By Ashley Mackin
In modern society, why talk when you can text? Why explain in person when you can e-mail?
Not surprisingly, public speaking is listed as the No. 1 fear in the country. But it needn’t be, insist members of Toastmasters of La Jolla.
Aimed at improving the lost art of in-person communication, Toastmasters of La Jolla is an organization with meetings that provide opportunities for public speaking in a supportive environment.
“While social media is great for global outreach, it can create a disconnect because people rely on it so heavily that they don’t have those relationships that are built in person,” said Melanie Klinghoffer, a Toastmasters of La Jolla member. “Social media diminishes people’s ability to communicate one-on-one (or in front of others), and there is room for miscommunication when messages are on a screen; people are left to perceive things on their own without the opportunity to clear up any misunderstanding, which you get when talking to someone in person.”
Toastmasters’ weekly meetings are divided into segments that each serve to improve a specific communication skill.
There are different roles members can sign up for to help the meetings run smoothly, and each task requires some speaking. There is a Timer, who monitors how long people speak and later reports who stayed within the time constraint. There is a Grammarian, who tracks each speaker’s “ums” and “uhs,” not in a critical sense, but to help speakers become aware of how often they use the interjections. There are also Main Speakers, who write a speech in advance and present it to the group. At a recent meeting of some 25 attendees, the main speaker was local sculptor Mark Adams, who gave his first main speech that evening.
“Over the last few years, my career has taken off and I found myself in front of a lot of people to be interviewed. I realized my speaking skills were not great and I had a lot of nervous energy,” he said. “One of the things that helped me improve on that was getting feedback at these meetings. I never get feedback when I’m in front of people. Here you have people who see things that I don’t see. One comment was that when I talk, I look down when I think, which I had no idea I did.”
Though he still gets nervous from time to time, Adams said he can now control it, and he felt good going into his Toastmasters speech.
“Everybody here is extremely supportive, it’s almost like a sports team. You don’t feel awkward making mistakes. You understand everybody makes mistakes, but nobody judges you. It’s a great group.”
In addition to the Main Speaker, there is a Table Topics session, where a question is posed and attendees are asked at random to come up and answer it.
Questions at one meeting included, “What is the nicest thing you’ve ever done for someone else?” and “If you could live anywhere for two years, where would it be and why?” The questions and Table Topics leader change weekly. After each person speaks, the membership applauds to show support.
When giving feedback, Toastmasters use the “sandwich method” — start with something positive, then bring in an area of improvement, and then end with something positive.
“The goal of Toastmasters is to encourage people to come out of their shells and give them confidence,” Klinghoffer said. In her case, being a Toastmaster polished her speaking skills and professional manner.
“I can now get up and talk about topics I am unfamiliar with and I’m more comfortable speaking about personal topics,” she said. “Instead of speaking for the first time in front of an audience of strangers, I get to go in front of this group first ... and I can get feedback in a safe environment without affecting my income. Instead of speaking in front of potential clients, I can present in front of a test group, and that has been very beneficial to my business.”
10 Toastmasters Talking Tips
- Know your material.
Pick a topic you are interested in. Know more about it than you include in your speech. Use humor, personal stories and conversational language — that way you won’t easily forget what to say.
- Practice. Practice. Practice!
Rehearse out loud with all the equipment you plan on using. Revise as necessary. Work to control filler words; Practice, pause and breathe. Practice with a timer and allow time for the unexpected.
- Know the audience.
Greet some of the audience members as they arrive. It’s easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers.
- Know the room.
Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone and any visual aids.
Begin by addressing the audience. It buys you time and calms your nerves. Pause, smile and count to three before saying anything. Transform nervous energy into enthusiasm.
- Visualize yourself giving your speech.
Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and confident. Visualize the audience clapping – it will boost your confidence.
- Realize that people want you to succeed.
Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and
entertaining. They’re rooting for you.
- Don’t apologize for any nervousness or problem
— the audience probably never noticed it.
- Concentrate on the message — not the medium.
Focus your attention away from your own anxieties and concentrate on your message and your audience.
- Gain experience.
Mainly, your speech should represent you — as an authority and as a person. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking. A Toastmasters club can provide the experience you need in a safe and friendly environment.
If you go
■ What: Toastmasters of La Jolla meetings
■ When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays
■ Where: La Jolla YMCA Firehouse, 7877 Herschel Ave.
■ Open House: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, La Jolla YMCA Firehouse, 7877 Herschel Ave.
■ Information: TMLaJolla.org
■ Membership Fee: Free for guests.
$85 for six-month membership