By Lynne Cantor, Excalibur Speakers, DivL Area9
‘You must come’.
‘You need to come’.
‘You’ll love it’.
I am not sure ‘love’ was the right word back then but twelve years on and I do love Toastmasters. Initially cajoled by a friend to come along and then I was hooked. It’s funny, we go to hundreds of meetings and often can’t remember what happened when, but we do tend to remember our first meeting. The girl with the Australian accent, now a dear friend, the guy with the stutter who now runs comedy shows and the visiting speaker talking about body language, a topic I now present on myself. I’ve a lot to thank my friend for. Bring a friend to your next meeting, the more who know the more we’ll grow.
I joined the all women club, Women in Banking and Finance – City (now City Women Speakers), a year after it was founded. I was quickly co-opted onto the committee as Vice President Public Relations. Do take on a committee role, over time try them all. You may feel ‘how did I get here, what am I supposed to do? PR was not exactly in my comfort zone. I had never produced publicity material or written a newsletter. I always think that when you find yourself in that position, you just have to get stuck in. I found I enjoyed talking to members and getting their stories, researching speaking tips and finding pictures to enhance content. There was less social media and online activity then than there is now and our newsletters were often printed and handed out.
As I started to enjoy Toastmasters I began to look a little wider than my home club. I would go and General Evaluate (GE) at other clubs. There are so many wonderful clubs around each with their own unique feel but all offering the opportunity to learn, develop and grow your speaking ability. Go visit other clubs, be a GE or simply observe, there is much to gain.
Workshops are often on offer with great speakers sharing their skills and experiences. I always come out motivated and buzzing. I also take loads of notes that used to end up shoved in a drawer. I’ve since learned the hard way not to do that. When you take notes, use them, don’t lose them. Go to the workshops, they are usually free. One of the workshops that interested me was how to be better at evaluations, presented by two former District Evaluation Champions. For me, having to gather your thoughts in a few minutes, structure a speech and make the speaker feel motivated seemed a tall order. I came out bantering with my friend as to who would win the next ‘Best Evaluator’ ribbon. My friend did……… every time for two years. ‘How do you do that’ I asked. It turns out she had implemented all the advice from the workshop whereas I had shoved it all in a drawer. Ouch!
It was competition time. ‘Come on members’ declared our President. ‘Step up. We need contestants’. ‘I will if you will’. Over the years I’ve noticed that some clubs have lots of contestants whereas others have very few. More chance of winning in the latter! Contests are a great way to help you up your game. Always give competitions a chance. Sign up and enter. I’ve heard speakers who have been in Toastmasters for less than six months go all the way to the International competition. You never know how far you can go unless you try.
I never entered the evaluation contest to become a champion. I just wanted to beat my friend, just once. My friend won best Speaker and I, finally, won best Evaluator. I remember at Area, warming up my brain and getting myself into evaluation mode. My main competitor who had won at Area for the past three years received a note from one of her friends. ‘Lynne is evaluating everything in sight if you are not careful she’ll win’. I did. You wouldn’t go to the gym without warming up, so why evaluate without warming up. You can warm up evaluating other speakers or even the Toastmaster.
Audiences get bigger as you go from Club to Area to Division to District. The Division contest was in a lecture hall with everyone not just looking at you but looking down at you. A bit unnerving if you are not used to it. I had been given tips to remember my evaluation so I could do it primarily without notes, one of those tips was to write the words on a mini yellow sticker and keep it in the palm of your hand. A brilliant idea in practice but in a contest, when you are nervous, when your hands are sweaty, it doesn’t work. I wouldn’t recommend going without notes for the first time in a contest, challenge yourself to try it in the safety of your home club. That said, at the time it was a case of ‘I’ll just have to go for it’. I did. I won. Wow. Who would have thought putting into practice all those tips and tricks from the workshop would have made such a difference.
When I run Evaluations workshops these days one of the first things I say is ‘Use your notes, don’t shove them in a drawer’. I actually went through the whole Evaluation competition process twice. After the first attempt when I came second at District I swore I would never enter a contest again, way too stressful. When I reflected though on how much I had improved in just three months I knew there was something to be gained. The following year I came away with the UK and Ireland District Evaluation Championship title. For the past seven years I have helped others improve their evaluation skills through mentoring and workshops. Nothing delights me more than when a new Evaluation Champion is announced. These days I have added to my workshops, as well as evaluations I run ‘Speaking without words – the power of silent communication’ which is all about using your body to enhance your speaking.
My Toastmasters journey still continues and every 2nd and 4th Wednesday I can be found at Excalibur Speakers, D91’s only advanced club. This May I will be at conference. Other weeks I attend workshops, visit other clubs and absorb the shared knowledge and ideas that makes Toastmasters such a great organisation to be part of.
Lynne’s next evaluation workshop will be on Tuesday 28th May at Holborn Speakers. Rugby Tavern, 19 Great James St, London, WC1N 3ES. Time: 6.45pm to 9pm.