragerdi (30 min drive from Reykjavik).  Reykjavik is only 2:30 hours flight from London, and there are over 10 flights per day between the cities and cheap flights are easy to find, especially when booked in advance.  I encourage you to attend this World Congress and enjoy a few days with hundreds of fellow stutterers, laughing and crying and making new friends.  I will give Kings Speakers a visit in the Autumn of 2018 and give you a presentation of the World Congress when the program, price and other details have been confirmed.

 

Arni Birgisson

Treasurer of the Icelandic Stuttering Association

Combining the sublime with the subtle, Manoj Vasudevan wins the 2017 Toastmasters International Speech Contest

Many congratulations to Manoj on his wonderful achievement in winning the 2017 International Speech Contest. I’ve listened to it in search of tips (one day that club “Best Speaker of the Evening” award will be mine!). You can listen to it here. What I noticed included:

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Open with intrigue

(1)  The title intrigued me, so I listened attentively. By the end of the speech, I understood why it was his—and ultimately, the audience’s—mantra.

Keep the language and message simple. But relevant

(2)  Manoj’s rhetoric and delivery were relentlessly simple and clear. English won’t have been everyone’s first language, so it’s good to remember that the larger the audience, the simpler the message should be. 

(3)  He wrapped his premise eloquently around a cupid bow and arrow metaphor. People understood immediately. Equally important, the premise resonated with everyone in the room.

(4)  His choice of theme was well received for another reason. We all identify with relationship advice and at the individual level we experience a visceral response to his speech. Manoj also pointed out that 142 nations were represented there, and everyone was getting along just fine. Of course, that’s the sort of world most of us want to live in. So his premise appealed at the collective level too—eliciting a positive intellectual response. Outcome: a bottom-up and top-down message for our troubled world.

Stay at the same level as your audience

(5)  By describing his journey of discovery, he didn’t position himself above anyone—he simply shared what he’d learned. And he was careful never to poke fun at anyone but himself (see (6) below).

It’s best to preach to the converted (while pretending the thesis is all yours)

(6)  The speech won over judges and audience alike because we intuited it as truth, while perhaps feeling guilty we don’t always follow this path. So he (cliché alert) preached to the converted. Or to the want-to-be converted.

If they like you, they’ll believe you

(7)  Who was ever conned by someone they disliked? I’m not for a moment suggesting Manoj was conning anyone. However, by smattering the speech with self-deprecating humour (we only waited six seconds for the first joke), warm smiles, and open gestures, he makes us like, and believe him.

If they believe you, they’ll trust you

(8)  If you’re going to sell an idea in your speech, you need to be sincere or the audience won’t but it. If you present some lofty ideal of which you have limited experience, they’ll likely remain unconvinced. If it’s about personal experience—in this case Manoj’s marriage—then you’re far more likely to be believed. And when we believe someone, we trust them.

Pace and repetition

(9)  Notice too how slowly the speech was delivered, and its relative paucity of words. Also, he had the confidence to use repetition and pauses to let points sink in.

 You’ve hooked the room. Now reel ‘em in.

(10)  In his finale, he involved the audience by encouraging—almost forcing(!)—people to repeat his mantra, which demonstrated they’d got the message. Why deliver your punchline when you can get your audience to? I’m sure this clever tactic gained him an extra point or two with the judges.

 

So Manoj’s sublime performance employed an array of tactics, many of which weren’t obvious to the listener, but each gained him a subtle advantage over the competition. Well done, Manoj—a worthy victory! 

 

Author: Ben Starling
 
 

  

Broca Brothers Bootcamp

What’s up Kingly Speakers,

It’s Sjoerd and Hille from Broca Brothers writing to you from The Netherlands. Last weekend we had the pleasure of travelling to London for coaching people who stammer. Next to the personal coaching we did, we also set up a workshop in collaboration with Kings Speakers. For that we want to give an extra thank you to Suzana, probably very familiar to you all.

