June 4, 2011


Breaking through the sound barrierHow's this for weird? I joined Toastmasters about six months ago and this week I got elected President of my club, Goodyear Toastmasters. I'm speechless (which made the podcast tougher to record). The club already runs well and fellow officers are excellent. I'm looking forward to working with them to several implement new initiatives.

Even if you communicate well, you may benefit from the leadership opportunities at Toastmasters.


This post is about a speaking breakthrough that occurred two months ago. I'm well-regarded as a speaker but knew I could improve. I wasn't keen to hire a coach because there's no specific, debilitating problem to overcome.

Here's the paradox: it's tougher to speak for five minutes than an hour. Yes, you can fill in five minutes easily but I wanted to convey a specific message. That means that every word, every second and every gesture matters.

Breaking Rocks In The Hot Sun

In the corporate environment, feedback on presentations ranges from useless ("well done") to overly-critical ("why did you ..."). What if you disagree with feedback from your boss? Do you make changes or stick with what you feel is better?

Getting critiques at Toastmasters is much more useful. Fellow members are trained to give feedback. They see your progression and are there to help. You can also experiment in a safe environment.

360 Degrees In The Shade

A 360-degree evaluation combines many perspectives. I had my first one years ago as part of a pricey Franklin Covey course in Principle-Centred Leadership (the step after The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). My staff, peers and upper management were asked to rate me anonymously. The results were fascinating and a tad painful. You're not required to share the results but I did. That helped me improve faster and better.

In Toastmasters, you're normally evaluated by one person. Since opinions vary, I gave all attendees a form for their comments. That's a 360-degree evaluation. Most participate, which is also a way to build their skills.

I'm most interested in patterns. If only one person says something, I tend to ignore that outlier.

The Breakthrough

I was doing Speech 4: How To Choose An Advisor You Trust. I spent much more time preparing than usual. Even so, my speech ran 7:20 (20 seconds above the target range of five to seven minutes). I didn't notice the warning lights (green at 5 min, yellow at 6 min and red at 7 min). During practice, the length was 5:02. That's shows how much can change when live (and the risk of starting with too much content).

I combined two blog posts you may remember
The blend created an engaging story with extra impact. Storytelling is the breakthrough. While my earlier presentations weren't boring (no snoring), they weren't as well constructed. Now you know why I read Peter Guber's book Tell To Win about storytelling.

I've since included more stories in my talks. You'll find an example on YouTube (Building Trust With Social Media).

Your own challenges and objectives will vary. That's fine.

Is Toastmasters the only place that offers so much affordable, ongoing support in a safe, nurturing environment? As far as I know. If you have other suggestions, please leave a comment below.


Podcast 120 (5:15)

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS What's your speaking breakthrough or fear?

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