Posts Tagged speaking

Review of 2009 and Plans for 2010. Part 3: Communication skills & Toastmasters

This post is a continuation from my previous entry about my review of 2009 and plans for the next coming year. (http://www.martinogg.com/2010/01/happy-new-year-a-review-of-last-year-and-my-plans-for-next-year/)

Communication skills have become a topic of focus for me over the last year. It began with a work training course about creating business ideas and pitching them to business minded people in order to receive funding. Because my company is heavily involved with engineering, the classes were geared towards geeks and had a communication-based focus about them – opposite to the technical focus we were used to in Uni at our various courses. I guess this is something they thought we needed to learn.. This is something I enjoyed very much, because time and again I felt that I had great ideas throughout uni and work-life but short of something I could code together to illustrate, the ideas never seemed to make the light of day. I was a very nervous speaker and giving speeches was the worst task I could imagine. Yet it is a very necessary part of business and idea development.

The course left me with a hunger to improve my communication skills. Previously the easiest way to stop the nerves was to avoid speeches or confrontations whenever possible. However now I was willing to face the fact that this was something that scared me and that in order to proceed, hiding away from it was not the answer.

I discovered the Toastmasters group shortly after and went to my first meeting in March last year. Since then I have attended every other week and participated in roles and speeches. In October I took the role of Toastmaster for the first time. It was a very nerve-racking ordeal but I got through it OK without dieing. On later reflection, it showed me that when it comes to social gatherings, its important not to act on nerves. Toastmasters helps to work on things like nerves, as well as communication skills in the form of feedback and speaking tasks.

One unexpected thing about the Toastmasters group is the people I’ve met there and engaging in their own views. Its actually pretty hard to get away from it when they give a speech about their favourite topics. I’ve met Life coaches, NLP practitioners, veteran Toastmasters, engineers, students and other beginner Toastmasters. By meeting every couple of weeks and hearing what they have to say, they inevitably give off a particular view to a subject which is diverse and inspiring to me and makes me challenge my own view. Quite a change from the usual haunt of workmates in the same department and friends who share the same general interests as me.

The end result of this is huge. From my initial view of wanting to improve my speaking skills, my aims have catapulted to other sections of my life such as challenging my own beliefs of the world, to more accurately planning what it takes to become more happy and goal setting. This is a topic I would like to mention later on in another post.

Plans for 2010

I aim to keep on going with the Toastmasters group. Its a very clearly structured environment and because its so encouraging for progression, I dont have to worry about planning what I’ll do. I’ll be continuing my speeches courses, taking roles and chatting to the other toastmasters.

One particular aim I’d like is to meet more people from diverse backgrounds. Its interesting to meet people from all walks of life and can have an influence over your own path. To achieve this I hope to keep on looking at more clubs and meetings which might achieve this. A few months ago I discovered meetup.com where people can join groups of a particular topic of interest and then have real life meet ups to discuss the topic. Edinburgh has loads of groups and I attended one to go for a visit to a local attraction.

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My first role at toastmasters… and I screw it up!

Amongst ruining someone else’s speech last night because I didn’t time it properly, I kept on forgetting to turn the cards over to indicate the times during speeches, kept on annoying the other people next to me for help, and had a wonderful evening! It taught me that this is the perfect place to screw up.

Last night I was given my first role of timer at my 4th meeting for the Toastmasters in Edinburgh. Each member takes turns of taking the various roles held in each meeting. This not only helps to maintain the structure of the meetings by having such roles, but also allows more participation and experience in organised speaking. Apparently its the easiest role to get into but that didn’t stop me from completely ruining it….

30 seconds or so into the first speech and I forgot to press the start button on the timer. In the prepared speech I never turned the cards over to show the speaker how they were doing. I had to ask the name of the person speaking..

If you ask my boss, he will tell you my abilities at time keeping, especially in the mornings. And this level of ability was certainly visible in my role of timer. Thankfully the clock took care of the actual timings and the other guys were there to help me out when I was about to do something seriously wrong.

If I had been nervous about doing the role beforehand, or giving a small speech at the start about doing the role, it certainly wasn’t as nervous as waiting till the end of the evening to be given an evaluation on my part. Yes I did badly, but it was then I realised that doing this was exactly what I needed.

Every time I have gone to the Toastmasters meetings I have felt apprehensive because I didn’t know the people well, the thought of impromptu speaking was deadly frightening and the thought of screwing up a speech was just unimaginably scary. And screwing up is exactly what I did. But at the end, I was given some incredibly encouraging feedback, told not to worry as it was my first shot at the role, and for most people speaking, my role of timer was done absolutely fine. Turns out I didn’t screw up as bad as I thought.

Being given encouragement and positive feedback was really important to me which helped me to realise that going to Toastmasters is one of the most important decisions I have made in a long time. Its a very supportive atmosphere and even though people will stumble along the way, it certainly is the place to do it as you will be picked up and you are helped to improve.

I would definitely encourage anyone who wants to work on their communication skills to look into it. As I have experienced, it teaches more than the technical skills of speaking effectively, but also prepares you for the things that can go wrong. It isn’t nearly as bad as all the horrible thoughts in my mind would have me believe it would be. With my newly bestowed confidence, I can’t wait till the next meeting where I take on the role of Table topics master…

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