Our story is that we have stammered ourselves since we were young children while speech therapy throughout the years never gave the desired results. We kept stammering up until the point that, around 4 years ago, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We set out to figure out stuttering and how to become more fluent speakers. To make a long story short, what was first meant to overcome our own stammer turned into something a lot bigger and the result of that is us flying to European cities to coach others. Last weekend that city was London. 

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Our view on stuttering.

We always start our workshops with the same question: “How fluent are you when you’re talking while you’re all by yourself?” The answers range from “very” to “100%”. We state that you already are a fluent speaker but that some situations trigger your stutter. We call it situational stuttering. Figuring out the why of situational stuttering will lead to overcoming stammering and let the natural fluency come out that was already there in the first place.

To put it simply: the thing that gets in the way of us speaking fluently is what we call the internal brake. The internal brake means wanting to speak on the one hand, but being afraid to stutter on the other. Those two forces pull in opposite directions and everything stops working! We get stuck, there’s an internal block which eventually comes up as an external block, as a stammer. The internal brake is present in some situations but absent in others, hence the situational stuttering.

When we let go of the internal brake, so letting go of the fear of stammering, we can fully express ourselves without hesitating. Without the hesitation there’s a feeling of freedom through which one starts to speak with more certainty. As a result of this there’s fluency!

The Bootcamp.

During the Bootcamp we took the attendees through exercises that made them break through the internal brake. You wouldn’t say, but one of the most difficult exercises is making up your own language, talking nonsense. Rationally we can all convince ourselves that we can easily do it, but actually doing it while others are listening creates an immediate internal brake within most people. You start thinking that it sounds silly, that you should make up something that makes sense, wondering what others think of you. 

Exercises like that create a direct parallel to what happens when a person stammers. Most people who stammer don’t want others to hear that they do and so avoid letters, words and speaking situations as a whole as much as possible. It’s the worrying that creates the internal block which in turn leads to tension. That tension then disrupts the fluent flow of speech. When we help someone break through that he or she will experience a sense of freedom. A feeling of being able to say and do anything you want. The hesitation is gone, the over thinking is gone and one can finally be him or herself, fully expressive and fluent.

Thank you.

We want to thank everybody who came out to join us and a special thanks to King’s Speakers for helping us to set up this event. Our first time in London was a huge success and we’re sure we’ll be back again soon.

We filmed the whole Bootcamp so we’ll be posting really great content in the next few weeks. We’d say check our website and join the e-mail list and we’ll let you know when we’re back!

Hille & Sjoerd

 

https://brocabrothers.com

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCe3SzIIzrWKn4diHlu7Pyzw

 

The Annual Humorous Speech Contest - A Record Breaking Turnout!

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TFL on Overcrowding Alert

The feverishly anticipated annual Humorous Speech and Table Topic Contests came around last Thursday night. Transport for London issued a Code Red warning that Central Line trains to Lancaster Gate would be seriously overcrowded between 18:30 and 19:00 hours and at one point the club committee held an emergency session to consider relocating to Wembley Stadium. Soon our venue was filled to bursting with enthused members, expectant guests and effulgent contestants. Judges and contestants were briefed and moments later, we were underway.   

Armed and Dangerous

Paul Mitchell, the club President, delivered a series of rib-ticklers from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (eg: “I'm not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change") and then the competition co-Chairs, armed with binders of paperwork, spreadsheets and panic, just about kept the evening on track. Many thanks to the highly experienced Chief Judge, Area Director, Rory Graves, who was aided by armed and dangerous Paul Mitchell, Sergeant at Arms (day job: accountant).  

The Competition

We began with the Humorous Speech Contest in which our brave competitors regaled us with speeches that involved motor-cycle rider Dave Death (Andrew), the ramifications of being rammed by a ram (in a particularly sensitive spot—Michael R), all that’s wrong with squabs (young pigeons, apparently—Mike B), how to survive a hangover (Enna) and why tugging your interviewer’s beard is unlikely to land you that dream job (Vibesan). Many congratulations to Michael Rock whose well-structured and highly amusing “The Worst Day of my Life” pipped the other competitors and secured him a place in the Area Final (same location, 27th September).

