Oops I made a mistake

By | 18/11/2011

I screwed up yesterday in the Leeds City Toastmasters meeting!

Let me backtrack and explain.

I was the Ah-counter for the meeting yesterday. For the guests visiting this blog – let me explain – ‘Ah-counter’ is an important role in the Toastmasters club meeting. The role involves counting the filler words used by speakers. Filler words are the common and not so common words we use in our speech to fill the gap between sentences. For example ‘eh, er, em, you know, like, so, and, but,’ are the filler words we use to pad the gaps, when we speak.

For a listener there is nothing worse than listening to a speaker who intersperse their speech with filler words. It distracts the listener. A speaker using lots of filler words sounds very insincere. Listening to a speaker using lots of filler words does not inspire the listener with confidence. Hence this role is very important at Toastmasters.

At Toastmasters we recommend that the filler words are replaced with pauses. I have personally observed that it makes a dramatic difference to your speaking if you pause effectively. Listen to any famous speaker and this will become obvious. I find President Obama and late Steve Jobs to be masters at the pause. The use of pause adds dramatic tension and draws the listener in. A pause is similar to white space in the written word. I hate reading a huge blob of text. However if the text is broken into logical units with white space then it’s easier to read and comprehend. This is the same with speaking. Intersperse your speech with pauses and listeners will hang on to every word you say.

So here I was as a ‘Ah-counter’ at Leeds City Toastmasters – listening to the speakers attentively. I had my note book open and was observing the speakers use of both filler words and pauses. At the end of the meeting, when it came time to present my report, I stood up and went to the front. I placed my notebook on the lectern and began to present my report. It was all going swimmingly until I saw the green card at the back of the room. I quickly wrapped up my presentation telling members that I had individual counts for people and could provide it to them after the meeting.

The reason for my abrupt summation was a meeting I had attended a month back at Doncaster. I was the general evaluator (GE) and was hard on one of the speakers who had ignored the red card. At Toastmasters, timing too is very important. Each speaker is timed and different colour cards are shown to let the speaker know when to finish. The red card is usually shown when the speaker has completed his allotted time for a speech. In yesterday’s meeting, I wanted to follow the advice that I had given as a GE previously and hence sat down after I saw the green card.

It was after I sat down that it struck me that I should have continued until I saw the red card. It was a silly rookie mistake. It showed I was not paying attention. It showed the area that I still need to improve.

This was re-confirmed when general evaluator – Michael J Clarke (DTM) stood up to present his meeting report. He picked on my role and mentioned that I had panicked on seeing a green card, when I could have continued until the red card. I sat there sheepishly wondering how I could have done such a silly mistake. I have been a Toastmaster for 5 years now and I feel bad that I made a basic mistake. However it was fun listening to Michael’s evaluation, he presented his views in a humorous manner and poked fun in a gentle way. I laughed listening to Michael’s evaluation and my inner angst disappeared. I realise now that it is better to make a mistake at Toastmasters and learn in a supportive environment than get crucified for mistakes in the real world.

In a way, I’m glad I made this mistake. This is what I love about Toastmasters – you make mistakes – you learn from them and improve as a speaker and leader.