Saturday, November 27, 2010

Toastmasters in Chennai/India - FAQ

I've compiled information about Toastmasters in a FAQ format, to provide a better understanding of the movement, to new folks.   

  1. What is Toastmasters?
“Toastmasters” is a non-profit organization that helps members to improve their public speaking/communication & leadership skills. Toastmasters provide a mutually supportive environment for people to share their knowledge and learn from each other.

  1. How big is Toastmasters?
Toastmasters International is a “Learning by Doing” forum and has a vast presence across the globe.  Toastmasters has served over four million people, and today the organization serves over 260,000 members in 113 countries.

Some statistics on Toastmasters clubs:

1) There are 22 clubs in Chennai (26 in Tamil Nadu)
2) There are 200 clubs in India
3) There are 12,842 clubs in the world

  1. What happens in Toastmasters meetings?
During Toastmasters club meetings, members deliver prepared speeches, impromptu speeches & evaluations. The forum also provides roles for members to play, to improve their leadership skills. By joining toastmasters, people can also extend their 'social network'.

The pattern and the structure of meetings are same all over the world.  The meeting conducted in such a way that everyone gets an opportunity to speak in every meeting.  Every aspect of communication and public speaking is carefully evaluated and suggestions for improvement given.  There is no criticism or negative feedback in a Toastmasters forum. 

  1. What is meant by prepared speech, impromptu speech & evaluations?
Prepared Speech - Members prepare for their speeches before the meeting, based on project manuals from Toastmasters International. Members deliver their speech during the meeting. The speech duration is typically 5 – 7 mins. 

Impromptu Speech – Members or guests will be given an impromptu speech topic such as “How will you handle the economic crisis, if you are the Finance Minister for the country”. Participant has to talk on the subject for 1 – 2 mins. The theme & type of questions vary for each meeting. This will help members to think on their feet and deliver a short speech.

Evaluations – Evaluations are feedback from fellow toastmasters that cover strengths the speaker may already have and identify opportunities for improvement. Evaluations include adherence to speaking time limit, grammar usage, unwanted filler words usage (such as “u know”, “so”, and “Ah”), eye contact, stage usage, hand gestures, body language etc.,

  1. Who joins Toastmasters?
Anyone who has the desire and commitment to excel in public speaking & communication is welcome to join toastmasters. There is people from all walks of life – students, lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, etc.,
There are people of different age groups – 18 - 70s.

  1. When do Toastmasters meetings happen?
There are clubs available throughout the city (& world). Different clubs meet at different time. Most of the clubs meet once a week. A few clubs meet once every fortnight. You can look at the following link to find out the available clubs & their meeting time:

Each club meeting may go on for an hour or two (depends upon the membership base or strength of the club).

  1. I am interested to join Toastmasters. What should I do?
Folks who are interested to join toastmasters can find a club that is close to their location. They can find their nearest clubs from the following link:

Interested folks can send an email to the club email id or talk to the phone number listed in the website. They can attend one of the meetings as a guest and then join the club as a member, if they like. Folks can visit as many clubs as possible before deciding to join a particular club.

  1. What is the difference between corporate and community clubs?
Community toastmasters clubs are typically open to everyone. You can see people from all walks of life who are part of community clubs. You can drop-in to any community club, any time as a guest.

Corporate toastmasters clubs are typically for the "employees" of the corporate. They aren't open for everyone. In order to attend a corporate toastmasters club meeting, you may have to call the club officers to work out the logistics. Because of the corporate policies, you may even not be allowed to attend the corporate toastmasters club meetings.
     9.  Do I need to make an appointment to attend the club meeting, as a guest?

    No. You don't have to make an appointment to attend the community club meetings as a guest. You can drop-in to any of the community clubs in your area. Corporate toastmasters clubs may have some reservations. You can call the corporate club officers to find additional details regarding guest/visitor policies. 

    In general, it is good to talk to any of the club officers to inform them that you are visiting. That way, if there are any changes to the meeting time/venue, you'll be kept informed.
        10.  Where can I find more information regarding Toastmasters?