Robin successfully retrieved the secret Table Topic question, “If I could grant you one wish, what would you wish for?” from a bunker 4,000 feet below a North Korean mountain. It was cleverly and entertainingly answered by Andrew, Tony, Laura, Jeff and Vibesan. Jeff Alaoui triumphed and his ability to talk so elegantly and eloquently on his feet will be tested again on the 27th.

It was a fun-filled and memorable evening with friendships made and new members signed. Many thanks to everyone who undertook a role—Robin, Isabel, Victoria, Harminder, Jeff and Paul and judges Suzana, Brian, Rory, Rhys (Clerkenwell Speakers), Melanie (Holborn Speakers), Joann (104 Debate London). And a big congratulations to all the contestants. It was an evening in which everyone was a winner.

Ben Starling

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Leadership Excellence: The Power of Positive Reinforcement

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How to get the most from the people you lead? The field of sports coaching offers a powerful tool. Coaching with positive reinforcement involves focusing upon someone’s strengths—what they got right in a particular situation—and then building on that success by describing the next challenge in positive language too. Positive coaching delivers results.

“You got more torque with that left hook by rotating the hip a little more. Did you feel that? If you rotate through the torso down to the ball of the lead foot, you’ll maximise impact next time. I know you can do it.”

Compare this with early coaching styles which drew heavily on military traditions to drive performance: “Don’t give up or you’ll let the side down!” Far from driving the athlete to greater efforts, the words that embed are don’t, give up and let down.

Which coach would you rather work with? Me too. 

Though I’ve been on the receiving end of both styles, I know which one got me to deliver my best results. 

Specific, Measurable, Timely

Positive reinforcement feedback needs to be clear and succinct as well, so that your athlete/employee/speaker-in-training knows exactly why and how that last move was so great. Make feedback not just enthusiastic, but also: specific, measurable and timely. 

“Nice presentation” delivered during an annual performance review is encouraging. “The way you paused for 5 seconds before you delivered the April numbers had everyone on the edge of their seats” delivered after the last PowerPoint slide fades, is far more effective. It lets the person you are coaching know exactly what to build on and how. 

Key Messages in a Sandwich

Jim Thompson in his book Positive Coaching suggests a 75:25 ratio of positive reinforcement to redirection and this ratio is often cited in leadership training. When evaluating speeches at Toastmasters, we sandwich our recommendations—a more positive word than criticisms—between commendations. It is a handy format and achieves close to the same ratio. 

A nervous newbie, who joined our club recently, couldn’t break a lifetime’s experience of public speaking failure and in nine months he faced the prospect of delivering a “father of the bride” speech before family and friends. Every time he ran through his speech, I told him enthusiastically how he had improved. My advice, however, was also sandwiched: “I really liked that you used the whole stage, standing left, right and centre to add emphasis to your story. If you stand in front of the lectern for the punchline of the last anecdote, it would be even more poignant. You maintained eye contact with the audience from each point on the stage which drew us in to your story too.”

Let Them Make Their Own Sandwich Too

Adult-learners learn by doing. Encouraging the person you are coaching to self-identify strengths in addition to external feedback, increases retention. And if they remember what went well, the chances of repeating it increases greatly. So I’d also finish each conversation with the father-of-the-bride by asking him what he thought went well with his speech and how that made him feel. Sure enough on the appointed wedding day, the dreaded speech was such a triumph that he returned to the club, took to the stage and told us about it. Faultlessly!

Key Messages Often

Marshall Goldsmith, in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There emphasises that to change behaviour, you should only focus on one or two areas at the same time. Last weekend I was coaching a woman on how to throw a double jab at my boxing gym. It’s a useful move and it’s easy to discourage someone by overwhelming them with what they’re doing wrong. 

I focused first on what she got right (the structure), then suggested a single new twist to add to up her game (slipping her head to the right to evade an oncoming punch). She continued to improve over the next few minutes, and then I offered a new “sandwich” that focused on the same point (“Leaning to the right is spot-on. Tucking your chin down will add further protection. Keep stepping forward on the second jab to add power—that’s good!”). A few minutes later, she was punching with renewed precision too.   

