If, like me, you joined Toastmasters to rid yourself of a public speaking phobia that curses you every time someone mentions the word, ‘presentation’, you’re in good company. The fear of public speaking is in the top three of most common global phobias, worldwide.
Here, I’d like to give a brief review of how anxiety attacks can ‘make us stupid’, whenever we’re pushed out of our comfort zone. I will also offer some ideas that can add to the hugely valuable Toastmasters benefits you’re accruing. We’ll also look at the biochemical changes in our body that leads us to behave in a way we all recognise.
One fact that is widely recognised is that a fear of public speaking is a form of social anxiety; a fear of being judged negatively in public. It is a phobia that afflicts many, including the most prolific stage actors and musicians. What we also know is that, social anxiety and public speaking in particular, is frequently a consequence of a significant emotional event that happened perhaps many years ago, perhaps as a young child, or perhaps a more recent one; an event that looking back now, may seem as trivial as classmates laughing as we stumble through our reciting of the times-tables standing at the front of the class. We’re not born shy and we are not born phobic. Look at the young child, how he or she fails and fails again without fear.
It’s the events and environment we experience as we grow up that shape us, many of us responding differently to similar experiences, helping to build belief systems that in many cases, hinder rather than help you.
We also know that 95% of our behaviour is driven unconsciously. Without any conscious thought, we change gears as we drive our car, we sit down on a chair that from previous learning, we know will support our weight. This is significant because when we fall into a state of panic at the prospect of an upcoming presentation, our unconscious mind compares this future speaking event with your memory. If your unconscious recalls links to an earlier adverse event, bingo, you develop the flight or fight response.
Then there is the question of beliefs we hold about ourselves. If we expect to fail at an interview or in a game of tennis, guess what? We do. We fulfil the prophecy our beliefs have set us.
The beliefs we hold about ourselves, are either empowering or limiting. The positive beliefs are welcomed, but those causing you distress, are the limiting beliefs. We begin to build our belief system again from an early stage and it’s easy to see how, no matter how competent a speaker you are, holding beliefs that set you up to fail in your presentation is not going to help you do well. Result? You’ve become emotionally hijacked.
Medically speaking, however, the feelings brought about by anxiety are absolutely necessary. It is the inappropriate anxiety that is unwanted. In the days when our prehistoric ancestors were threatened by the peril of a ravenous sabre-toothed tiger prowling outside the cave, our bodies rightly put us into ‘flight or fright or freeze’ mode; we needed that sudden adrenaline surge to either run for the hills or take arms (as if you’d ever stand a chance with a sabre-toothed tiger and a branch) and fight off the blighter.
Let me give an example. Fast forward to today and your colleague asks if you’ll cover for him or her while they take a well-earned holiday. ‘Sure, what’s the deal?’, you ask. ‘Oh, it’s just an update’ to the management team,’ they tell you, ‘a forty-minute presentation on our current performance.’
By Shaheed Jamshed Mufti (Immediate Past President, Early Bird Speakers)
Many years ago, I was sitting and having dinner with my predecessor. She had become our newly elected club President and I was being trained as the new VP Education for our club. Everything was going well. She introduced me to EasySpeak, how to plan meetings, maintaining fair speaking and leadership opportunities for club members and more. Then I was introduced to the Distinguished Club Program (DCP) and DCP points. My mind froze!
Looking at the Toastmasters website and the literature we had on it, I found it all rather daunting…though, not for long. With some time and a bit more reading, I was able to wrap my head around the program, understand my responsibility in helping my club get the most DCP points possible and to encourage club members to take ownership of their educational journey. A responsibility I retained when I became President of Early Bird Speakers.
At the start of this Toastmasters year, a few members from different Toastmasters clubs reached out to me to find out what the program was about. Even though club officer trainings were on the horizon, I shared what I knew about it and what clubs had to do during the year.
Based on some of the questions received, I decided to write this piece.
What is the Distinguished Club Program?
Loosely speaking, the Distinguished Club Program serves as a yardstick, measuring how well a club is doing during the Toastmasters year. It is a way of gauging the quality of your club. Depending on whether your club is a newly formed club and in good standing, one that has been running for a few years or even decades, the program provides clubs with a series of goals to achieve. Reaching these goals earns your club points.
Becoming comfortable with the format, requirements and challenges of Toastmasters took a good few years. Why did I join? My work is training and facilitating and I needed to ‘up my game’. It is easy to become complacent when you have the knowledge and start coasting….what an insult to your audience! Talking endlessly (as I do!) with a TM friend who adores challenges we knew that the TM meeting approach could be applied in so many directions. We mused ‘what if….’ and, after getting backing ‘Speak Up, Speak Out; programmes for 14-16 year olds was started and over five years 2,000 students had been involved in the 12 week programme reported on in the press at prestigious offices in the City. This has now been taken over by the Peachey Foundation and is proving its value to all students. It is vital these young people, so very able to communicate by social media but lacking in knowing how to be effective face-to-face, to structure all that they do/say, appreciate the right use of language and project themselves to impress. And have fun!
