Category Archives: toastmasters

Helping people find their voice

One of my friends scoffs at Toastmasters, but moments like this make it definitely worthwhile.

Today one of the members brought his girlfriend to listen to his first speech. The girl was painfully shy and clearly terrified of public speaking, even during the Table Topics and guest comments section.

She approached me afterwards, though. And oh, the stories I could see inside her... CN Tower Stair Climb T-shirt, colored bands around her wrists: these are the marks of someone who cares deeply about some things. I listened to her fears and shared my own experience learning how to speak - at first starting out because I couldn't stop talking about technology and I wanted to get into conferences for free, and then realizing how much fun it was to help people learn. I told her that the real trick to speaking in front of an audience - or at least in front of Toastmasters - is to speak to them one person at a time, treating them as your friends.

Most of all, I looked into her eyes and told her in many different ways that she had stories worth telling.

When I felt her tentatively reaching out, I closed the loop and we hugged. The hug was one of the best I've ever had, and her thank you one of the sweetest.

This is what I live for: that deep connection, that chance to help people find their voice.

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Random Japanese sentence: 猫がソファーでねむっている。 The cat is sleeping on the sofa.


If I give the universe a chance, it does its best to be absolutely wonderful. =)

I had misgivings about the Toastmasters speech contest held Thursday, but when I gave myself permission to just go ahead and do it, I had tons of fun. I gave a speech entitled "I Will Learn How To Cook... Or Die Trying". Frequent readers of my blog (none of which were among the audience) would recognize some of the misadventures I've had. =) I'll post the MP3 one of these days. (I really should start an infrequent little podcast...)

My contest performance was only the second time I'd run through that particular version of the speech. Still, I had no problems connecting to the audience, treating them as friends, and making them laugh. I missed a few jokes I had wanted to make, but it flowed together well. I'm still having problems ending on the strong note everyone expects, probably because I pour a lot of energy into the beginning and middle as well.

Even though I threw the revised speech together as hastily as a stir-fry on a starving Saturday night, I won second place. =) The man who won first was a really cool Toastmaster, and his speaking skills are far beyond mine. Lots of things to learn!

Mrs. Castillo would be thrilled to hear that people liked my use of props. I can think of no other cause for this but the drama in education program we had in grade school. =) My father and my sister must share the credit for anything I might know about humor and storytelling. My mom's encouraging note earlier this morning was the source of my energy during the speech. And oh, so many people who keep me going and make me laugh... If I spread sunshine in people's lives, it is because I get so much from others!

I need to work on speech organization a bit more, and endings are still one of my weak points. I have plenty of things to learn, and I love that. I don't want to be a good speaker. I want to become a brilliant speaker so that I can inspire people not only to adopt the ideas I want them to consider but also to improve their own communication skills. =)

Very good day.

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Random Japanese sentence: 彼女はその猫に牛乳をやった。 She fed milk to the cat.

Finished my tenth speech!

I'm now eligible for the Competent Toastmaster (CTM) award! Hooray, hooray! My tenth speech was named "Cook or Die", and I talked about how cooking means happiness, comfort and love. =) It was good practice for the upcoming club competition.

The club gave me a CTM pin and a very interesting book entitled "48 Laws of Power". They also signed a card... Awww! =)

Happy, happy, joy, joy!

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I gave speech #8 at our Toastmasters meeting earlier. I talked about secret happiness: colored socks for sunshine, dangling earrings for the laughter of seas, and a star for love. =) Everyone loved the speech!

I'm doing "Evaluate to Motivate" next week. I have plenty of stories to tell them about my family and my friends! =)

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Good to be back in Toastmasters. For the table topics game, I asked people to tell me what they liked the most about Toronto. Everyone had fun talking about Toronto, and I added a few new items to my list of things to do or see while I'm here. It turned out that one of the guests was also new to the city. Great timing!

I've volunteered to do my eighth speech next week. I'll be talking about Secret Happiness. The eight speech project is about using visual aids effectively, and I'm sure my wonderful socks will be an excellent visual aid. ;) Secret Happiness!

We had an executive meeting, too. Must get the hang of organizing my notes for the minutes. Will write up the minutes tomorrow and send it to exec.

Oh! I did the secret geek handshake today. One of the guests mentioned conferences - "cons", in geek lingo. Gaming conferences, in particular. First half of the geek handshake. I responded by telling him that in terms of computer gaming, I'm weird - I'm into Nethack. If you could've seen him just light up... Secret geek handshake indeed!