Mindfulness

Positive reinforcement is about more than words. John Russo, a Head Coach at Hofstra University, encourages coaches to create a “positive environment”. A good leader should be mindful—aware in the moment—of the people and the environment around them.

Assess the situation, empathise with the person in front of you and be ready to change tack in an instant. Aim to instil a sense of safety, respect, a feeling of being valued. It’s important to know where someone is in their skills development journey; it helps to notice facial expressions, tone of voice, body language. Try to appreciate what pressures the person may be under; learn about their larger personal strengths and challenges. “Know your audience” applies just as much in coaching and leading as it does in sales and marketing.

New Coaching and Leadership Skills Take Time

Of course, it’s easier to list failings and leave the recipient to it. Nobody said leadership was easy—or intuitive. But it’s a skill like any other that gets easier over time. Identifying strengths, and wording challenges in positive language makes a difference.  Take the time to find something positive to highlight. Encourage your athlete/employee/novice speaker to address a weakness—no, make that “address the next challenge”! It may take longer than simply identifying a mistake, but positive reinforcement achieves the desired outcomes faster.

A Brain is a Powerful Thing

Whether we are in a leadership position at work, coaching an athlete, or mentoring a novice speechmaker, the good news is positive reinforcement is highly effective for all. And it’s even backed by science. 

Neuroscientists have identified a section of the brain called the limbic system and in particular, the amygdala that control our emotional responses. Feed in negativity and they will focus on that. Positive reinforcement however causes the amygdala to light up, which then motivates us to achieve the desired outcome. If you believe you can achieve something, you are already on the road to success. 

Summary

  • Highlight strengths to build on
  • Make your feedback specific, measurable, timely
  • Put key messages in a sandwich
  • Let them make their own sandwich too
  • Deliver a few key messages often
  • Be mindful of your audience’s needs and environment
  • Take the time to make positive reinforcement sandwiches a habit

Positive reinforcement can be applied not only at work, sport and in speech training, but in any situation in which skill or performance matter. Give it a try and watch the results appear!

Ben Starling

 

A Spark Of Inspiration

In May 2005, I went on a 3-day speech therapy course, where I met Barry Rix. He has become a good friend and has helped me a lot over the years. It was Barry who told me about Toastmasters and how it had helped him with his confidence and stammer. I thought: me join a public speaking club? Don’t be silly! But in January 2007, I went to Chelmsford Speakers Club for the first time. I joined that same night and did my Ice Breaker four weeks later.

I’ve often thought about how I gave my Ice Breaker so soon after joining. I think that if I hadn’t thrown myself in at the deep end, I’d have started making excuses, delayed the big day…and who knows how that would have turned out? 

One of my best decisions was to leave Chelmsford and join Kings Speakers, which gave me the opportunity to visit and join other London TM clubs.

I have always been pushing myself to look for different speaking opportunities. Now I’m proud to say I’ve spoken at different TM clubs, TM conferences, work, and at a Rotary club. I feel that I’ve made good progress but at the back of my mind, I’m always wondering if there are more speaking opportunities out there.

About two years ago I was at a TM event where I spoke to a lady from Spark. She explained it was a story-telling club. I joined the mailing list and received monthly emails about forthcoming events in London.

I wanted to go but I kept making excuses! At Spark you tell true stories and each meeting has a theme that your story must fit. So my excuse was always that I didn’t have a story that was based on the chosen theme.

In May, I received an email about a Spark event in Hackney. The theme was promises. This could be a promise you made to yourself or to somebody else. I thought no more excuses—I need to do this. Then I wondered what I could talk about.

That night I went to the venue alone. I introduced myself to the lady sitting at the entrance desk. I was very nervous and stammered on saying my name. Then I stopped, took a deep breath, made eye contact with her and said, “Brian Skelton”. I explained that I had a stammer to which she replied, “That’s not a problem, dear”. Then I said that I wanted to tell a story.

These venues are completely different from TM. It’s more like a club with tables and chairs where you can buy drinks. I counted twenty-five people as I sat at a table with only a soft drink for company, waiting to be called on stage.

