How I went from dreading public speaking to finally enjoying it!

It's a Thursday evening. I've just worked a ten hour day. All I want is to get into bed and switch off from the world. But I don't. Instead, I'm on a train. My stomach is bubbling away, this familiar dread haunting me. I still cannot believe I am doing this. I must be crazy. I am voluntarily going to a meeting for public speaking. Doesn’t sound appealing does it? There are at least a thousand things I would rather be doing. But there's one thing in particular that is tightening that nervous knot in my stomach. Public speaking is my idea of hell. I have a stammer. 

I have stammered my whole life. From dreading answering the register in school (just my luck I had a teacher called Mr Wilimont!) to hating class presentations, I've felt all the pain of having a stammer. Yet, it is something I have never let define me. I have worked on it my whole life to the point where I can control it. It has almost become a second thought. But I wasn't going to settle for that. I wanted that extra push, that extra practice so I can stand before anyone and inspire them with my words. The reason? Because I want to be an officer in the British Army.

I found out about King’s Speakers, one of only three Toastmaster public speaking clubs in the world aimed at those with a stammer or social anxiety. I walk up to the meeting door, my stomach still somersaulting. My mouth has gone dry. I think about turning back, just going to the pub I passed. But I know that I won't. I need to be here. I sigh. I walk through the door. I have never looked back.

King’s Speakers is really a club like no other. With a variety of stammerers, members with anxiety and those who just want the practice, the atmosphere that greeted me was amazing. It was so relaxed and supportive. I was blown away by the fantastic speeches I heard from people who had a stammer like me. It was the first time I had met other adults who stammered. I was in complete awe of them. I wasn't alone in the world! When I left, my whole body was buzzing. There was one emotion that filled me. I was inspired. I was inspired by every single person I had met. They refused to be controlled by their fears. They were there to face their demons head on. I knew that I could too. 

That was six months ago. My demons are firmly being destroyed every session. With the fantastic support of other members, I raced through every speaking role I could. Then it was on to the real fun… The speeches. I have just completed my third one with my fourth already in the planning stage. The feedback has been amazing with each one. The sense of achievement has been unreal.

    The benefits are already showing. I have blitzed all my army interview stages so far, with feedback including how impressive and confident my presentations have been. I am now down to my final assessment in May. My only fear about applying for the army had been that my stammer would hold me back. With the support of King’s Speakers, I know that my stammer isn't even an issue anymore. 

Of course, the nerves still come with every speech. But speaking in front of people isn't the hardest part of King’s Speakers. Walking through the door for the first time is. Once you are through, you can achieve anything you want with hard work. You just have to decide that you want it. And the crazy thing? I now actually enjoy public speaking!

Accepting Yourself and Your Stammer

Two years ago I made one of my smartest moves. I joined Kings Speakers, part of Toastmasters International 90 year old worldwide organisation of nearly 16,000 clubs with around 350,000 members in 140 countries. Kings Speakers so named after the film The King’s Speech and is one of only 3 TM clubs in the world specifically for anyone with a stammer or other social anxiety

I’ve had a stammer on and off all my life and have tried numerous methods to “cure” myself of it. Hypnotherapy, NLP, Meditation to name but a few and none of these worked. This was largely my fault as in joining Kings Speakers I realised that there wasn’t anything to cure, it was a question of accepting whom I am and being happy with that.

It was all about learning that in any face to face communication, the words that come out of your mouth only account for around 10% of the total communication, the remaining 90% is communicated by your physiology eg. your facial expressions, eyes, mouth, and all other body movements, even the tonality of your voice and the clothes you wear and the way you walk up to the stage or wherever you’re speaking from. I learned that the communication starts long before the speaker has opened their mouth.

Therefore, the odd stammer is not going to make any difference whatsoever to the overall communication and if you’re authentic and sincere, the listener(s) will get 100% of what you’re saying totally regardless of any stammer or disfluency.

I have given several speeches within the club, and have also filled many of the other functions which involve speaking at the meeting to give a report, e.g. Timekeeper, Evaluator, Table-Topics Master, and Toastmaster of the evening.  It has given me untold confidence to speak in front of a group.

