Division J

How to Avoid the Last minute Panic…

By Andy Hessey, Area J4 Director

How many people have signed up for a speech with the words “I’ve got plenty of time” in their heads, only to wake up one morning with drenched in a cold sweat and with  clammy palms followed by the horrible realisation that you are hours away from that delivering a speech to a sea of expectant faces when all you have is a rough outline of your project that you created down at the pub 2 weeks ago after ½  bottle of gin and 5 Tequila Slammers?

Andy Hessey

We’ve all been there and we all know how gut wrenching it is.  Panic sets in, followed by the crushing disappointment that it’s not going to be as good as you had thought it was going to be due to the fact you’ve not had chance to give it the finesse and polishing that turns an average speech into one that can win a contest.

So why are we so bad at planning ahead?  Is it because as Toastmasters we live in the present with our speeches or is it that we just don’t give enough importance to planning them, just assuming that it will be alright on the night?  To be fair, for most Toastmasters, a speech is just another ball to juggle along with family, work and friends etc – but that’s not really a good excuse. 

With my Project had on, I know that with just a little forward thinking, the stress really can be taken out of your prep work, so, allow me, if I may, to share my top 3 tips for planning ahead to make sure that it’s not another last-minute.com speech.

  • Think bigger than the next speech

If you are only planning one speech at a time then you’re not going to get the most leverage out of your time.  I’m not saying that you should plan your entire path to your DTM (I’m not stopping you) but planning multiple speeches is the way to go.  You don’t have to get your entire pathway booked in on EasySpeak from Icebreaker to final project but think about how quickly you want to get, let’s say, from Level 2 to Level 3 by setting that as a goal with marker points along the way.

Having 4 or 5 speeches, planned in your calendar gives you much better visibility of your deadlines.  It allows you to think ahead as to where you’re going to long days at work, or maybe a week’s holiday and try to avoid busy work times – you really don’t need the stress of both! 

Finally, If possible try to sit down with your VPE and try to schedule your speeches on a regular cycle (every 6 – 8 weeks or so) so that you can manage your own expectations.

  • That “My Little Pony” notebook can be a saviour

Always keep a notebook with you to jot down ideas.  Inspiration can hit us at the strangest of times (although if it hits you while crossing the road, chances are it’s not inspiration .. it’s more likely a car).

I have a notebook full of ideas for speeches.  Some are roughly formed, others are no more than vague ideas or catchy titles.  Some of these ideas will eventually become icebreakers or contest speeches, others will never make it in front of an audience but that doesn’t matter.  Sometimes speeches can develop months or years after they were first mooted 

Having a book full of part developed speeches and ideas might, at first glance, not seem terribly useful, but it can also be a great psychological safety net.  Having proof that you can generate ideas helps to negate the excuse of “I’ve got no ideas for a speech”. 

  • Cookie Cut it!

In Project Management, the term “Cookie Cutter” refers to a repeatable, reusable process to deliver the same high quality product time and again.  It’s a great tool that can be used in many circumstances – and speech preparation is one of them.

Creating a cookie cutter is easy – Break down what steps you need to take in order to be ready and write them down.  Work out how long you need to feel comfortable with each bit.  For example, you might only want to spend ½ hour writing your speech, but will want to practice it 10 – 15 times all the way through, which is in total about 2 ½ hours to get a speech ready.    This can then be split across a week, 2 weeks … however long you feel you need to be relaxed with the content and delivery.

Once you have your template in place, make sure you stick to it!  Yes, of course, it can be tweaked and for big speeches such as a contest, you might need a bit longer, but once you are happy with your cookie cutter, don’t try to make too many changes!