The compare explained how the evening would go. He told the first story, then two other people went up and told theirs. Then it was my turn. You are allotted five minutes and I explained to the audience how I’d made a promise to myself to do something about my stammer. It took me a little while to get going and I noticed that I was speaking too fast. When I started to slow down, it made a big difference. In fact my story went well! 

Another difference to TM is that you speak into a mike. I found this really odd, after being told that I have good voice projection. 

There was a break after my speech, and I rewarded myself with a pint of cider, which went down really well! A lot of people came over and congratulated me. Then six more people told their stories. It was a great evening and I was really pleased I did it.

The people at Spark are all volunteers. They are fantastic and will help you with any problems or questions. It’s a really friendly event and you can feel that everybody is on your side, willing you to do well.

I know that Ben has been to Spark as well, so talk to me or him about it, if you’re interested in going. While it is different from TM, I know how important it is that we step outside our comfort zones. My advice? GO FOR IT!

The speech you can listen to here is a true story about a holiday I gave at another Spark event in July.

Where Leaders Are Made

It was a cold November evening in 2013 when I first stepped into Kings Speakers, all thanks to my dear friend Iyanka and his persistent encouragement. I made sure I sat at the back where I could not be seen or heard. Even though it is a Toastmasters club for people who stammer or have social anxiety, you would never think it. The speakers performed with such confidence, like they were professionals. I felt very intimidated and at that point I would have never dreamed that 3 years later I would be the club’s President. 

Given the opportunity and with the support and encouragement of others, you’d be surprised at what you are capable of achieving. Toastmasters and especially Kings Speakers is an environment designed for members to learn and thrive in a supportive and safe space and the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. While I had no ambition to become the president I was committed to overcoming my own fears and developing my skills. I made sure I attended and took part in every meeting and as a result of my dedication I was invited to serve on the club’s committee. Slowly I moved up the ranks and became the Vice President of Education and as the Toastmaster year was coming to an end, the Club President Graeme and Club Founder Harminder suggested that I should be the next president. Really?? Me?? How could someone like me be a president? All of the past presidents where men in suits and I am just a simple girl… All sorts of thoughts came up of why I wouldn't be good enough to be the president, but then I said to myself… hang on a minute if Graeme and Harminder think I am capable of doing this, then surely I should at least try and who knows when I could get an opportunity like this again. Thanks to their encouragement and belief in me, it gave me the courage to take on the challenge. 

The club was handed over to me in June 2016 and little did I know that I would have to lead the club through it’s toughest year to date. There wasn’t much time to settle in before I had to jump the first hurdle. Our beloved venue The Commander Bar was closing down and we urgently needed to find a new home for our club. Looking for a meeting room in a convenient location, close to a tube station at a very modest price in London is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The pressure was on. It was a nail biting search full of false hopes and with just days to go to the next meeting I had finally found our new home Number 63, just a minute’s walk from the tube station, in central London and all within our tight budget. And just when I thought I could relax a little, the challenges kept coming. Some members dropped out of the committee due to work and other commitments putting extra pressure on senior members, our member numbers were dwindling and as a result our Vice President of Education Paul found it increasingly harder to fill the agenda and had to seek out Toastmasters from other clubs to help us out. The club was at it’s lowest point and it was my responsibility to turn things around. 

I had a vision to take the club in a new direction and wanted my leadership to leave a mark and make a real difference. The first thing I set out to work on was our branding and online presence. Kings Speakers didn’t have a logo, a tagline or an up to date website. I felt these were really important in creating an identity and sense of purpose of what we are about and who we are. Our tag line - ‘Transform your biggest weakness into your greatest strength' really sums up what we have set out to achieve as we all want to excel at the the very thing we struggle with. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the new website to function and look but unfortunately I had no idea how to do it. We were so lucky to have Iyanka on our committee who is an expert in all things tech and design and I am so grateful for his patience when working with me and my fussiness and perfectionism and his incredible ability to materialise everything I had in my mind from the logo to the website. Having a blog was something I wanted to introduce as a way of not just communicating to the outside world but also for our own members to share their own experiences, which we can all find great value in. Our online presence and how we communicate to those interested through our subscription mailing list was a really important aspect of our marketing not by doing any hard sell but by simply letting people get to know us and what we’re about. We launched our new website before Christmas 2016 and that comforting feeling that I could relax a little started to set in… Iyanka informs me he needs to leave the club due to work commitments. He always found the simplest solutions to our tech and design problems and we could have never have achieved all we did without him. What on earth am I going to do now? As much as I wanted to wallow in self pity, there was no time for that and I took it upon myself to carry on with the PR duties of maintaining the website and our communication with members and subscribers. Iyanka made that really easy for me by teaching me and supporting me all the way, and if I can manage all of this techy stuff then anyone can! 