Thus, I learned that if I’m not bothered by stammering, other people aren’t going to be bothered by it either and if I get that others aren’t bothered by it, I’m going to be even less inclined to be bothered by it and probably won’t even think about it. I learned that stammering is no more important than whether or not you wear glasses or hearing aids or the colour of your hair. If other people get that I’m being myself, sincere and genuine they will be truly interested in what I have to say and not bothered in the slightest bit if I do stammer on the occasional word.

Being heard

One of my greatest inspirations has been David Seidler, the screen writer of the film The Kings Speech When he accepted his Academy award for best original screenplay, he said on stage “I accept this award on behalf of all the stammerers throughout the world, we have a voice, we have been heard.”

He also said on another occasion said that the King’s Speech therapist Lionel Logue effectively taught the King that he was no longer the “stammering King” but that he was just the King who occasionally had a stammer. Therefore, whatever your name is, you’re not John or Alice or Peter the stammerer, you’re John or Alice or Peter who just occasionally has a stammer.


Tony Weiss



My Experience of The International Speech Contest

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This time last year, I preparing for the annual international speech contest that Toastmasters International arrange each year.  I had competed the previous year and had reached the Area Contest where I came third, this year I was hoping to do that little bit better, but I never dreamed that I would end up speaking in front of 250 people from all over London and giving a speech about my stammer.

Finding the right speech topic is often the most difficult part of the whole process.  Toastmasters allows you to speak about any subject, but for a successful competition speech the speech needs to be motivational and inspirational to the audience.  I have a young daughter and she often provides the inspiration for my speeches.  When I began planning my speech, my daughter had recently started to learn to swim.  Unfortunately, things were not going to plan and she cried and cried when she got in the pool.  However, in adversity, she suddenly took a deep breath and began to do as her teacher was telling her to do and with arm bands began to swim across the pool.  Here was my inspiration.  I just needed to craft a speech around the topic of overcoming demons, for my daughter it was swimming.

The first speech that I gave in the competition is the Club Contest, where you compete against fellow club members.  The competition was fierce, and the standard was exceptional.  I gave my speech in two parts one about my daughter and the second part was about giving a speech and the feelings that people have when they give a speech; how scary giving a speech, standing on a stage all alone, with everyone sitting and watching you.  The speech went down well, and the audience empathised with the speech.  I won the contest and was on to the next round, the Area Contest.

However, I did not have long to bask in the glory of winning the Club Contest, because after the contest, I received feedback on the speech from a very experienced Toastmaster.  He said to me that my speech was good, but it needed to be so much better if I wanted to go any further in the contest.  He advised me that what I really needed to do was to try to come up with a time that I had struggled to over come something and that ultimately, I succeeded.  This would allow a greater audience to empathise and be inspired by the speech and with any luck I should do well at the Area Contest.

Almost immediately, I went home, back to my keyboard and I began working on the speech again.  I could not rest upon my laurels as I wanted to do as well as I possibly good.  This was potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity to go far – who knows, I may end up in the final in Washington DC representing my country. I could but dream.

So I came up with a speech, keeping my daughter’s swimming experience but also interspersing it with my own struggles with my speech.  I have struggled with a stammer for most of my life, the worst time was when I first started work and had to answer the telephone, these were terrible times, but ultimately with the support of friends and just putting myself out there I have managed to gain confidence that has limited the times that I stammer.

The speech was written, but now I needed to practice it.  There was a club meeting between the two contests and I was able to give my speech before the club.  I was confident before the speech.  I gave it.  But people did not like it as much as they had before.  What had gone wrong.  I must say that I was devastated.  The Area Contest was a week away, I had friends coming to support me. But the speech was no good.  Back to the drawing board.  I worked through the speech, line by line.  Word by Word, making it flow better.  Making it funnier.  Making it better.

The day of the Area Contest.  A room of about 75 people.  Friends there to support me.  People from Kings Speakers supporting me.  The competition was great.  I went last.  Nerves jangling.  Away I went.  People laughed.  People looked engaged.  People looked as if they enjoyed it.  I came third at the contest the year before, could I do better?  The speeches had finished, the judges had considered their results and now it was time for the announcement.  In third place was ……. (not me).  In second place……. (not me – ah well – I’m sure I have not won).  In first place was ……. Graeme Bass.  Oh my I’ve won.  I’m in to the next round of the contest!  The Division B contest.

