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What I Learnt From My First Toastmasters Speech

Marketing Yourself

Nervousness. Mind-farts. Adrenalin.

These are just some of the words to describe my first speech at Manhattan Toastmasters. It went well, but at the same time it went pretty badly. The key thing, though, was that I got started.

While I personally learnt a lot myself, I hope that the experiences I went through will also help other people when preparing a public speech. I am miles away from being any good, but there are definitely some useful takeaways from the process as a whole.

The Topic:
As it was my first speech, all I had to do was to talk about myself.

Everyone loves to talk about themselves :), so the topic was pretty easy to start with.

The goal is to just get confidence on the stage, and this is definitely a huge weakness of mine — nerves. If I can beat one thing in taking these sessions, it would be to reduce my nerves before speaking. It is impossible to completely eradicate nerves, but mine at the moment are close to ridiculous.

I prepared the speech for around 2 weeks.

Getting the core idea took about 2 days (obviously not the entire two days, but an hour here, an hour there). I like this stage as you get a chance to brainstorm cool ideas and anecdotes that you have stored in your head.

After this phase I wrote the outline of the speech and the general gist of the stories. I continued to tweak it over the course of a week, and then met a friend, who I practiced with. The feedback I received was really helpful, and is a must for every speech going forward.

It was now a week before the speech, and I continued to tweak but mainly focused on memorization. I had it on my phone, but then transferred it to paper so that I could add some images and hand notes to.

When I arrived shortly before the speech I tried to get in the zone, and get my adrenaline pumping by visualizing one of my all-time favorite goals. This definitely helped a lot to get me pumped up, so I may try it again next time. It didn’t help with nerves though, so I’ll have to try some tricks with that problem.

Then, it was time to speak.

The speech:
When I went up, I was pretty much in the zone and was pumped up. My speech was called ‘Being Independent’.

I began my speech relatively strong and spoke about how I ran away from home when I was 7. This anecdote from my youth was the first of three stories that centered around how I have tried to be independent.

This then segued into my story of going to China. After the first line, I had a mental block.

Oh shit!

I tried to remember, but couldn’t. I tried to blurt out a line but knew it was leading me nowhere. I then reverted to my notes, and found the line. It was an awkward silence, but luckily I got back into my rhythm and continued to talk about being on a game show in China. As a listener, I imagine it was pretty painful to watch.

My final section was about New York, and once again I stumbled on one line. I found it, but endured another 3-5 seconds of silence. I then finished with a strong enough note about the struggles to get here and that the eventual success in getting to New York was mainly down to those around me and not solely because of my independence. On my last line I used the wrong verb which resulted in me messing up the final punch. It fell a little flat and I was done.

Forty people were in attendance and I got feedback from each and everyone of them. Before I talk about their feedback, this is what I want to say about my own performance.

Feedback from myself:
I was happy that I was able to get my message across and get a reaction from my story, but I messed up in a number of areas.

The biggest mistake I think I made was not having good notes to help me with the story flow. This also didn’t help with the nervousness.

I should have used flashcards, or better still for me, memorized images in a Mind Map format and then have those images on a page to hold. When I was stuck, I had to search for the place on the sheet. That was a huge error, but one I can easily fix.

Feedback from others:
The great thing about the feedback for me, is that it was constructive and consistent among the audience. Circa 40 people gave me feedback on paper, with 1 spoken evaluation from a seasoned speaker.

The positives were that people enjoyed the stories and were engaged.

The areas to improve were mainly body language related.

  1. I paced too much. I initially thought this was the right thing to do, but according to others it made me look nervous. They encourage walking, but not in this nervous manner.
    Next steps: Stay still and walk a little until more comfortable. Also, I want to look at some Youtube videos of speakers like Jobs, and see how they use the stage.
  2. I didn’t make eye contact. I thought I was, but according to others, my head was bobbing all around the place. This a great to be aware of, and now I’ll have to look people directly in the eyes.
    Next steps: Read up on how to do this properly when dealing with a crowd [e.g. Do I look at 1 person, or skip around from person to person]. Then practice in a mirror, and/or during my mini-speeches at work.
  3. I touched my chest a lot. This I kind of knew about, but was funny to see other people noticing so clearly. Someone thought I was going to have a heart-attack :). With my nervousness on the stage, I’m not surprised they thought that way.
    Next steps: When practicing my speech, I should clasp my hands together as a default. Am not sure if this is correct, so I will have to research.
  4. I cleared my throat around 10 times. This one I had no idea about. I’ll have to play really close attention to this one. It’s amazing that people picked up on this, because in no other situation would I have gotten this type of feedback.
    Next steps: Record myself, and try and be conscious of it. This one could be had to tackle.

This feedback was exactly what I wanted. I made errors, and there are tangible ways to fix them.
This is the whole point of toastmasters and exactly what I paid for.

What’s Next?
My next speech will be within the next month or so, and it’s main purpose is to improve organization of the message. I would not say that this is my biggest weakness, and while trying to pay attention to structure, the areas I really need to improve on are body language related [as mentioned above].

What Immediate Value I See in Toastmasters:
I see that by doing these speeches regularly you:

  • Find out your strengths and weaknesses, that no one else would ever point out to you
  • Learn how to prepare your speech well and what are the stages that you need to go through to perfect it (e.g. Stage of brainstorming, Feedback stage, Constant Tweaking].

I still dislike public speaking a lot, but I hope that by the end of these 10 speeches, I will at least have a little more confidence and be more mindful of the errors I make.

As I progress, I’ll continue to write about these challenges that I hope to overcome.