speak

I am Not a Toastmaster

I am not a Toastmaster.

I had considered joining a Toastmasters Club many, many years ago. I just couldn’t find one that fit my odd work schedule or be close enough to home that I would actually not mind travelling to.

It turns out that it didn’t matter.

I learned the hard way, through the cleansing fires of non-friendly, sometimes even hostile, audiences. In my opinion, that’s the fastest, surest way to learn.

Let me qualify that. Toastmasters clubs can be very helpful for someone who wishes to overcome his/her fear of public speaking. I have a fair number of friends who are Toastmasters, and I have seen them grow in confidence as they take the stage.

In the friendlier spaces of their respective clubs, there is greater safety, as well as the presence of potential mentors who can help. These are valuable. No doubt about that.

That said, the usefulness of these things stops once the speaker is past a certain point. Things start to go a little awry. I have listened to hundreds of speakers, both in-person and through the Internet, and I have come to notice certain traits that quite a number of them, who happen to be Toastmasters, have:

1) They have unnaturally exaggerated facial expressions and body language, all the while over-enunciating and placing too much emphasis on their words, often in a slightly off-beat manner that’s very difficult to listen to without getting distracted.

Nobody talks like that in real life. If they did, people around them would either raise incredulous eyebrows, politely excuse themselves, or run.

2) The content of their speeches is lacklustre.

I have heard from a few sources that Toastmasters are judged more on delivery than they are on content.

If that is true, I can only surmise that, in order to win contests and/or titles, they have no choice but to sacrifice substance for form. I certainly cannot speak for others, but that is a sacrifice I am unwilling to make.

Yes, there is a place for pretty speeches, but if the audience learns nothing from the encounter, what’s the point?

3) There seems to be an emphasis on telling personal stories that borders on idolatry.

Personal stories can be powerful and moving. IF they are used appropriately and for the right reasons.

I have lost count of the number of times I had to sit through an unnecessarily long, over-dramatised, poorly-executed narration of an inconsequential incident in the life of a speaker I happened to be sitting in front of.

For some reason, telling a personal story has become a ‘must’ and ‘the only way to start a speech / presentation’. It is not.

The audience doesn’t care about the speaker’s life more than they care about their own.

With that in mind, wouldn’t it make more sense to relate to the audience first, and then tell a personal story that they can relate to, in order to cement that bond?

No, I don’t hate the Toastmasters, nor do I think that they should dissolve. I simply believe that it’s time for them to update themselves.

Story-telling has no shortcuts. It is an art and a science, and needs to be respected, taught, and practised as such.

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Advice on Becoming a Public Speaker from Dr. Andrew Goh

A little over a week ago, I had an opportunity to speak to Dr. Andrew Goh. 

I told him,

"Dr. Andrew, you may not remember me. A few years ago, I asked you for advice on becoming a public speaker. Today, I am well on my way. Thank you for your advice."

I then gave him two copies of The Introvert Teacher, one addressed to him and the other to pass on to anyone he wants.

This was the advice he gave to me. The elaboration is my own:

1) Volunteer to Speak and Practise

At the start, the only way to get known and gain recognition is to speak whenever you have an opportunity.

Also, you are going to need the practice and volunteering yourself will help you to figure out your niche topic, which brings us to...

2) Have a Specific Topic

It's all too easy to take on any and all projects that come your way. 

However, being a generalist can be confusing, especially for those who are looking for speakers on a particular subject. It also makes you less memorable to those who have already heard you if you tell them that you can do 'any topic you need'.

People look to experts. Establish yourself as one.

3) Once Established, Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Speaking Fees

At some point, you are going to have to be paid if you intend to embark on speaking as a career.

This can and does happen organically but the surest way is to ask.

Start by getting the organisers to cover your travel expenses, even if it's just a taxi ride.

From there, as you gain confidence, ask for more. Be reasonable. You probably shouldn't ask for 10 thousand dollars per hour if you only started speaking 2 months ago (unless you're already some sort of celebrity) but, hey! If you get it, that'd be quite an achievement.

Still, be firm in your requests. If you give in too easily, you are only shortchanging yourself.