The Contest was held at the Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden.  An audience of 250 people. Competing against the best speakers in West London.  Oh my.  This was nerve wracking.  The fellow competitors were amazing.  The hall was enormous, yet we did not have any microphones.  We had to rely upon the power of our voice.  I had bene practicing in a church hall, which helped immensely.  There were six competitors and I went fifth.  I gave the best I could.  What a feeling everyone laughed.  I wish I could have stayed on that stage forever.  Sadly, the competition was too strong for me and I did not win.  But what an amazing experience.

The speech contest last year was a great example of the Toastmasters’ experience.  Thesupport that I received from Kings Speakers and other members of the Toastmasters’ community was incredible and that sums up the people who are members of this great club and organisation.

Preparing Your Speech

One of the great things about Toastmasters is that the organisation (and your mentor, if you have requested one) holds your hand at every stage: from the moment you sign up to give your speech, until you get up on stage…and then, when safely back in your comfy chair, a fellow club member gives helpful feedback.

The Competent Communication manual (your starting point on your Toastmasters journey) consists of ten projects, each of which addresses a particular aspect of speech making (like body language, persuasion, using visual aids). The first step is to read the manual so you understand what you are intending to achieve with a particular project. Then it’s time to think of a subject that allows you to achieve your objective and begin planning your speech. Here are some guidelines that apply to all speeches.


I’d suggest that the “high level” components include:

  1. Relevance – choose a topic that will be of interest to everyone in the room. It could be something in the news, maybe an issue we’re all familiar with. Equally important, think carefully about your audience and be careful not to include material that could offend.
  2. Clarity – your message must be clear and easily understood. You only have five to seven minutes, so don’t try to make lots of points…make one!
  3. Passion – pick a topic that excites you!
  4. Interaction – passive listening can be boring and experienced public speakers know an audience gets more from a speech when people are involved. So look to incorporate feedback by inviting opinions. A powerful device is to pose a question at the beginning and build towards the answer…drawing your audience along until you cross the “question answered” finishing line together.
  5. Memorable – your message should confirm or reinforce a deeply held conviction or, (better still), get your audience thinking for the first time or differently about a subject. 

With those points in mind, we need to look at the structure, or “middle level”, of your speech. In a short speech, you should divide it into three sections: introduction (say, 20%), body (say, 70%) and conclusion (say, 10%).

  1. Introduction – grab people’s attention with a thought-provoking opening that states your premise (e.g. “School children should meditate for ten minutes every day”). Asking a powerful question also works well here (“What is the most important thing missing form a child’s school day?”), then answer this question and explain that you intend to convince the room of your viewpoint. You could ask for a show of hands at the start and finish to gauge your success.
  2. Body of speech – here you will build your case with supporting evidence. Pick three or four examples that support your premise from different perspectives. You might (a) describe a personal experience with your own child, (b) quote a research study by child psychologists, (c) pick a school in which, following the introduction of meditation, bullying went down and exam results improved and (d) quote feedback from delighted parents.  
  3. Ending – you can now restate your thesis and “prove” your premise by reminding the audience of your supporting evidence: “So child psychologists, teachers and parents all agree that…” Finally, end on a memorable thought that could, for example, suggest that society as a whole (and perhaps the economy too) would benefit if the present generation of children left school less stressed. 

Finally, have you ever wondered why Winston Churchill and Barak Obama’s speeches are enjoyable and powerful? It’s because they increase impact through the use of rhetorical devices. Skilfully employed, these devices will lift (and make memorable) any speech. You can explore a number of them here: I’ll be blogging soon about using rhetorical devices in your speeches.


Ben Starling

Top 10 Tips to Win a Speech Contest

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It is competition season at Toastmasters International.  Each member of Toastmasters is only 4 wins away from representing their country at the International Speech Contest in Vancouver in Canada.


