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How do you choose a speech topic?

Whenever we are called upon to give a speech a daunting task most speakers face is: What do I talk about? Toastmasters face the same challenges when trying to decide upon what to write a speech about. There are often two places where you can get ideas for your next speech topic: speaker-podiumPersonal Experience and Reference Material.

Personal Experience
The more personally you are involved with your speech, the more likely you will be connected to your audience. There is lots of subject matter that can be related to your personal experience. Here are a few examples of personal topics that can generate ideas:

  • Interests: Sports, hobbies, travel, entertainment, values, and or goals.
  • Career: Business processes, ethics, investments, or retirement.
  • Family: Ancestors, marriage, or traditions
  • Education: Study habits, achievements, memorable mentors/teachers, and subjects you enjoyed in school.

Reference Material
An unlimited amount of ideas is available all over the internet. You can also visit your local public library and get a great deal of inspiration. Here are just a few places from reference material where you can get your ideas:

  • Websites: Wikipedia, university research studies, medical sites, etc.
  • Books: Self-help, Science, Children, Mystery, Horror and all sorts of other fictional and non-fictional genres.
  • Magazines: Current trends, editorials, entertainment, fashion, lifestyle.
  • Newspapers: Advertisements, current events, travel, technology, editorials.

Get Inspired Everywhere
Inspiration can come at any moment whether you’re watching a television program, having a conversation with a friend, or exercising at the gym. An idea can come into your mind and you should remember to write it down on paper. Attending speech contests are another place for inspiration so keep your smartphone or notepad and pen close by. Even if you do not end up using a particular idea, keep your notes in a file to be referenced for future speeches.

What does it take to deliver a winning Toastmaster speech?

Many people who strive to be great speakers think it takes years of experience, some magical talent or perhaps even a lot of luck. Over the past years that I’ve been in Toastmasters, I’ve seen that some or all of these reasons aren’t even true. Whenever I see a Toastmaster enter a speech competition for the first time, in a lot of cases I see doubt but also the following phrases come out from them:
“I’m not good enough.”
“I don’t do this for a living.”
“I haven’t been in Toastmasters long enough.”
“I’m not a professional speaker.”
“There are other speakers better than me.”
“I don’t know if I have what it takes to be a great speaker.”
Those that overcome these doubts by partnering with a great mentor within their club or the organization, dedicating themselves to some hard work and having a positive mindset usually succeed. Here are two stories I’d thought I’d share with you of Toastmasters that did exactly this. Hopefully they’ll inspire you to realize what’s possible within Toastmasters.

Ande Clumpus
Ande is a 26 year old financial analyst who joined Toastmasters just over a year ago when he decided to enter into the International Speech Contest. He not only beat out several speakers that had years of more speaking experience within Toastmasters but went all the way to the semi-finals competing against some of the best in the world.
You can read more about his story here.

Yan Li
Yan was a 2 year member of Podium Toastmasters when she entered the International Speech Competition. She was encouraged by a member of her club to enter the competition. She had many doubts when she competed such as English not being her first language and she had no idea if she could even write a good enough speech. She also made it to the semi-finals of Toastmasters and beat out 1,000 other Toastmasters in the GTA to get there. I had the chance to interview Yan a few years back. You can read that interview here.

How to lead a Successful Workshop

Thirty people attended this highly interactive workshop to learn how to lead a successful workshop on any topic. Working with real-life June 14-Workshop-Derekexamples in a team-based format, participants walked away with:

• An awareness of the principal components of preparing and holding a workshop
• Knowledge of the key elements necessary for your desired outcome
• Tips and techniques to enhance your presentation style

Participants were broken up into groups where they were given a limited amount of time on a particular situation. The topics included:

  • Being a job counselor and helping students find a job during a recession
  • Being a real estate agent and helping people sell their house

All participants were given different sections of the presentation to present to the group. Not only did it teach the team members to be organized but as well it taught them how to use the time effectively to make sure each section of their presentation was covered thoroughly. Every single team had to then present their presentation in front of all the participants and then field questions and have Gilles Robert critique. Everyone in the group found it beneficial and some participants have already mentioned that what they learned they had already applied to training they provided. As once participant mentioned, “The workshop on “How to Lead a Successful Workshop”, presented by Gilles Robert, was a fast paced, high energy, hands on experience. I took away some valuable tips that I can easily apply to my next workshop presentation.”

