Toastmasters: Lessons good and bad

What important things have you learned about Public Speaking, Leadership, and Networking this last year? Were there any pieces of advice that turned out to be misleading? Here are my top three lessons learned, and the three things that I feel need to have their myths busted:

1. Thanking the Audience:
Myth: “Don’t thank your audience because they should be thanking you.”

If you find that you are saying this out loud, please stop! The two are unrelated. You can thank one another. The audience does this by clapping, buying your products, or asking you to come back. You can (and should) thank them by saying “Thank You for having me here today”, and then giving them a conclusion that they can remember.

Not long ago I was standing in front of a room presenting my Planned Spontaneity program. Things were going well, including some good audience interaction. I used my normal “before I conclude I’ll take a few questions” line, since, like most of my topics, this one lends itself nicely to having a Q&A session. That went well, and I timed taking the last question so I would have at least five minutes to give a conclusion. Then, I said, “I want to thank you for inviting me out today, and for the wonderful lunch…” but before I could transition into my conclusion, the organizer stood up to bring me my gift (a really nice coffee mug w/chocolates inside) and the applause began. And no…I wasn’t over time.

I’m not sure about the lesson learned here. I think next time I’ll try “Before I close…” to transition from the Q&A into my “thank you” to see if the next group lets me give my conclusion. 🙂

2. Apologize:
Myth: Never apologize.

If you make the kind of mistake that requires an apology, then give one. If, say, you kick someone as you walk past them “working the room”, then say you are sorry. If you toss an audience member a free piece of candy (or whatever) and miss, say you are sorry. You get the idea.

Avoid apologizing when there is nothing that can be done about it, or if it’s just something to make you fell better about you own errors. For instance, never apologize for being “unprepared”. The audience won’t know unless you just plain suck. If that happens, apologize for sucking, not for being lazy about your preparation.  

If you have a situation where they have to wait while you fiddle with papers or something, instead of apologizing, consider giving them a short “talk amongst yourselves” exercise while you get your collective stuff together.

Once, at a Toasmasters contest I needed a minute to finish the winners certificates when I was given the results. I followed a more experienced Toastmaster’s advice and asked eveyone on the room to find someone nearby and introduce themselves, exchange club information and mention one thing they are getting out of being in Toastmasters. I had time to get my papers right and lined up, and then just needed to reign them back in. Plus: some folks met people they might not have spoken to otherwise.

3. Reusing material:
Myth: Every speech should be new

On the show Jeopardy, this would probably be the answer to “What method of speaking can you use to ensure one-dimensional growth?” I’m not suggesting that you never try new things. Of course you should try new things, new topics, and new approaches.

Also, I’m not suggesting that you just recite the same drivel over and over to “get credit”. Instead, from time to time you should look at material you’ve used before and see if you can improve it and deliver it more successfully.

There are a plethora of speaking lessons out there that are being taught and retaught every day. Most of them are rock solid (especially many of the lessons in Toastmasters), but not every one is on-target. Don’t be affraid to seek a second, or third, opinion and do some of your own research. By speaking and learning from those that have “been there and done that” you’ll pick up some good tips and avoid some of the bad myths.

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