Category Archives: toastmasters

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Public speaking and mentoring

Steve Pavlina wanted to become a professional speaker. He didn’t know much about the business side of speaking, but he found a mentor who helped him get the hang of things.


I love sharing ideas with people. I love bringing my enthusiasm and my
passion to a hall and infecting as many people as I can. I love
learning about presentation techniques and fascinating ideas. I love
getting people to think. Besides, speaking is a great way to get to
meet other fascinating people. I’ve made friends and learned about
opportunities at post-conference dinners.

I love attending workshops and conferences, even for things that I
don’t immediately need. My conference notes focus more on speakers’
delivery styles than actual technical content. My books aren’t about
programming in Java or writing HTML, but business and public speaking.

I love the challenge of providing value to a whole hall of people. As
a wet-behind-the-ears teacher, I’ve presented alternative teaching
techniques in front of veteran educators. I’ve talked about technology
in front of students and professionals. I’ve survived the scrutiny of
a college classroom.

I’ve had my bad days. Unresponsive audiences. Technical problems.
Lackluster content. All of those things just keep pushing me to learn
more, practice more, be better.

I’ve been giving presentations for four years. I’ve turned talks into
articles and blog posts into presentations. I want to learn more. I
want to entertain people the way
Dean Alfar made hundreds of people
laugh during the summit. I want to teach and inspire people
the way Zig Ziglar and other business speakers do.

I want to share what other people and I have learned. I want to talk
about education. Productivity. Technology. I want to raise questions.
I want to provoke thought and action.

I can learn by watching people at conferences. I can learn by
listening to audiobooks. I can learn by reading transcripts, artciles
and books. But if I could find someone to mentor me, who knows how
much faster I’ll learn and how much more value I can give right away?

Who are the best speakers you know? Would they be willing to mentor a
geek more than willing to swap technical knowhow for presentation

そのコンピュータは大変役にたった。 The computer was very useful.

Renan says:

there’s always the toastmaster’s club. there should be one in the
philippines; since you’re moving to canada, there should be one too.
find one that suites your needs. some are topical; for example, some
talk of nothing but politics, others are free-form and tackle whatever
topic the member brings in. i attended a couple of these, and it did
help. bucause of schedule conflict, though, i had to quit.

it toastmaster’s international ( is not for you,
there’s always the speech class. i have a friend who was a
communications major in college and he told me they had a class on
public speaking where each one of them give a speech on different
topics—-impromptu, extemporaneous, a eulogy, acceptance speech, etc.

of course, as you said, you can learn a lot by listening to people,
especially charismatic speakers, and learn about the psychology of it.

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Toast IT

Charo and the others have been telling me to join the Toastmasters for
the longest time. After sifting through a number of Toronto-based
groups, I finally settled on Toast I.T.,
which meets every Tuesday a few blocks away from school. I attended my
first meeting as a guest, and I had tons of fun.

For the table topics game, we had one minute to prepare and one minute
to present. Topics were randomly drawn from an envelope, and people
could pass if they wanted to. Everyone would vote, and the winner
would have the privilege of keeping the club trophy/mascot for the

Tonight’s topic: superpowers.

The table topics master started the game going. His superpowers were
encyclopedic knowledge and lightning-fast computation, and he made us
laugh by pointing out all of the everyday things that such superpowers
would solve. At what point does buying a transit pass make more sense
than buying tickets individually? How much would you need to pay for
gas in order to get somewhere? How much would you have to pay in
taxes? I’m sure he was thinking on his feet, but he was thinking so
quickly that the words flowed as smoothly as in any well-prepared

The group was surprised when I chose to rise to the challenge of
public speaking. I guess most guests are terrified of speaking in
front of a crowd of strangers. My superpower was the ability to win
beauty contests. I wracked my brain for a good use for that and I
couldn’t find any, but here’s sorta what I came up with: (can’t
remember that clearly)

I’m five feet one-fourth inch tall—and that one-fourth inch is very
important, mind you. I have glasses and pimples. But it doesn’t
matter, because I’ve got a superpower. I can win any beauty contest I
want. (pause) Who’d have figured? I love using my superpower to make a
point… and it certainly helps me promote my projects!