About Gilles Robert, Workshop Facilitator

Gilles Robert, ACG, CL, is a trainer, author and speaker. As a professional trainer, Gilles has more than eight years’ experience helping clients in Canada and the United States develop their communication and leadership skills. Gilles was invited to speak on leadership at the Toastmasters International 2006 Convention in Washington, D.C., in addition to leading conference workshops and executive officer training within District 60 Toastmasters.

Gilles currently holds the position of Finance Manager for District 60 Toastmasters and also served as the District’s Secretary and Conference Chair.

Time, Treasures and Talent Table Topics

Blossoming Voices Toastmasters hosted Table Topics with a twist. Table Topics is the fun, impromptu speaking portion of our meeting Eryn Photowhen members are invited to deliver a two-minute speech without any preparation. It develops our skill at speaking on our feet and off the cuff. The results are often outrageously funny.

At the meeting, we hosted a spoken auction, as opposed to silent auction, to raise money for the club. Members packaged their time, a treasure or a talent for auction.

Our experienced Toastmaster, Andrew Mertens, served as the auctioneer and invited the participants to deliver a two-minute sales pitch that enticed us to bid on the auction item. The more persuasive the pitch, the more competitive the bids.

We had members bring all sorts of goodies and talents such as movie passes, yoga lessons, a Shabbat dinner for several people, home made cupcakes and even some great books. Our members got into serious bidding action when certain items went above their value as our members wanted to try and experience some unique items that were being offered. In total, the club raised for $890 at the end of the night which will be used for various expenses that the club incurs.

A week later members came with great feedback as to the item’s they purchased. Some had savored the delicious treats they had bid on and others can’t wait to experience the various lessons they bid on. Take a visit to Blossoming Voices and see how a Table Topics sessions is run in person. Click here to find out how you can join.

Here are some other items that went up for auction:

  • A picnic basket with various treats to enjoy outdoors
  • Makeup lessons
  • Running clinic lessons
  • Home made Pesto Sauce
  • Designer sunglasses
  • A portable encyclopedia of wine and food

What Top Leaders can Learn from Toastmasters

It amazes me how often I see a CEO or any other C-level executive that runs a company that manages dozens or even hundreds of employees do a poor job of public speaking. In no particular order, here are my top 5 of the biggest mistakes these leaders make and how Toastmasters can help them out.

#1. Relying too much on a teleprompter
In Toastmasters, we’re taught to ad-lib our speech so we can connect with the audience more. No one likes to see a presenter nodding their head down and reading off a teleprompter. But this was exactly what I saw when I was watching a presentation of a speaker at a conference. The speaker had to pause so they could see the next screen of what they were trying to say. Not only did the audience lose interest but some of them turned to their phones and laptops as they felt the speaker wasn’t connecting with the audience.

#2. Using filler words such as ‘umm’s’, ‘like’s’ and ‘so’s’ etc.
Most of us are guilty of using filler words. In Toastmasters, we’re reminded of them and how can improve. By speaking in front of an audience and pacing ourselves appropriately we can reduce the amount of filler words. I learned a while back that there’s nothing wrong with taking a brief pause to collect your thoughts for the next sentence you want to speak rather than trying to fill that silence with a filler word.

#3. Hardly engaging the audience
Sure you might have enthusiasm and excitement about your product/service while up on stage. But if the audience feels they’re in ‘listen only’ mode all the time they might tune out. When you’re a Toastmaster, you learn all sorts of various techniques to draw your audience in such as: asking a question and getting the response of the audience, getting the audience to do something such a quick exercise that let’s them experience what you want to teach, stirring up emotion through your words etc. When you engage your audience, they’ll be more moved by your words and remember what you had to say.