      You can get more information from the following website:

         11.  I have more questions on Toastmasters. Whom should I contact?

         You can contact the club officers directly. The contact details of the club/club officers is listed in the below location:

        Alternatively, you can contact me by leaving a comment here and I'll be glad to provide you additional details.

        Do toastmasters really help in making official presentations effective?

        A young toastmaster working for a software/IT firm asked "Do you think the skills gained in Toastmasters help when we make technical presentations at work?". 

        Well, the fundamentals are the same. Irrespective of the 'content' of your presentation, you need to connect with your audience by making eye contact, you should use proper hand gestures & vocal variety to gain/retain audience attention. Even when preparing technical slides, you should make them easier to read and have just 2 or 3 main points per slide. You should always look at your audience and shouldn't show your back. Your presentation should always have a strong introduction & conclusion.

        These simple tips that we learn in toastmasters help us irrespective of whether we make a technical or non-technical presentation. The effectiveness of your technical presentation increases by many fold when you incorporate all the skills that you gain in toastmasters. So, the next time you make a technical presentation at work, do not forget to incorporate your "Toastmasters" learning.  

        Also read:

        Managing nervousness before/during speech
        Small things make perfection, but perfection isn't a small thing
        Do you Sharpen the Saw?

        Saturday, November 6, 2010

        How to stop being nervous before/during the speech?

        Do you feel nervous when you are in the stage? It is perfectly normal to be nervous before delivering a speech, no matter how many times you have spoken before.  There are some simple tips to avoid being nervous during your speech:
        • show up early and get to know the people/speaking environment better. Familiarity of people/environment helps you to minimize your nervousness.
        • check whether your props (including projector, computers) are working fine before the meeting. This will avoid unwanted last minute frustrations.
        • take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly, before your speech. This relaxes your body, helping your blood pressure to lower and your mind to clear. This will enable free flow of words when you start to speak.
        • have your opening memorized and it will help to break the ice and get you rolling
        If you make mistakes during your speech, because of nervousness, don't stop speaking and don't apologize. Remember that the audience wants you to succeed. They will feel your pain too, and they will understand what you are going through.

        Also read:

        Small things make perfection, but perfection isn't a small thing
        Do you Sharpen the Saw?
        How to effectively write/memorize your speech script? 

        Do you have an Elevator Pitch Handy?

        Do you have an elevator pitch to introduce yourself?  You get to meet a lot of new people at work, social gathering and in your day to day life. How many of them can remember you, your name, your background etc.,? For example, you accidentally get to meet your company CEO in the elevator and you have to introduce yourself in a few seconds (i.e., before the elevator reaches the top floor). Your introduction should be in such a way that your CEO remembers you forever. Your introduction has to be very appealing and different from the standard "I'm Thomas and I work for XYZ group". How would you frame your introduction, differently? Think about it. Have an Elevator pitch handy so that people can easily remember you. The following website gives you enough tips about coming up with an elevator pitch.

        Tuesday, November 2, 2010

        Small things make perfection, but perfection isn't a small thing

        How many of you have written pages & pages of essays during your school or college tests? How many of you take time to organize the essay under proper sub headings & underline the important points?

        Well, it took a while for me to understand these simple things. I spent hours and hours writing essays during the tests but didn't spend another 5 or 10 minutes to underline the important points. The result is - I didn't get the grade that I deserved. A teacher or professor evaluates 100s of papers a day. Most of the teachers don't have time to read each and every line from the essays. All they look for is perfect presentation. It just takes an additional 5 or 10 minutes to provide a good presentation. When I mastered this art, I became the class topper.

        Since then, I started to strongly believe "Small things make perfection but perfection is not a small thing".

        Let me give you an example from my work place. I've seen several colleagues spending hours and hours in the office to complete their deliverables. They even work over the weekends. However, they won't spend another 5 - 10 minutes in sending their status reports or giving a status update to their boss. How would the boss know that you had spent extra hours if you hadn't projected it yourself? Sending a status report is a small thing, but it creates a significant effect on your performance.

