It is a nightmare that many have: being called upon to present a speech. The speech is unprepared, meaning no cue cards, Power Point or overheads. You stand in front of 20 other people, who will be judging you on your performance. You have no time to prepare, let alone think. You have two minutes to give the speech without making mistakes.
For some people, this situation is inconceivable, but others can’t wait to jump up and show the room what they’ve got. You think to yourself, I want that sort of confidence. Then one day, you’re walking through the hallway of the Hall Building when you see a poster: JOIN THE TOASTMASTERS CLUB AND IMPROVE YOUR SPEECH PERFORMANCE. You say, ‘Why not?’ and decide to attend the next meeting.
“Toastmasters is a public speaking workshop club,” says Lucy Wong, the former president of the Toastmasters club at Concordia, a chapter of the International Toastmasters Club that was started in 1999. “Members prepare speeches according to a standardized manual and present them to the other members. It helps people learn how to write proper speeches and how to present them in a way that they are at ease. It allows people to get more comfortable at giving speeches.” She says there is no pressure on people to speak at their first meeting. People decide to speak when they feel they are ready.
Wong says there are several stages in the Toastmasters Club before one can achieve a certain certificate or status. The first status you can achieve is the Competent Toastmaster (CTM). In order to achieve this status, a member must complete 10 speeches, starting with the “Ice Breaker” which is your first speech. In this speech, you speak candidly for two minutes describing yourself to the audience. The speeches get harder as you go along and involve such skills as speaking with sincerity and coming up with topics that will engage the audience. Other skills include writing speeches that can last up to 10 minutes long and having to deal with talking about subjects as inane as the colour red.
However, Wong says that being able to speak properly helps people along with their careers and their confidence. Having the audience evaluate a speaker after he or she has presented his or her speech allows the speaker to know what he or she must improve on. This allows people to learn how to accept criticism and learn to give an objective evaluation of someone.
After someone has received his or her Competent Toastmasters, he or she is able to go onto more levels of difficulty, such as the Advanced Toastmasters (ATM), but Wong says that most members work towards getting just their Competent Toastmasters.
“For every ten speeches that you present, you get recognized. But those ten speeches do take a lot of time and preparation. Most students do not have a lot of time to prepare serious, well-written speeches on top of all their other school work,” says Wong, a graduate student.
It is for this reason that only about ten per cent of the 26 members in the Toastmasters Club at Concordia are undergraduate students. Wong says with their hectic schedule, many students do not have the time to dedicate to joining and participating in the Toastmasters Club. The majority of the members at Concordia are members of the Alumni, staff and administration. She says that it helps staff because they are better able to perform their job and they are able to centre their speeches around their area of expertise.
“The skills that you acquire are good for anyone in any job. You learn voice control, the power of words, gestures and learn to talk with different tones. The main key at each meeting is the encouragement for the people presenting their speeches,” says Alain Daigneault, who has been a member of the Concordia Toastmaster Club for two years.
Each meeting at Concordia has a specific structure and mandate that must be followed.
According to Wong and Daigneault, there are three parts to each meeting. The first is the Business section, this is where every member that has a role (i.e. secretary, president, etc.) conducts his or her duties, such as approval of the minutes, opening remarks by the president, etc. There is also the Joke of the Meeting, where one member is chosen to prepare
and present a joke, as well as, the Toast of the evening given by a member who is selected as Toastmaster and the Thought of the Day given by another member.
Wong explains that Toastmasters wants everyone to feel welcome, so they rotate some of the roles.
The next section is the Education section. The master of ceremony stands up and calls on people to give their speeches.
There are two types of speeches that can be given: the first is the two-minute improvisational speech where anyone from the audience, including guests, can be called on to give a speech.
This gives people the opportunity to work on thinking quickly and being able to speak properly under pressure. The second type of speech that can be given is the prepared speech. Everyone is able to choose a date well ahead of time and is able to prepare their speech and have notes in front of them. These prepared speeches are the ones that count towards your CTM or your ATM. The topics can be chosen from the manual, from the Toastmasters magazine, or can be in a particular field of interest.
Then the last part is the evaluation. There is one designated evaluator who gives out the evaluation of each speech presenter, while members of the audience are also allowed to offer their advice.
“The meetings at Concordia are not too formal, they are all nice people and all the members work hard at making you feel welcome and comfortable,” says Daigneault, a former graphic design student from Dawson College.
He insists that people cannot look at this club as a band-aid. Going to a meeting once will not make you a better presenter since becoming a good speechwriter and presenter takes a more lot of practice and work.
“The main thing is to be as active a member as possible and not to worry. When you come to your first meeting, you are given your manual and your start-up kit and you are also assigned to a mentor, so you are not alone in the dark when you start off. The only way to see how we truly work is to come and check us out for yourselves. Sometimes we have snacks and drinks, [and] we try to make it as fun as possible,” says Wong.
To become a member of the Toastmasters Club costs students and faculty alike $225 a year. This includes the cost of your start-up kit and any food costs, or trips to other Toastmaster clubs in Montreal during the year. Wong says that students from Concordia and McGill attend each other’s meetings to see how each works and to interact with other members.
Toastmasters meetings are held every Monday during the year except on holidays in H-760 at 5:30 p.m. More information on the Concordia Toastmasters Club and the International Toastmasters Club is available at their website: www.angel-fire.com/co/TOASTM/ or by phone: (514) 848-4952.