Story of a Competent Communicator (Who, Me?)

Well, I did it.

I got through the 10 Toastmasters speeches that comprise the organization’s initial manual. That qualifies me as a “Competent Communicator.”

It’s the point at which I initially envisioned that I might end my Toastmasters experience. Apparently a large percentage of members do quit after reaching that milestone.

I didn’t count on being in a group of incredibly supportive and caring folks. I didn’t count on improving my skills so much. I didn’t count on having so much fun.

The quality of the club has inspired me to get very involved. I do a lot because I want the club to always be as wonderful as it is now. The supportive, cheery atmosphere also has inspired me to aspire to the pinnacle, the Distinguished Toastmaster award — or maybe even the exclusive and hard-to-obtain Accredited Speaker designation. I’ve talked about my involvement and goals in a previous post.

In my ongoing effort to chronicle my Toastmasters experience, here are a few things I’m proud of in my 15-month journey to Competent Communicator:

  • With one exception, I always tried to carefully tailor my speeches to the objectives of each project in the manual.
  • For the most part, I knew way ahead of time what topic and approach I would take to each speech. My 10th speech is a good example. The object was to give a speech that inspires. I remembered a speech I’d crafted when I was speechwriter to Florida’s education commissioner, for which I’d won an award. I felt it was perfect for the inspiring speech and knew many months ahead of time that it would be the basis of my 10th speech. I adapted and updated it.
  • I liked the fact that I always tried to dress professionally when giving a speech. For me, professional attire promotes confidence.
  • I learned from mistakes. I wrote in a past post about learning to deal with distractions after a particularly ill-fated speech. In another, I talked about how overpreparation may be hurting my speeches. I learned a lesson from my 10th speech, too. Because the 10th speech is required to be 8-10 minutes long instead of the usual 5-7 minutes, I was sure I would need a memory crutch when presenting the speech. So I decided to use a teleprompter app (Prompster Pro) on my iPad as a backup. But during my (over?)preparation, I ended up memorizing the speech. I discovered that a teleprompter isn’t a good tool for a memorized speech. The combination of the teleprompter and overpreparation was probably responsible for one hiccup in the speech.
  • I won a few Best Speaker awards along the way, including for the 10th speech.
  • I learned to keep my speeches within time limits, primarily by writing them to be at or below the minimum length and understanding that no matter what length my rehearsals are, delivering the speech for real will always take more time.

Things I wish I’d done better:

  • Made my speeches more storied. I was better at delivering storied speeches early on. Later speeches had story bits and fragments but few full stories.
  • Had better eye contact. In videos of myself speaking, I’ve observed that I tend to stick my chin up, which accentuates sleepy-looking eyes. I also sometimes look in the direction of the audience, but not directly at them, sort of beyond them.
  • Had better hand gestures. Sometimes I have gestures for the sake of gestures with no real point to them. For my 10th speech, I somehow developed a bizarre tendency to gesture with only one hand.
  • Understood better how to connect with my audience. I felt I connected in most of my speeches, but I missed the mark in a couple of them. In my most crushing disappointment, an emotional speech I’d worked incredibly hard on failed to reach the audience. And even disregarding the distractions that marred my ninth speech, I didn’t feel I was connecting, and I’m not sure why.
  • Smiled while speaking. When the content is appropriate, speakers can enormously enhance their speeches by smiling, as a couple of smiley members of our club have proven. I’m just not a natural smiler, and the most I can usually muster is a wan little smirk.

Onward and upward to the Toastmasters advanced manuals!

In case you’d like to experience my Toastmasters journey from my joining to the milestone 10th speech (I wrote more Toasties posts than I realized.)….