So…..what now? Personally I have been asked to run programmes within the voluntary sector e.g. Victim Support and Samaritans . Not only are volunteers needing the confidence that clear, sound appropriate skills can provide, but the police when giving evidence in Court, and in choosing an empathetic, direct way to inform victims and families of what has happened or going to happen. And for those who are out of work whose confidence may have taken a battering? I regularly run seminars demonstrating how able they are and provide evaluations that, hopefully, are supportive but honest and constructive.
I run school programmes, not only for the schools in which you may consider are disadvantaged students but in public schools the students have been eager to learn the techniques offered by Toastmasters.
After a few years in Toastmasters International, you may look at further ways of advancing your speaking skills. Challenging yourself to contests and attending conferences or a Toastmaster Leadership Institute (TLI) all helps, but have you considered joining an advanced club?
Having been a member of Cornerstone Communicators Advanced Toastmasters Club for one year, I have concluded there are three good reasons to join such clubs.
Firstly – I was first attracted to visiting Cornerstone Communicators due to their programme of useful workshops. Some workshops are facilitated by club members and fellow Toastmasters, but external experts are brought in occasionally (and workshops are often free to members). For example, I have attended valuable workshops on quite specific but relevant topics such as: rhetorical devices, “winning evaluations”, humorous speeches, stand-up comedy, presenting on the radio, being interviewed by journalists and so on. The workshops not only provide knowledge but stimulate and motivate further thoughts.
Secondly –Cornerstone Communicators (and other advanced clubs) just do things differently. For example, rather than a standard evaluation the club usually offers an open evaluation – where each member of the audience is invited to provide a commendation and recommendation. I have found this particularly useful for improving my own speeches, and the audience seem to enjoy it too. Table Topics are very different, and more akin to the impromptu speaking seen on TV. Quite often two or more members will perform together – perhaps one narrating and the other miming, or there may be an absurd dialogue or interview situation in which the two members verbally spar. These Table Topics are indeed challenging but also so much fun than the norm.
Thirdly – As might be expected the members of advanced clubs are experienced speakers, many are professional presenters and workshop facilitators. As with most Toastmasters, they are willing to provide expert advice, valuable within and outside of Toastmasters. They are also well connected and know of conference organisers looking for speakers etc. Unlike one-off courses, advanced clubs give you on-going access to these experts.
Most advanced clubs require their members to have completed six projects, but they also welcome guests at e their meetings and workshops. I recommend visiting your local advanced club as a guest as soon as you can, rather than wait until you are qualified to join – like with Toastmasters I wish I had joined sooner. Whilst the club is focused on advanced skills, all new members are made to feel welcome and encouraged to try our new techniques.
In Districts 71 and 91 the advanced clubs are: Advanced Orators (Manchester), Anglian Advanced Speakers, Cornerstone Communicators, Cashel Club, Cork Ireland Advanced Pros Club, Edinburgh Advanced Toastmasters, Excalibur Advanced Speakers and PowerTalk (Dublin). If you are interested in trying Cornerstone Communicators (in Markyate) then email me for further details.
Go on, treat yourself and join one of the advanced clubs!
Angela Lansbury has been a Toastmasters for more than 12 years. She was Warren Sheng’s mentor in 2006. Contact her at email@example.com
Singapore has more than 350 clubs, so when I arrive I check the week’s options on “Find A club”, emailing clubs asking for a free slot. I visit clubs every night. If there’s a lunchtime meeting, I do two a day, but rarely three.
plan my month’s meetings on an A4 sheet. I write dates in the
margin, adding columns for club names, meeting times, postcodes,
costs, nearest stations, club emails and phones. I keep club cards
with officers’ contact details on the back, an A-Z of club agendas
containing committee members photos and emails, and the district club
directory 2016, alas discontinued.
Toastmasters Club of Singapore
first three Mondays of the month are easy, because the biggest and
oldest club which spawned the others is Toastmasters Club of
Singapore. It meets at the glamorous 5-star Sheraton Towers Hotel.
Beforehand, I look over the hotel balcony, admiring spotlit
waterfalls below. Because of the huge meeting room’s cost and the
mini-buffet and coffee, they charge visitors S$20, but this is less
than the price of coffee and cake in the hotel.
venue attracts about 50-70 people to meetings and has a stage. Their
membership fee is the highest, about $500 a year, but that’s 3
meetings a month including a light supper. You get jugs of cold
water, a Sheraton pen and minipad.
banks of chairs have a middle aisle. Visitors are asked to stand up
and say their name and a sentence on topics like: Where did you spend
Xmas? or, How do you spend your working day? (Smaller clubs let
often see Mr Chen, a club founder. He re-appears in the YMCA club
which charges about $20 and is central. Totally different, small
room, usually everybody around one big table. Visitors can buy his
excellent book on public speaking. Members can borrow books from the
public Toastmasters Clubs in Singapore meet in Community Clubs,
booking the boardroom so everybody sits around a huge table in
armchairs. In addition to the water dispenser, clubs give visitors a
small bottle of still water (temperature all year in the nineties
outside). The keyholder lets you in and switches on the air-con.
