To Toastmaster or Not?

I recently ran across a page on the Toastmasters web site titled, “90 Tips from Toastmasters.”

I’m often asked what I think of this group. My answer? It’s a fine forum for practice, especially if you are relatively new to public speaking. All the same, there are some features with which I disagree.

One troubling aspect is the fixation with counting speech disfluencies such as “um” and “er” (and, yes, they actually assign someone to count them when members deliver their speeches).

Plus, harsh as this may sound, if you are in a chapter filled with less experienced speakers, they may suggest some really bad ideas.

Toaster, Pop-Up Toaster, Toast, Slice, Bread, Food

Overall, the tips provide a good framework. There are a few specifics, however, that strike me as ill-advised. Here’s my take, with the tip number listed alongside the analysis:

7. Relax and “smile and count to three before speaking.” I’ve seen speakers do this and make the audience squirm when they are introduced, then silently stare at them with a dopey, unnatural grin on their face. Solution: When you’re introduced, dive right in with your prepared introduction.

11. Use humor when things go wrong. No, no, no. Don’t tell jokes unless you’re accustomed to doing stand up comedy. Things are more likely to fall flat than to elicit a laugh.

13. Eliminate filler words. Take a sip of water every time you need to gather your thoughts? Um, no. Here’s my take: Presentations should be conversational. When we converse we do let slip with the occasional “er.” Granted, if you do this too often, it’s an issue you’ll need to deal with. The intermittent “um?” Not a problem.

15. Keep your notes in check and “do not read your speech.” When you need text to distribute afterward, you may opt to deliver a full text speech. Nothing wrong with that. Fit your format to your situation.

21. Fuel your mental engine. “Eat a light meal at least 20 minutes prior to your speech.” Maybe yes, maybe no. Decide what works best for you and your gut. Never let someone else shoehorn you into a strict style.

27. Don’t overload your slides. This assumes you choose to use slides. Use them only when appropriate to your topic and forum.

39. Practice impromptu speaking. Don’t do it. Impromptu = unprepared + disorganized. Extemporaneous is fine. Impromptu, never.

60. Smile and introduce yourself. Your audience should already know who you are. Otherwise, why would they come to hear you speak? Have your introducer serve up your bona fides.

The upshot: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to delivering presentations. Don’t fall for individuals or organizations that claim to have the “right way” to go about it. Yes, consult others and use the ideas that are appropriate in your situation.

That said, there’s plenty of good stuff in Toastmaster’s 90 tips, so give it a look—and use what seems right for you.


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