#4. Looking at their Powerpoint/slideshow screen while presenting
I’ve seen this numerous times where the speaker won’t know where they are discussing their slide. They’ll turn towards the screen and try to figure if they should continue on the same slide or move to the next one. Great speakers always know where they are in their presentation and even have mental cues for themselves. Too many C-level executive rely on their presentation to get them through. There’s no better way to disengage an audience then turning your back towards them and speaking to the screen.

#5. Not using vocal variety effectively.
I’ve seen some CEO’s possess an incredible amount of knowledge because they know their company very well but they sound robotic, monotone and show no inflection in their voice. Vocal variety is a skill that takes practice. But when mastered in Toastmaster it can help your audience understand which points are important. It can move your audience and most importantly not put them to sleep.

If you’d like to learn more how Toastmasters can help you out, visit us at Blossoming Voices Toastmasters.

Frequently asked questions about Toastmasters

Before guests attend meetings at our club, we often get several questions asked. Here are the most common ones we get from guests. If you have any other questions aside from the ones below, feel free to go to the ‘How to Join’ page to contact us directly.

How does Toastmasters work?
Toastmasters uses an experiential hands-on workshop model, along with a proven communication and leadership training program to help club members grow as public speakers, communicators and leaders.

What kind of skills do you learn when being part of Toastmasters?
Over 75 years, Toastmaster members have learned hundreds of skills. Here are some of the top ones that we hear from most members:

  • Negotiation skills
  • Leading a team of people
  • Motivating and Inspiring others to see your point of view
  • Getting a career they enjoy
  • Learning how to negotiate
  • Being able to think on your feet quickly
  • Getting your point across to other people effectively
  • Developing great listening skills
  • Providing constructive feedback to others

Is there a fee to attend a club meeting?
There are no fees to attend a meeting as a guest.

Do I need to bring anything to a club meeting?
No, you are not required to bring anything to a meeting.

Can I Bring a friend or co-worker to the meeting with me?
Absolutely. Guests are always welcome.

Why do people join Toastmasters?
Everyone at some level is afraid of speaking in public. You are no different. Remember that every member is there because he or she realized that they needed help in speaking in front of an audience. You will be surprised how supportive a Toastmasters club really is. You already know that communication and leadership skills are essential in both business and home life environments.

What is it like to attend a typical Toastmasters meeting?
Watch this video to help you understand what happens during a meeting.

When to pause in a speech

When giving a speech, silence can be golden. Here are a few ways you can incorporate pauses into your next speech. Use them to your advantage so you can connect with your audience better.

Start with a pause

Consider pausing for a moment at the start of your presentation rather than leaping straight into your speech.

Pause to maintain your pace
Pauses are great if you fee like you’re talking too fast and can help you to maintain your pace. Pausing for even half a second can calm you down and start to bring you back to a regular pace. This in turn will help your audience to understand an follow your message.

Pause if you lose your spot
Many people lose their spot and immediately panic. Sometimes they’ll even announce to their audience that they are lost. Never do this. Instead calmly pause and give yourself a second to think. Then continue your presentation from where you left off.

Pause at the end of your sentences
The end of a sentence forms a natural point in your presentation where you can pause for a moment and then continue on.

Pause at the end of your paragraphs
We can use short or longer pauses to symbolise when we’ve finished a paragraph.

Pause for emphasis
When you want to emphasize a key word (or phrase), try pausing immediately before and immediately after the key word (or phrase).

Pause for rhetorical questions
“Who in this audience wants to be a millionaire?” Pausing here would be an important consideration. Pausing at the end of a rhetorical question will give your audience time to think and time to answer the question in their own minds.

Pause when you deliver a new slide
Pause as you flick to a new slide. This will give people time to read that slide and absorb its message before you continue with your speech.

Pause after a joke
Pausing after a joke will give people time to laugh or time to understand the punch line.