Here are my top ten tips to be a success in the contests:


  1. Look at the Judging Criteria – all speech contests are judged by members of Toastmasters using a set criteria.  The criteria can be found at (  Look at the criteria and try to get your speech to score as highly in the criteria as possible.
  2. Make sure the speech has an emotional impact on the audience – every story that you will ever have heard will have a beginning where the scene is set, there will be a hero (in the case of a Toastmasters speech this is best if it is you), the hero will then go through difficulties but at the end of the story, with the audience willing the hero on, will overcome those difficulties.  Think of any story that you heard of a child and the same structure is used (think of Cinderella or Snow White or even a more modern classic Frozen (you can guess that I have a young daughter), they all have the same structure.  Your speech should follow this structure as it will have an impact on the audience;
  3. Try to be funny – whilst this is not a humorous speech contest, it is amazing how the speeches that generate the most laughter are often the speeches that do well.  The audience is there to be entertained.  Who does not like to laugh.  Try and inject humour into your speech – it will make it more memorable and fun to give.  There is no greater feeling than standing on stage and making people laugh.
  4. Concentrate on body language – not only do you receive 10 marks for body language – good use of the stage and body language will do two things, firstly it will relax you by moving around you will not be tense and will give the appearance of being confident.  It will also make the audience more engaged in the speech.  The body language should be natural and not forced.  This will need practice.
  5. Practice. Practice Practice -   This is your moment and you do not want to leave anything to chance.  Try and practice in front of someone who will provide you with constructive feedback.   If you do not have anyone to practice in front of, practice in front of a mirror.  It is also a good idea to try and video the speech when you are practicing.  It is amazing how many movements and tics that you have that you do not know that you do, whether it be rocking from side to side or cupping your hands.
  6. Timings – the speech must be between 5 and 7 minutes.  In a speech contest you do not get told that you have gone over time,  You are simply disqualified.  The timings are not something that you want to be worrying about.  So make sure when you are practicing you are also timing yourself.
  7. Visualise – you can only practice so much.  However, I find it really helps to visualise how you are going to perform.  Imagine it going well and the audience are engaged and enthused by the speech that you are giving.  This will assist with your confidence when giving the speech;
  8. Get to the venue early – There can be nothing worse than rushing to the venue and being late.  It is so important to get to the venue in plenty of time.  Once at the venue, go up on stage and look out.  Try to visualise giving the speech.  This will help you relax and will make the experience much more enjoyable;
  9. Deep breath and go for it – This is your chance, you’ve done all your preparation, you are ready, now go for it and give it your best chance.  You’ve given many speeches (at least 6).  You’ve done it before.  There is nothing to worry about .  Just get up and give it your best shot.
  10. Enjoy it – The audience are there to hear you speak.  You have something to say and you are there to entertain the audience.  This is a great experience and one to enjoy.


Good luck everybody.


Feel Empowered about your Speech in 4 Steps

I don’t know about you but I personally dislike preparing for a speech. I find it boring.  

Nevertheless! I do always prepare for a speech. And so I want to share with you the 4 steps I take to prepare for a speech. These steps will get you feeling empowered to deliver your best speech.

Some of the steps you will be familiar with. But hold tight, because a couple of them may be new to you.

1st Step – Planning Stage

As the saying goes by Benjamin Franklin, “if you don’t plan, you plan to fail”.

Therefore, depending of the length of the speech, spend 20/40 minutes on the planning stage.

Write out all your ideas and then separate them into three sections: beginning, middle and end. You may end up writing 2-3 drafts before you have your final piece.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up with a whole novel that needs to be trimmed, before you can even think about forming a beginning, middle and end….Tough times!


2nd Step - Practice

The next step is to practice about 10-20 times. Practice both in front of an audience and alone with a timer.

Get feedback from your practice audience and make the necessary changes. Then practice more, until you no longer need to stare at your notes.

I love this quote: “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent”. Bobby Robson et al.

I love it because it means that you don’t need to be perfect. To me there is no such thing as a perfect speech. One person may view your speech as perfect and another may view it as incomplete. It’s all subjective. And so don’t focus on being perfect. Instead focus on being an expert of your speech, to the point where it simply shines out of you.


3rd Step – Warm up Your Voice

This is something I enjoy doing because it puts me in a funny mode. When you try this (if you haven’t already), you’ll chuckle at the funny noises you never knew you could make.

Watch this presentation for instructions on how to warm up your voice:


I warm up my voice approximately 10/20 minutes before I go on stage. Warming up your voice allows you to set a more powerful and smoother tone. It also helps you manage your nerves because you’re focusing of getting ready to present, as oppose to worrying about how your delivery could turn out.


