What Toastmasters Doesn’t Teach You

Last week I gave my final speech, number ten, in the competent communicator set at my local Toastmasters Club. Following a formula that I’ve found works well, I ripped off a previous blog post and turned it into my CC#10 speech. If you want to read/see it, here are the links:

It’s been good to go to Toastmasters meetings, as it provides excellent practice in developing and presenting a talk. However, I found there were some skills that are required to put together a good speech that aren’t covered in the manuals provided or in the evaluations offered at meetings. Essentially these are the skills related to getting yourself to the point where you can deliver the speech, rather than those related to the actual delivery.

Specifically, Toastmasters doesn’t teach you how to research a speech, prepare a written form of the speech to learn, and then learn the speech off by heart. If anyone else in Toastmasters land is struggling with these (or is just interested), then here’s what I learned that worked pretty well (but no guarantees it will work well for anyone else):

  • Research. I found that the manuals provided guidance on how to select a good topic, but then what? I found that a mind-mapping approach, using the XMind software in conjunction with web searches, worked well in fleshing out the topic, and capturing the topics, sub-topics, and sub-sub-topics in a useful hierarchical fashion. You could easily see where the interesting aspects of the topic were leading, and if there were aspects that you hadn’t yet got much material on. Once the mind-map was sufficiently large (this will be a subjective thing), I knew there was enough material for a speech and I could stop.
  • Preparing a written form. I don’t say “writing the speech”, since I was unable to find enough time to memorise a fully-written speech, hence it was pointless writing one. What I would produce was essentially an outline of the eventual speech, and I would allow myself the freedom to ad-lib a bit when delivering it. To fill a 5-7 minute speech I knew that my outline should have, at the top level, an introduction, three sub-topics, then a conclusion, and each point at the top level should have 2-3 points at the level below.
  • Learning it off by heart. I found it hard to memorise all the words in a fully-written speech, but I also found it hard to remember all of my outline in the heat of the moment when delivering the speech. So, I took an approach that I was shown in a Think on Your Feet course, and created a visual representation of the outline. Each point below the top level would be turned into a simple drawing, or icon. It turns out that my brain finds this much easier to remember. And you don’t need to be able to hold the whole thing in your head during the speech; you just need to remember “what next”, which is just one thing at a time.

One of the consequences of following the above approach is that the speech ends up being highly structured, which is considered a Good Thing at Toastmasters meetings. One of the complications, though, is that it doesn’t help you with remembering particular gestures or when to advance slides. So, it’s not a complete technique.

If you’ve read this far, I hope this helps you.