Back in the Philippines, there was an IT pageant. A search for role
models. (pause) The application asked for, of all things, bust size,
waist and hip measurements. (pause and shrug) With my A-cup, my
waist—let’s not even talk about my hips—I could go right in there,
win the thing… and _then_ show them that it’s not how you look but
what you _do_ that counts.

Much fun. =)

There was a girl who could catch and control fire, a guy who could
produce gadgets from somewhere, an old man who said that a forcefield
would be incredibly useful for deflecting the slings and arrows of
outrageous fortunes—or rotten tomatoes and lettuces from other
Toastmasters on the occasion of a really bad speech…

Good stuff! I voted for the forcefield guy because he was funny. =)
The sergeant-at-arms was happy to announce that someone had won by a

… but not as happy as I was. ;) Well, that made my day. I can’t wait
to go to the next one!

私は父からコンピューターゲームがあたえられた。 I was given a computer game by my father.

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Toastmasters is fun

I attended another Toast I.T. meeting
today. The table topic set by Natasha was a bit of a stretch for me.
If I was in the elevator with the CEO of my company, what would I say?
Other people naturally brought up small talk examples from real-life
situations. You know me and small talk. I’m not going to disrupt the
silence by asking about the weather! Grasping at straws, I ended up
doing half of a conversation where I played an eager employee asking
for more responsibilities.

I have no idea why people thought that was the best table topics
speech. But hey, I love speaking, and I’ll do it at the drop of a
hat… <laugh>

My icebreaker speech is coming up next week. I’m going to have so much
fun preparing for it! =)

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Survived my first Toastmasters speech!

I survived the ice breaker!

I had drafted talks for all sorts of things: lifehacking, the
Philippines, even the weather. None of them seemed to fit. Then Pierre
Duez of IBM CAS suggested that I talk about pets. Come to think of it,
he may have been joking. Anyway, I told myself, it’s the ice breaker.
They don’t mind non-serious topics. They want to get to know who I am.

Right. I could get away with a story about my cat. I threw together
the talk in the corridor. I knew I could tell plenty of stories about
Neko, who’s quite a character. I picked a couple, came up with a nice
beginning and a nice ending, and went for the thing.

I had so much fun bringing a few laughs from my seasoned audience.
They weren’t belly laughs or anything, probably just
I-know-what-you’re-talking-about laughs. But that was good. I wasn’t
sure how reactive people were because the past few talks were mostly
serious, but it was fun.

It was my first time with a U-shaped arrangement. I don’t like having
anything between me and my audience. I stepped in front of the
lectern, but I didn’t know what to do about the hulking large
projector in the middle of the room. I ended up going in front of it,
which cut off eye contact with the people on the ends of the U. Doug
Vowles suggested that I move all the stuff out of the way next time. I
still have to figure out how to properly do blocking for U-style

I remember how the all-around stage we performed Junto al Pasig was an
interesting blocking challenge in grade 4. I should read up on
theatrical blocking for plays in the round, and maybe ask Tita Naty
and Mrs. Castillo as well…

I also need more lead-up to the punchline. I told them about ensuring
my cat’s safety in the household by telling my parents I’ll petition
my cat and my cat can petition them. ;) That went by too quickly
because I was already overtime. Hmm, must work on my timing.

I say “like” way too much. Must work on my filler words next time.

I also need to work on my resonance. (Err, must find out what they
mean by that, too. Yes, voice. But how?)

Whee… =D

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Toastmasters Humorous Speech contest tomorrow

Searching the Net for tips on Toastmasters humorous speech competitions, I ran across
Steve Pavlina‘s blog entry about his division’s humorous speech contest last year.

So if you ever find yourself running up against your limits in some area of your life, see if you can find someone who’s already pushed past that limitation in their own life.

I’m looking forward to the contest!

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.