            Planning time for a speech is one of the best ways of calming nerves and providing clarity and focus.  Just remember the next time you put yourself forward for a speech, it doesn’t have to come out of thin air like a massive thunderclap… It can all be there ahead of those critical minutes in front of your audience

The Process Of Becoming

By Nikita Parks, Area J22 Director

Georg Hegel’s work is some of the most dense, difficult philosophy ever written, however, it is profoundly influential even now, some 200 years on. Karl Marx remains Hegel’s most prominent follower. Lev Vygotsky, a Soviet-era Marxist, and prominent developmental psychologist, was influenced by both. Vygotsky described a “zone of proximal development”, which is that which lies beyond one’s current capability but within one’s capacity to learn. Vygotsky also described “scaffolding”, which comprises the tools provided by others to help the learner to learn. As the learner learns, so their capabilities and their zone of proximal development are both extended. I think you will concur that Toastmasters’ Pathways programme has a distinctly Vygotskian character to it. It embodies differing processes for becoming a better leader.

Nikita parks

Hegel’s Dialectic is the philosophy underlying this process of becoming. Hegel envisages our existence as a series of struggles. At every stage, there is a proposition, a “thesis”, and its negation, the “antithesis” which are opposing forces in a perpetual struggle. A snapshot decision point, a “synthesis” enables a new stage to emerge, which becomes a new “thesis”. In this model, you can see trial and error learning, the abandonment of a habit that no longer works because the underlying influence has changed. The classic example of a dialectical struggle is the opposing forces of the need for stability and the need for change. Both are equally valid, despite being diametrically opposed.  The current political situation in the UK can be viewed and perhaps understood more meaningfully through a dialectical lens. What does the country seek to become?

Hegel is explicit that the dialectic does not stand alone. It is integral to and requires social context. He describes its genesis from first principles as the emergent awareness of the self as distinct from another.  Singularity is meaningless. The concept of an island or of a country is meaningless if there is only one of them. Thus consciousness of another produces self-consciousness. Hegel also explains that this depends on mutual recognition. If one country does not recognise the integrity of another, then it is likely that a war will ensue. Similarly there will be conflict if one person does not recognise the rights of another. We are particularly sensitive to violation of our interpersonal boundaries. In extremis, the ‘dark triad’ of personality disorders embody those who don’t recognise or respect these boundaries.

What we do in Toastmasters is all about our social context. We are consistently strong on recognition, we purposefully support each other and build each other up, we generally don’t tear each other down. However, we can usefully consider every interpersonal interaction from a dialectic perspective. You are the thesis, the other, the antithesis. What comes from you? What comes from the other? Is that stinging criticism justified, or does it say more about the person delivering it? Rather than becoming sensitive when we realise that our boundaries have been violated after the event, being mindful of what is coming from within ourselves and what is coming from the other person enables us to recognise when our boundaries are being threatened and to make smarter decisions and respond appropriately before they are violated.

The “inner critic”, that nagging inner voice that causes self-doubt and causes us to be self-limiting can be considered as the unhelpful internalisation of a lifetime of criticism. It’s a habit we can change. Recognise it as the antithesis of what Toastmasters is about, recognise that it did not come from us, but from others, and that it deserves no consideration, because it relates to the past and we are engaged in the active process of becoming better versions of ourselves. Banish that critic, believe in yourself and make sure you’re stretching yourself by working in your zone of proximal development. This is how leaders are made.

…in the countryside you say?

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By Sam Warner, J11 Area Director

“It’s a bit rural down there!” they said.

“You’ll have a job chartering in the middle of nowhere!” they said.

“I’m not interested in anything corporate or business related” they said.

Well, I do love a challenge and Jill Ming ACS, ALB does too.  Having started and chartered a club in District 71, Shropshire Speakers, I was looking to see where the next logical leap was for a second club in Shropshire as it’s a very large county.  Telford (Shropshire Speakers location) has a population of approximately 170,000 people and it took us three years to charter – it’s a town that predominantly houses unskilled factory workers who aren’t really after that next promotion! (I’m generalising of course but it’s not full of go-getting city slickers eager to up their game and rake in the dosh!)