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Toastmasters and speaking at technical conferences

Being a Toastmaster has disadvantages after all. I now really, really hate it when I give a speech that's nowhere near good or even satisfactory. Although two people came up to me afterwards and told me the workshop was great, I sooo want to make it even better! Today's speech had none of the ease or energy of my Toastmasters speeches. And worse: I wasted the time of two people who squeezed a break into their very busy schedules to be there.

Toastmasters has woken internal monsters. My inner "ah" counter who would've just tsk-tsked at all of the filler words and repeated phrases I used. My inner speech evaluator would've tried to find a nice, supportive way to tell me to improve my eye contact and speech organization. My inner audience would quietly pass along scribbled-on evaluation sheets telling me I lacked my usual energy and enthusiasm, and that I used too much jargon.

My friends from the Philippines would've dragged me off for some hot chocolate to help me recover.

It was tough. I felt so drained on my way home. Hmm, that could also have been due to lack of sleep. (Another thing I needed to fix!) I can't really blame the audience or on the topic. I just have to become a better speaker.

And I _really_ wanted to get people hooked on social bookmarking! I think it's a mind-blowing thing for discovering, organizing, and sharing new websites. THIS IS A COOL IDEA! I want to evangelize it!

Siiigh. So I'm still crappy as a technical speaker. The wearable computing talks I did before were pretty okay—I was happy about those—but then again, I did _those_ four or five times. This one was a first run (second, if you count my tagging speech at Toastmasters), and it was really, really rough.

It was so rough that I briefly considered hiding under a rock and not speaking tomorrow. But then, how am I going to learn if I don't get out there and try it out?

I didn't know what to do, so I called my mentor, Paul Wilson. Toastmasters International is really big on mentoring.

Paul was _amazing._ He let me blubber about the speech for a minute or two, a tangled mess of nerves and stress and self-doubt. He then gently helped me sort out my main issues. Here's what was bothering me:

- Low energy. I was a little drained because I slept late and I

got up earlier than I really needed to. I started off with a bit of energy and passion, but I couldn't sustain it long enough to warm the crowd up. I know how to deal with this one: sleep early!

- Low audience attentiveness. Perhaps it was a matter of

drinking water out of a firehose: too many good ideas in too short a time meant that people were still trying to absorb the idea of blogs and wikis when I started talking about social computing. Perhaps it was a matter of low energy. Three hours is a long time to sit still, even if you're doing demos...

- Uncertain time. Being the last presenter meant that I had to

make up for any shortfall in the schedule. I dropped a lot from my presentation, but I still went overtime. I also caught myself getting slightly agitated while waiting, and then repeating some points because of stress.

- Long waits for website response. I depended too much on being

able to interact with (After all, it's a hands-on workshop! People are supposed to be able to play with it!) I wasn't sure if people really played with it in the end, as they were probably frustrated by the time it took for to respond.

Paul was totally awesome. He didn't just pull up a few websites for me to read. No, he shared stories from his personal experience. He'd been there. He'd done that. _And_ he showed me how I could do it too. He pointed out the good stuff in my previous speeches, the strengths I could tap to address the challenges I face tomorrow. As I listened to him share tips on how to get over those bumps, I realized that _this_ is what mentoring is.

It's an awesome experience.

Here's what I learned from him:

- Variety. If I'm worried about people's energy level, I can

open with a physical activity. If I think people's minds are drifting, I can change gears to help them pay attention. They _want_ to pay attention, so I need to make it easy for them. (He had a light, endearing opener that I think I'll steal...)

- Story. Stories are good. Stories are a powerful technique. In

particular, stories might be better suited to my speaking style. I learned that people like my stories more than straight information-dense speeches by speech #2. I was worried that people would expect and need straight technical speeches at CASCON, but maybe I'll actually be better off focusing on one clear, simple message and telling a real story around it.

- Humor. I had a lot of fun with wordplay and surprise during

my speech on procrastination. I learned how to 'set up and punch', as Greg said. If I can find places to use surprise in my speech, then it'll be a lot more fun.

See, I _know_ these things on a surface level. I read books and blogs about public speaking. But hearing them from a mentor who cares about helping me succeed, who's heard me speak before, who knows my strengths and weaknesses and goals...


I'm going to keep learning. I'm going to keep trying. And someday I'm going to Figure This Thing Out.