What I got from Leeds City Toastmasters meeting on 30th Aug 2012?

Yesterday as I was getting ready to go to the meeting, I was feeling a bit low and tired. I wondered if there was any particular reason — Was it because, I have been a member of Leeds City Toastmasters since more than 6 years now? Was I getting bored?

 I have this similar feeling when I sit down to write my morning pages. I have read a number of books on how to improve as a writer and one of the key things is to write regularly. Even more better to write 3 – A4 pages every day; first thing in the morning. These pages are called as morning pages. Now I find that a number of times, I wake up and the drive to write morning pages is missing. Maybe due to lack of sleep or maybe because I’m feeing tired. However I have noticed that once I start writing, the writing takes over and before I know it the three pages are complete.

 It’s the same with running or exercise. There is an initial resistance and once you begin to run, the adrenalin kicks in. By the time you finish, the endorphins join the fun and you end on a high.

It’s the same thing for me with Toastmasters. Starting trouble. So yesterday even though I was feeling tired, I just sat in the car and drove to the meeting at Crowne Plaza. By the time I reached the meeting, I was looking forward to it. Every Toastmasters meeting is different. We have a different Toastmaster (MC), different speakers, different evaluators and different volunteers.

 In yesterday’s meeting, I had taken on a role of ‘Evaluator’. I was evaluating Bryce Edem’s speech (Project 2 from Competent communicator manual). The other speakers were John Fletcher (Advanced manual – speaking to Inform) and Ian Hutchinson (project 1 – ice breaker from Competent communicator manual). All the speakers were excellent. Jude Baker (Our President) was the Toastmaster, running the meeting to time with her charming personality. Chanaka Mudalige was playing the dual role of grammarian and ah-counter. I was sitting there completely relaxed, until he displayed the word he had chosen -‘skedaddle’ – meaning to flee or run away hurriedly. The members coming up to speak need to try and use the word chosen by the Grammarian in their speech. It is a good way to improve your vocabulary and your ability to think on your feet.

But after finding out the word of the day, I wanted to skedaddle from the meeting. However that’s the beauty of Toastmasters. Its a place to try out and practice. So I found myself trying to shoe horn the word into my speech. It was not easy but at the same time it was not difficult. Thanks to Toastmasters, my vocabulary is improving too. Thank you Chanaka.

I then evaluated Bryce’s speech. After my evaluation, I waited in anticipation of an evaluation of my ‘evaluation’. At Toastmasters, everything is evaluated. Which means you get a feedback about your role and how you performed. The evaluation is designed to highlight the areas you did well and also areas where you could improve. This is the part of the meeting, which I really enjoy. After all, everyone is keen to improve.

Phil Heath was the General Evaluator at yesterday’s meeting. Now Phil Heath is a Distinguished Toastmaster. To be a Distinguished Toastmaster, he has delivered more than 40+ speeches and also taken on a number of leadership projects. In ‘Star War’s’ speak, he is like ‘Yoda’.

Phil provided all the evaluators and gave them excellent feedback. When it was time to evaluate my ‘evaluation’ of Bryce’s speech, Phil mentioned that I had done a good job at the role. He said, he liked the way, I provided pointers for Bryce to improve his speech. He then mentioned that he was distracted by my shirt pocket which was overflowing with notepads, credit cards and pens. He mentioned to the audience that as speakers we should take care that when we come to the stage, we should empty our shirt and trouser pockets of things which could distract our audience.

That was a valuable feedback to me. It was important because, I had emptied my trouser pocket of my mobile phone, house keys and car keys but forgotten to empty my shirt pocket. So my shirt pocket was overflowing with objects which proved to be a distraction to the audience. This is so important. As speakers we usually pay attention to our speech, our delivery and other aids. But it is also important to get rid of material which distracts the audience.

 So next time you step up to speak, check your shirt and trouser pocket. Do you have any jangly keys, noisy change, lots of pens peeking out of your shirt pocket or material which could distract the audience?

Just get rid of it. The audience will have their eyes only on you. They will not be distracted. You will have a much higher chance of success.

 If you would like to practise your communication and leadership skills, come along to a Toastmasters meeting. We have two Toastmasters clubs in Leeds – Leeds City Toastmasters (1st and 3rd Thursday at Crowne Plaza – 6:45pm and White Rose Speakers – 2nd and 4th Wednesday – Jury’s Inn – 6:45pm) where you can join and develop as a leader.