We settled on Ludlow after Jill got some great feedback on how she presented herself at networking meetings – everyone wanted to know her secret.  Being self-employed Jill had to learn how to story-tell and inspire the audience, her prospective clients.  In December 2015 we held our demonstration meeting which seemed to be well received. Well  we managed to attract 3 new members at that point.  Malvern Speakers, especially Steve Birch were very supportive and helpful at the start – but it’s really hard to keep the momentum going when everyone is driving over an hour each way to support the meeting. Jill and I soldiered on.

The road was hard and the slog was long – none of the materials offered by Toastmaster WHQ suited our potential audience so we had to be creative.  No-one wanted to do high powered technical presentations, no-one wanted to get a promotion or go through an interview or even work in an office – the people of Ludlow are a mixture of self-employed, retired and the very well-off.  The imagery used on the Toastmasters website did not resonate with people and they found it hard to find their story to relate to in the reasons to join or to carry on once they had begun.   Fortunately, Jill and I have the gift of the gab and we were able to encourage a core of members to stay and develop their skills in the ways they wanted to using the formal Toastmasters training program but on subjects they were interested in exploring in a relaxed and friendly laid back environment..

And so we leafleted, got into the local rag, on to BBC Radio Shropshire, into pub newsletters, told the college, popped into the library and all the local businesses.  We put on more demo meetings.  Meetup didn’t work – just because no-one seems to use it in Ludlow. We used Social media aggressively since we began but I think our target member didn’t spend all day on Facebook or Twitter, alas.   Our website has worked well, helping the rare people who do want help to hone their confidence and or public speaking skills to find us.

And so through patience, diligence and allowing the slow-grow to happen we chartered this month (March 2019) a healthy club with layers of advanced, middle range and new speakers which supports our mentoring program beautifully.

My takeaway from this experience?  Don’t be afraid of the small rural town (Ludlow has a population of roughly 10,000) it can still bear fruit if you are willing to be committed to the whole journey and you are persistent.  District 91 has a lot of rural areas that are hitherto untapped – they are just ripe for a Toastmasters Club, don’t you think?

I’ve been looking at where I’m going to start my next club.  It’s probably going to be in the countryside…… wish me luck!

Assistant Area Director

By Carrie Baker, Assistant Area J22 Director

I came into this with an open mind, as I did not really know what the Area Director’s role really involved – all I knew is that I wanted to gain as much experience as I could as I need to do this to get my DTM!  When Nikita approached after me I expressed an interest in shadowing and taking on the role the next year, I jumped at the chance to become Deputy Area Director, as it gave me a security net and someone to learn from!

I could not have wished for better support or more welcoming team than Joy Division and having coaching from Nikita (current Area Director) and Helena (current Division Director) has helped increase my knowledge and network ahead of stepping into Nikita’s shoes later this year.  I am also lucky enough to be a part of Joy Division and feel that I have met and made lifelong friends this year.  I have been lucky enough to watch and share in their growth and achievements and feel proud to be a part of Division J and Toastmasters.

 I believe that this is a model we should take forward in future years and showcase to other districts, as the benefits outweigh the effort required to support this.  If we formalise the processes and document the roles, it would make it easier for people to pick up and we could split the Director roles out further, thus reducing the pressure on the Directors.  It could be rolled out to all the roles within TM, as a way of supporting those taking on the roles.

We need to be conscious that everyone carries out the roles as volunteers and if you are working full time, it is more challenging to find the time to get to every contest / club / meeting that you are required to attend.  Previously the model has been more pass the baton on and disappear as this is a demanding role that can take its toll on people and so some need some time to recover and continue their personal TM journey, whilst others are fired up ready for the next challenge!

I feel more prepared for my next challenge as I take on the mantle of Area Director, I know that I will not be perfect, that is the joy of being human and a TM, as I am willing to take the feedback and share my experiences and knowledge with my clubs and help them to grow. 

How to deal with those pre-talk jitters

By Bret Freeman, Area J21 Director

Sweaty hands, shortness of breath, heart beating right out of chest and I felt like I was going to throw up!  That’s how it use to be every time I would stand centre stage with a live TV camera in my face and the producers voice in my ear piece saying 10 seconds to live…. 9… 8…7…6…5…4…3… 2…aaaand cue Bret….”