        How many of you have experience preparing soups? You would've added several ingredients to make your soup delicious. What if you miss to add a pinch of salt at the end? The soup won't be tasty.

        Look at our contest speakers/winners - they pay attention to the exceptionally small details which differentiate their performance from others. If you want to be a successful speaker - find out the small things that prevent you from climbing the ladder of success. It may be things like repeated use of filler words, staring at the roof, keeping the hands clasped or keeping a hand in the pocket. Seek feedback from fellow toastmasters and mentors, who’ll make your journey to success shorter and faster.

        Let us keep this in mind "Small things make perfection but perfection is not a small thing". Let us try to add "the pinch of salt" that brings perfection to everything we do in our life.

        Published in SpeakOut November 2010

        Also read:

        How to effectively write/memorize your speech script?

        Do you Sharpen the Saw?

        Do you sharpen the saw?

        When we were small, we were told "Study hard up to your 12th grade. Once you get into your college, you can start to relax". We completed our 12th grade. But then, folks said "Study well for another 3 or 4 years. Once you complete your college and go to work, you can start to relax". Here we are. We completed our studies and even got into a job. But, we can't relax yet. We are constantly expected to learn/gain new skills in various product/technology areas. No matter which industry we are in, the need to continuously update our knowledge doesn't end. This is true even at Toastmasters. No matter how much proficient we are, we have something to learn in Toastmasters.

        Toastmasters provides us an excellent platform to sharpen our communication and leadership skills. Toastmasters provides us myriad opportunities to "sharpen the saw" during club meetings, training events, and during contests. By actively participating in Toastmasters, we are not JUST LEARNING or picking up new skills, but we are INVESTING in ourselves.

        What happens to a wood cutter who continues to chop trees without sharpening the saw? Either the saw will break or the wood cutter will get tired soon. The wood cutter will soon reach a point where he cannot cut any more trees. Constantly learning new skills at toastmasters, helps us to stay ahead of the curve. We couldn't find a better place to sharpen our communication/leadership skills than at Toastmasters.

        It is time for us to sharpen the saw …

        Published in SpeakOut August 2010 Edition

        Also read:

        Managing nervousness before/during speech
        Do you have an Elevator Pitch Handy?
        Small things make perfection, but perfection isn't a small thing

        Participate, Practice & Perform

        The mantra behind toastmastering is "Participate, Practice and Perform". By actively participating in club meetings and other toastmaster events, we can NOT only learn from our mistakes, but also from others'. Speaking is analogous to swimming. Excellence in swimming is achieved by jumping into the water and not by watching from shore.  Similarly, reading books about communication or watching others talk isn't suffice to improve our communication skills. We need to constantly practice and perform to improve our speaking skills. 

        Also read: 

        Chennai Toastmasters - A BIG Thanks to YOU
        3Rs of a Successful Toastmaster

        Distinguished toastmasters achieve success, by years of continued hard work and commitment.  I read a story about Socrates recently, which was an eye opener. A young man asked Socrates the secret of success. Socrates told the young man to meet him near the river the next morning. They met. Socrates asked the young man to walk with him into the river. When the water got up to their neck, Socrates took the young man by surprise and swiftly ducked him into the water. 

        The boy struggled to get out but Socrates was strong and kept him there until the boy started turning blue. Socrates pulled the boy’s head out of the water and the first thing the young man did was to gasp and take a deep breath of air.

        Socrates asked him, "what did you want the most when you were there?" The boy replied, "Air". Socrates said, "That is the secret of success! When you want success as badly as you wanted the air, then you will get it! There is no other secret". Isn't this true for Toastmasters also? We need to have the burning desire to excel in communication and leadership. Burning desire to excel will translate to commitment and consistence which will in-turn guarantee success in Toastmasters.

        Do you want to be a successful speaker/leader? Do you want to be a Distinguished Toastmaster? You should get started now, with your journey!! Participate, Practice and Perform …
        Published in SpeakOut on July 2010