Committee members provide pot luck suppers, with occasional extras
from club sponsors, generous members, or visitors, especially on
national holidays e.g. moon cakes in autumn! You pay for hotel
Christmas dinners or Chinese New Year dinners. But distant suburban
clubs have free food (like our pot luck Xmas dinner meeting at
Harrovians in London).
Community Clubs are usually marked on maps in the nearest subway station. The CC buildings have Starbucks or Western food, or Chinese and Malay food downstairs or across the street.
located clubs are opposite the Sheraton Towers Hotel at Cairnhill
Community Centre, a Toastmasters hub with 9 clubs. Often free to
visitors, especially if you’re a functionary. I enjoy the
Vietnamese club, in English, on Saturday mornings. The monthly first
Friday evening Francophone club members speak entirely in French,
serving great cheeses.
bilingual Saturday afternoon Malay club had few members, but the
couple running it welcome families. Their offspring raced around the
room giggling. Despite distracting noise, maybe because the challenge
demanded voice projection, their determined mother later won the
Singapore district championship. She and her husband agreed, if
Darren Tay, A Singaporean Chinese, could win the World Championships
in the USA, in 2016, and an Indian Singaporean, Manoj, won in 2017
year, 2018 it’s the Malay Singaporeans’ turn to try.
Braddell Heights Advanced: another Toastmasters hub, Braddell Heights Community Centre, has four clubs. I wanted a mentor for advanced speeches (mine is Kan Kin Fung, the fun can-do man) so I joined Braddell Heights Advanced TMC. I am their VPPR.
don’t have to start as an advanced speaker, but you must aim to
advance to club contest, area, district and division.” Lots of
workshops and briefings teach how to win contests. An individual
evaluation of your speech is often followed by a group evaluation by
the whole room.
the UK I was called ‘the queen of props’. In Singapore I am
deferred to as ‘our native speaker’. I’m writing a book on
better English for speakers of “Singlish”. We meet the
first Wednesday and third Saturday (other clubs on other Saturdays).
Our club’s room has a schoolroom layout. Manoj, 2017 International
winner, coached us and showed his book, The Mousetrap.
clubs hold joint meetings. Universities and polys have several clubs,
sometimes four simultaneously in adjacent rooms, meeting in lobbies
at breaktime for networking (unofficially speed-dating!)
clubs in skyscrapers include accountants, IBM, banks. You
pre-register your name, sign in, show your passport, which is
photographed or unnervingly kept hostage in exchange for a pass. Club
members escort you through ground floor security gates, the upstairs
company’s Reception, and unlock toilets.
lunchtime meetings are opened by the SAA. Presidents rush in, give a
speech, pay the pizza deliverer, dash off.
long first-timers session is held monthly, with 5-8 icebreaker
speeches and evaluations, (no topics, grammarian or GE).
A member of Thomson club joined them because they had a stage.
on a large whiteboard the meeting section, speakers’ names,
subject/topic and time. Latecomers, newcomers and daydreamers
immediately see what’s happening.
My Most Memorable Meetings
Screens and Music
Singapore Airlines TMC, the TME introduced each speaker or
appointment holder with an informative description and complementary
music. I was ‘Angela Lansbury from England, who speaks the Queen’s
English,’ accompanied by God Save The Queen.
(American Insurance Association) start by parading their banner.
Behind their stage is a screen where they show slides for each
meeting section, starting by projecting photos and names of last
meeting’s ribbon winners.
first time I attended their club I tried table topics. A recorded
drum-roll precedes the winner announcement. I was astonished to see
on screen my name, correctly spelled, with my photo edged by Union
Jacks! Their SAA hunches over his laptop throughout the meeting,
updating names, typefaces, photos, cartoons, quotations and borders!
Table Signs, Certificates and Gifts
sit behind the acrylic EVALUATOR table signs. Evaluators and
competition judges often receive a certificate of thanks. Judges
nearly always receive a small gift, a notebook from a dollar shop, or
pencil from Toastmasters international. One bank gave a handy
notebook with an attached pen and the company name on the front.
the meeting’s end, the clubs take a collective photo, looking
professional, followed by a ‘fun shot’ with big grins, thumbs up,
V for victory, leaning at funny angles.
Singapore you learn something every day. If you are visiting, email
me and check these:
Heights Advanced Toastmasters Club Facebook
de Singapour TMC toastmasters francophone de singapour
Club of Singapore http://www.toastmasters.org.sg
Singapore station map
International Find a club https://www.toastmasters.org/find-a-club
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