4th Step – Manage your Nerves

Talking about managing our nerves, we have all experienced being nerves before and during the delivery of a speech (if you haven’t then you’re not normal : ).

Yet there is a very helpful strategy you can use to manage your nerves, rather than your nerves managing you.

The key is the use visualisation. Close your eyes and see yourself delivering your speech in the way you want to deliver it. For example, see yourself speaking on stage in a confident manner.

I personally take it as far as seeing myself make a mistake and gracefully continuing with confidence.

Doing such visualisation, tells your mind and body how it is you want to feel and perform on stage.

As you visualise, take in all the positive feelings and thoughts, magnify them and picture yourself performing with conviction. This will greatly calm your nerves because you are focusing on a positive outcome, rather than worrying about your performance.

Once it’s time to deliver your speech, your mind and body will naturally perform in a similar manner as when you were visualising.

Visualisation takes practice. Especially if you dislike giving speeches.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend it. It will help you move out of your own way to showcase the best version of yourself.

Remember, we are not trying to be ‘perfect’. Just be yourself (faults and all). Your authenticity is what will draw the audience to you.


Final Tip

I’d like to leave you with a quick and effective tip that also helps manage nerves. Each time I’m about to go on stage I say to myself “just try your best. If you mess up it’s absolutely fine. Learn from it and don’t forget to laugh about it”.

This thought process allows me to be my own cheerleader. It also helps me to not take it too seriously.

Then paradoxically, I end up delivering my speeches just as I had visualised (most of the time)!

So give these steps a go and let me know how you get on. I’d love to know!


You can contact me at:

For Instant Confidence Tips visit my Instagram: Chrissy.Coach

If you’d like Personal Coaching in this area do visit my website and get a free 1 hour Powerful Coaching Taster Session:


All the very best on your Toastmasters journey!

Warm wishes,

Christine Alaby

Empowerment Coach & Confidence Specialist

The Dreaded Thursday - Ben Starling

The dreaded Thursday had arrived and I shouldn’t be here.

Why on earth was I putting myself through this? I could have been home, relaxing. Watching TV. Writing. I’d made a terrible mistake, but it was too late to back out. How had I (AKA Mr Never-Speak-in-Public. Ever.) allowed myself to be talked into this?

7.22pm and my name was called. Applause. Panic. Light-headed, scarcely able to walk, I dragged myself onstage. I shook the smiling Toastmaster’s hand and moments later, with my head stuck above the parapet, twenty-four (I’d counted them) gun-sights levelled on my sweating forehead. That’s when a black hole swallowed every background noise and the room temperature leapt thirty degrees. 

The countdown had begun weeks ago. I’d struggled through a number of roles at King’s Speakers, like Grammarian, Harkmaster, Table Topics. But this was different. I had to deliver a 5-7 minute speech to a packed room. Instead of running (as I’d intended doing for the rest of my life), here I was, and my voice was about to croak and wobble. My chest would lock and I’d run out of air. Like in that recurring-nightmare speech I failed to deliver a quarter century ago. Think gulping goldfish. Think bolting for the door. Think shame.

I hoped no one saw my shaking hand as I placed my notes on the lectern. I took a deep breath but at least I had a plan: I’d stare at a dark patch on the far wall. For variety, I’d study my feet. Imagine that the room is empty, I told myself, like the one I’d been practising in all week.


A minute in, I forgot my lines. But I just about saved the situation by checking my notes. And in those dreadful five seconds (or was it five hours?), no one smirked. The walls didn’t rush in to crush me. In fact, nothing terrible happened at all.

Condemned men can afford to take risks and I’d inserted a few words that bore a distant resemblance to humour. Though delivered too quickly, a couple of people actually laughed. Laughed!

I looked around and everyone was smiling. At me. And the smiles weren’t because they’d deciphered my fluffed joke—they were smiles of encouragement. There was our founder, nodding his support and I could read the thought bubble over his head: you’re doing fine!

When the green light flicked on, I wound it up. I forgot my conclusion without which the speech made little sense. But it didn’t matter because people were clapping. That was when I realised everyone had been in my place before. They knew what it felt like. That we were a team united by a common goal: to improve out public speaking together.

