• Naheed Hanif

Toastmasters – A Beginner at Work

For those of you that don’t know, Toastmasters is a place where people become great speakers, where speakers become champion speakers and where anyone can learn to diminish their fear of any kind of public speaking.

Although I have carried out many presentations to date, mostly business related and then I have written a book

Well, this project is turning out to be much much bigger than I could have imagined.  I appreciate it mostly because of its formal structure, yet a very warm and welcoming, friendly environment.  The structure allows me to somewhat get “qualified” in the art of speaking.  Further, it’s the most comfortable environment I have ever seen in which everyone is there to help you get better at public speaking and reach your goal – whatever that may be.

The First Speech – The Icebreaker.

Upon gaining membership to Toastmasters, I very quickly received my Competent Communications manual.  This manual shows you the criteria to work towards for each of the speeches.  I love this.  It’s pretty detailed and shows you and the person evaluating you what to look out for.  Each speech gives you different aspects to work on and a different criterion to be evaluated on.

I soon got excited and decided it’s time to let loose in the speaking world as I have just done in the blogging world.  Off I went to write a quick outline of …. Well, my life.  I was told it was a story worth telling several times, so I thought, well it’s a good time (and place) to test that idea!

Upon delivering the speech, I felt a certain anxiety, emotion, anger, happiness – all bundled into the seven minutes or so.  I have to say, I felt satisfied.  I could feel the audience listening and feeling my emotion with me.  It was a very new experience, and an amazing one.

This taught me, that we, as mankind so under estimate the power of our experiences and down play them regardless of how inspiring a story from the past may be.  It is a sad state of affairs as we then do the same with accomplishments that we should be celebrating.  But, how wonderful it is that there is a way of finding out and facing it with real evaluations, real feedback from people that are there to do exactly that – all through speeches.  “Evaluators” have the job of letting you know what they felt was a strong point, and then elements that can be improved….AND how!  How can anyone go wrong!  The whole structure is supporting the speakers, how can anyone not improve in the art of public speaking?!

I have been to various presentation courses and up till now found that the NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) Train the Trainer was the best out there.  It costs a few grand, for good reason but if someone just wanted to improve their public speaking skills, Toastmasters costs peanuts in comparison and is an ongoing activity.

I was ecstatic!  I came away feeling so very confident and pleased with myself, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone, on Twitter, Facebook and … even LinkedIn!  The responses were fantastic.  My self esteem wasn’t exactly low, but had shot through the roof realising the value that others give to this achievement also.  Yes, I am a very “external” person – that is who I am but the response still surprises me.

I treat my award, a ribbon with the words “Best Speaker” on it with utmost respect.  I might even frame it in the future!

I now had my second speech to schedule in and carry out.  I was bursting, I couldn’t wait!

The Second Speech – Organise Your Speech

This speech is about the organisation of the information you deliver.  Sounded easy given all of my business

On a roll with personal stories, I decided to stick with the theme – another personal story.

I somewhat prepared three separate topics to “feel” the flow before deciding on which.  It turned out to be a complete conundrum.  Then I based the decision on which story brings out more emotion.  Problem was I didn’t really have a powerful closing for that one – had trouble thinking it up.

Eventually, having focused on a story that seemed powerful with a closing also, I decided on it.  Except in my run-through, I kept going over time.  There was a lot of detail to cover. It simply couldn’t be completed in time.  So just two hours before the event, I thought of a closing for one of the remaining two stories I had put aside, and switched to using one of those instead.

I knew the risks associated with this.  I wasn’t entirely sure I had nailed the closing but it fit the time pretty much and hoped I would manage it.

Then came the time to deliver, I felt I had a good chance as there were only three speakers on the board rather than four.  I had not realised, one of them was actually made up – for a guest speaker by video… Martin Luther King.  I had thought the name on the board was a joke.  It turned out that with only two speakers that could make it that night, there would not be any awards.  It makes sense.  I just wished I hadn’t tweeted my intention to win another award earlier!

The speech was delivered and the audience was indeed engaged.  It was actually more emotional than I expected which I thought is good.  Except, when you deliver any speech, particularly one that may be so emotional, you must have a powerful ending.  Instead, I saw the red warning light switch on and instead of using the last 30 seconds to pop my close in, I wanted to sit down.  I was so afraid of over running that I actually forgot the closing I had decided on too!

Many people felt it.  Many realised that the red light effect was … indeed… me seeing red!

So I kicked myself, and again.  Although the feedback was so much better than I expected, it seemed my “external” factor was no longer in operation.  I was feeling so completely dissatisfied with my performance that I had a hard time getting over it.  I couldn’t understand why I closed with a completely irrelevant statement to the story when there was indeed a perfect closing I had decided on earlier.

However, the feedback really helped.  Someone pointed out something after the event.   Something seriously interesting and very helpful in clarifying the whole reason I had been over running with my original speech, struggling with closing statements for all stories and of course, the end result.  That was that there were actually

Oh my!  I must break these down into their little stories!  It’s more work, but guess what?  It’s a heck of a lot more stories!  Thanks to the evaluator aspect of Toastmasters – within an evening, many more stories had been formed, with their closing statements!


I do feel that perhaps I got a little carried away with my personal stories.  The stories could well add up to a film or a book as people have said time and time again.  But, for the purpose of Toastmasters, had my theme got fixed just within two speeches?

Had I decided – all be it subconsciously that because a personal story is automatically delivered with passion – it is “bound” to go well?  Had I got over excited and over confident?  Perhaps.

Really, even if that is the case, I am most grateful to have found a place to make those types of mistakes, errors or whatever anyone calls it.  At the end of the day, IF I have set something up incorrectly all within two speeches, I have learnt a lot more than two speeches worth of storytelling skills.

To add the cherry to the top, I have learnt that I may well have hundreds and hundreds of stories that I have never seen in that light before!

Next time – A jolly speech to match the season – yes, really!

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©2020 by Naheed Hanif.