While attracting guests to the club was a big priority, building a strong and connected culture amongst our members is vital. It was really important to spend time together outside of the club and to give us a chance to get to know each other as people and create genuine friendships so after a meeting we always go to the pub next door for some banter and have a good catch up. I do love any excuse for a get together so I organised our Christmas social, a prime opportunity for members to show off their dancing skills. Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of this but let me assure our members know how to boogie! And I couldn’t wait all the way until next Christmas for another social so I organised a walk on Hampstead Heath in May. It was a great turnout and wonderful to create memories and spend quality time together away from Toastmasters. We even had an honorary four legged member joining us for the day!

To break up the monotony of meetings and to provide our members with an opportunity to gain new skills, I organised 2 workshops through out the year. We are very fortunate to have published author Ben Starling as one of our members and he very kindly created a workshop sharing some of his writing tips and tricks in a bid to Lift our Language and improve our speech writing. The second workshop was created by fellow Toastmaster and empowerment coach Christine Alaby where she gave us some practical tools to tackle nerves and feel more confident and empowered while giving a speech. 

 

To develop my own skills and knowledge I wanted to learn as much as I could about leadership. I am a bit of a geek so I used any spare time to watch lectures and talks online as well as listening to podcasts when I’m cleaning the house or reading on my commute to work. One of my favourite leadership and public speaking experts is Simon Sinek. When I heard he was giving a talk in London I knew I had to be there. He was signing books after his event and I had the chance to meet him and asked him to sign books for Kings Speakers so that I could share Simon’s work with the rest of the club and I was able to briefly tell him what we do and he absolutely loved it! Definitely one the highlights of the year.

One of the reasons why I love Simon’s work is that he emphasises the importance of working together and taking care of each other and that is something that really stood out to me through out this whole year. My vision and hope was to turn things around for the club and I am absolutely delighted that we have indeed managed to do that. We have achieved 10 DCP points which is the highest amount of points a club can achieve making us a President’s Distinguished Club. These points are made up of attending training, completing speech manuals, advanced manuals, leadership manuals, paying dues on time and taking on new members. We have also matched our record membership numbers. We have gone from struggling to fill the agenda to now struggling how we can fit everyone on the agenda. The reason why we where able to achieve all this is through great teamwork and taking care and supporting one another. Harminder was always there for guidance and advice and he played a key role in communicating with guests and turning them into members. Paul took excellent care of new members and got them settled in the club, organised mentoring and helped them to begin their Toastmaster journey as well as ensuring we had a packed agenda. Brian is always volunteering to help and has been a great support as well as inspiring us all with his Distinguished Toastmaster Award, the highest honour any Toastmaster can achieve. The rest of the committee and members have also shown so much dedication and made such valuable contributions to the club. 

This blog is much longer than I had intended and there is so much I have missed out, but if I keep writing it will end up being a novel! I just wanted to share some of the main challenges and highlights of the year. I am as grateful for the challenges as I am for the highlights, because had it all been plain sailing I wouldn't have learnt a thing or grown as a person. It’s been such a great year and experience, I’ve really loved it and I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of the encouragement and support and for giving me this opportunity, for believing in me and trusting me to lead the club, I can’t express how much it means to me. 

So if you thought Toastmasters was only about public speaking, think again, after all the Toastmasters tagline is - Where Leaders Are Made