Thank you, Dr. Andrew, for being a teacher I look up to and for taking the time to advise me.

With Dr. Andrew Goh

Spot a Social Faux Pas? Just Speak Up!

A few days ago, I was on the right side of the upper deck of a bus and reading a book when someone a few seats away on the left side of the bus suddenly decided to watch a video at close-to-maximum volume on his mobile phone.

The bus wasn't very crowded but there was a middle-aged man, also on the left side, a few seats in front of the video-watcher, who turned to glare his disapproval. Without saying a word, of course.

My initial instinct was to just ignore the situation, but the video started to produce high-pitched sounds, made worse by the tiny speakers.

It was too much to bear, so I looked up from my book and said to the video-watcher, "Hi. Could you turn the volume down, please?" in (what I assume) was a neutral tone, though I'm pretty sure some annoyance went through. I wasn't exactly smiling.

The video-watcher fumbled a little with the phone but brought the volume much lower, to which I said, "Thank you."

The rest of the bus journey went on rather smoothly, though I did catch myself wondering how unpleasant it would have been if I had just kept quiet.

We have a slightly odd culture here of staying silent when things need to be said. Most Singaporeans will simply stare at the social offender, hoping that he/she will realise the social faux pas he/she is committing and 'automatically' rectifying it. 

I'm sure we've all witnessed this every now and then and it would be great if social offenders realise on their own what they are doing.

Unfortunately, it's far more likely that they are thinking more along the lines of, "If no one is telling me to stop, then I don't have to stop," or "If someone is bothered by what I'm doing, they'll speak up."

Perhaps they don't even realise that what they are doing is annoying other people. Some people are really, really lousy at reading facial cues and body language.

The only way they will know is if somebody tells them.

Of course, most of us would say that it's none of our business or that we would rather be nice and suffer in silence.

I've come to a realisation that we have to speak up, not just to allay the annoyance, but also to educate these people that what they are doing is not alright.

There are 3 things that I think will help:

1) A polite request for a specific change in behaviour

"Could you lower the volume, please?" is likely going to work a lot better than "Shut that phone up!"

2) Rehearse in your head before you speak

This is so you will hear yourself saying it first. Listen for unnecessary angry words or sarcasm and remove them. You want to effect a change, not start a fight.

3) Make normal eye contact

Glaring and staring are rude in and of themselves. Look at the person in the same way that you would someone with whom you were going to have a conversation.

The next step?

Just Speak Up!

Squawk

As I Reflect Upon 2016

With just over a week to go before 2017, I decided to take some time to reflect upon my 2016.

At the beginning of the year, I offered my Word of the Year as: Speak.

I refer to this part of my post on January 14 2016:


I intend to:

a) Become a true-blue professional Speaker (finally!)

b) Speak for necessary change

c) Speak, not just talk

d) Speak to new contacts and networks


For a), I have taken numerous steps towards it, having spoken at a couple of events and having joined professional networks of speakers. I consider a) to be fulfilled.

For b), I have come up with proposals for changes in my church as well as long-term plans for change in certain aspects of education in Singapore. I consider b) to be fulfilled.

For c), I have always taken what I say seriously. To fulfill this for 2016, I further reduced unnecessary speech and was mindful to speak mostly when needed or called upon. I took care to reduce Teacher Talking Time (TTT) when I taught, giving my learners time to explore the subjects instead. Of course, more improvement is needed, but I consider c) to be fulfilled.

For d) I have made many new contacts this year, both within the training and gem industries, as well as out of it. I have a much greater appreciation of how collaboration can benefit businesses and individual growth. I will continue to be part of these networks and to contribute to them as I am able. Therefore, d) is fulfilled.

Apart from my Word of the Year, it feels almost unbelievable that so many things (relationships, networks, businesses, personal pursuits) can be started and accomplished in the space of 365 days. Though I often feel that I have wasted a fair bit of that time, I am quite amazed at how much I have managed to get done this year.

I will look to 2016 as the year of explosive growth and development - a year to emulate, as a benchmark for the years to come.

How has your year been? How ever you feel you've journeyed in 2016, it's not over yet! Let's use the time we have left in 2016 fruitfully, in service of others.

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