My next speech was a little better, my third (I’m told), was better still. And each time, the fear level dropped.

I’ve visited several Toastmaster clubs and each is unique. Attracting members with speech impediments and social anxiety, King’s Speakers really does set the standard for support and encouragement. Over sixteen months I’ve watched many people battle their demons. And win. And as a club, we’ve all shared their sense of achievement.

Who’d have thought that in a matter of months—not just months, but fun, interesting and rewarding months—the dreaded Thursday would become the highlight of my week?

If they can do it, I can do it. If I can do it, so can you.


My Journey in Toastmasters - Brian Skelton

In May 2005 I attended a 3 Day Speech Therapy course with the Starfish Project which is a non – Profit making organisation that helps people who stammer.

During those 3 days amongst other things I was taught a Breathing technique which helps me to control my stammer it will not make my stammer go away but it gives me control over something that has controlled me since I was a young Boy.

On that Course I met Barry Rix who has become a really good friend of mine, Barry Helps to run the Essex Starfish Support group, He told us about Toastmasters at one of the meetings and how much it had helped him. Barry helped to start Chelmsford speakers. I went to the first meeting in January 2007. 

 I did my Icebreaker on the 7th February 2007 that night I won the best speaker of the night award which I have framed and have it hanging on my wall at home.

There have been a few turning points for me since I completed my CC and CL awards and the night that I was the Contest Chair of the Humorous Speech and Table Topic contest at Chelmsford Speakers was one of them and really showed me how far I had come and how much more confident I was getting and how much I was pushing out my comfort zones.

Until I joined the Committee in 2010 as the Sgt at arms I had not realised how much work that goes on in a Toastmasters club, the meetings once a fortnight do not happen by magic. 

I sighted that the Advance Leader Silver Award would be my biggest challenge if I wanted to go for the DTM award. Which is when I was advised that if I was the President of a Club it would help me if I wanted to be an Area Director? 

I was the Chelmsford Speakers Club President 2012 –13 which was a big step for me to take. I joined Brentwood Speakers and helped to Mentor the club in 2013-14.

I left Chelmsford Speakers in 2014 because I needed to push myself and joining the London clubs really helped me to do that.

I joined Kings Speakers in 2013 which is a Toastmasters club for People who Stammer or have social anxiety. I first went along only intending to do a few speeches and to help out at a few meetings but I found that the club has really helped me a lot I think it is because I am helping other people and seeing how well all the other club members are doing has really pushed me on.

I was the Area 33 Area Director 2014-15 which was hard work and I learnt so much doing this Job and I am continuing to learn all the time I think what helped me as well was that I was new to Area 33 meaning that I had to go and introduce myself to all the Presidents and the members of the clubs in the Area. My assistant Sophie Xu who was a member of St Pauls Speakers in Area 33 really helped me a lot. I also did the HPL project on being the Area 33 Director which helped me to gain the ALS award.


When I was made the Area Director of the Year 2014-15 for District 91 this was an amazing moment I really could not believe it when I went up to collect the award from District 91Director Hillary Briggs I was in Tears.

I also completed the ACG award Helping to mentor new Member Chrystele Scariot from Kings Cross Speakers which was so Rewarding seeing Chrystele grow so much in Confidence and really pushing out her comfort zones. 

Planning and holding a Workshop at Kings Speakers “How to listen effectively” was a Great thing to do and receiving a lot of Positive Feedback was Fantastic.

I am planning on doing the CC Manual again and I would like to do some other things as well. At the Moment I am Area C33 Assistant Area Director helping Tia Atanasova Who is the Area C33 Area Director who I meet at Kings Speakers. 

I did my Icebreaker Speech at Chelmsford Speakers February 2007 and my Last Speech for my ACG August 2016 at Kings Cross Speakers. 

My Confidence has really grown if someone had asked me before May 2005 about joining a speaking club I would have told them to go away and not to be so silly.

I would like to thank everybody at Toastmasters for all there help over the years.
Especially Barry Rix who introduced me to Toastmasters. 

My Favourite saying – If you keep on doing what you have always done you will keep on getting what you have always got.

Brian Skelton DTM
Area C33 Assistant Area Director