The voice in my head ( not the one in my ear that belonged to the producer, the other one, the one that I just can’t seem to get rid of) kept saying over and over again, “don’t screw up, don’t screw up…don’t screw up! This is live TV, don’t screw up, everyone is watching you, don’t screw up…”  and guess what… lots of times, I screwed up!  On LIVE television and in front of thousands of attending fans at MAJOR sporting events.

My light bulb moment came when I realised, I was thinking about this in the wrong way.  There were a couple of things going here. 

First of all, none of our experiences have meaning until we assign them meaning.  What I mean by that is that when we have an experience, any experience, we decide how we will react to that experience.  And, our reaction often comes out in our physiology.  If we work this backwards and I say to you, “Imaging your hands are clammy, your heart is beating fast, you have butterflies in your stomach” what emotion are you feeling?  Did you say nervousness or anxiety?  Most people do.  Wouldn’t you have the very same feelings of you hadn’t seen your partner in several weeks and were waiting for them to get off an airplane?  Or what about when you were a child waiting for Father Christmas?  You see, we assign meaning to our experiences.  Nervousness or excitement, it’s up to you.

Second, by thinking to myself, “don’t screw up… I was actually willing myself to do exactly that.  Psychology calls this the Ironic process theory.  Whatever we try NOT to think of becomes the very thing we cannot seem to get out of our heads.  Put another way, we magnify that on which we focus, and trying NOT to think of screwing up (by telling myself over and over again “Don’t screw up”) had exactly the opposite effect.  It’s like the old saying, “Don’t thing of a blue elephant”… what are you thinking of?  Can you see his blue trunk and his blue ears?… See, that’s how it works, whatever we try NOT to think of becomes the very thing that we do think of.

Once I understood this concept, it hit me like a ton of bricks, I was focusing on the wrong things!  In fact, the very definition of anxiety is focusing on what you DON’T want to happen, and whenever it was time to go to work, I was filled with anxiety.  My “Don’t screw up” became “this is going to be really hard” which ultimately became “this is impossible” and in much of my early TV work, you can see it written all over my face.  The stress and anxiety I was creating within my own head would often take over and show itself to the whole world.  I loved my job and hated my job all in the same breath.  The buzz and adrenaline from the crowds was great, but the pressure that I put on myself was terrible, and the stage fright was almost debilitating. 

Focusing on what I didn’t want to happen has given me no shortage of bloopers and poor performances early in my career, but when I changed my mindset, it made all the difference!  It is very much like when a championship skier is speeding down an advanced run, trees and obstacles everywhere, are they looking at the trees or are they looking at their line?  When a race car driver is speeding around a track, is it the walls or their line that they focus on?  When an Olympic marksman is preparing to shoot are they focusing on the target or the audience?  For me, it became so clear, when I was getting ready to deliver anything, a talk, a workshop, a live piece to a television camera, I was focused on the trees…the walls, the “screwing up” of the thing… as soon as I started focusing on my line, the voice in my head changed from “don’t screw up” to “I’m gonna smash this talk”  and it has made all the difference!  I work with lots of speakers these days and many face the very same mindset.  Corporate presentations, wedding speeches, even West End actors.  That voice inside does it’s best to get them focused on what they DON’T want to happen…and BOOM!  There it is; the stage fright, the nerves, the lack of confidence.

One of the techniques I use to help people to get over this pre-talk anxiety is the 5,4,3,2,1 method.  The next time you are getting ready to speak, before you take the stage, just take a few seconds and do the following:

Take a deep breath, breath in for the count of five and out for the count of seven.  As you are breathing in and out, look around you and locate

-5 things you can see

-4 things you can touch

-3 things you can hear

-2 things you can smell

-1 emotion you can feel (or a time you were excited)

If you follow this process before you give your next talk, it will calm your nerves, it help you to be grounded, it will help you to stop looking at the trees, and help you to find your line!

So, the next time you get ready to give a talk… find your line, focus on your line and you’ll be perfect!!