Last week I achieved Toastmaster’s “Competent Communicator” (CC) award (I know, I’m officially competent, hooray!). I’ve been working towards this since I started the Toastmasters program early this year, so it felt like a big accomplishment.
To achieve a “CC”, Toastmasters need to complete 10 speeches, most being between 5-7 minutes long. Each of the speeches has a particular objective (organize your speech, give a persuasive speech, etc), but can have any topic. Each of this speeches is evaluated by a fellow Toastmaster so that you receive feedback for how you can improve.
Reflecting on my experience so far, there’s one big thing I’ve learned: if you want to get better at being a public speaker, you simply need to speak. A lot.
Giving 10 speeches and getting feedback on each one gives you the opportunity to improve quickly. Toastmasters provides a safe place to try different things out (like not using notes, or telling a joke that you thought would be funnier). The group can see you improve with each speech and help you find your voice. Not to mention, hearing countless speeches from other members let’s you learn by listening as well.
I also had a couple opportunities to give the same speech multiple times. Let me tell you, you can plan out and practice a speech as much as you want, but there’s no way to know how it’ll come across until you share it with an audience for the first time. Each time I gave the same speech a second time, the second round was much more concise, polished and effective because what I needed to say, not say, or re-word to make my message more clear.
Do at Lot of Work
A while back I heard the producer of “This American Life”, Ira Glass, giving advice to people aspiring to do creative work. His words are a great reminder for those of us “beginners” in any creative endeavour. He says:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
If you aspire to be a great public speaker, I’d recommend your local Toastmasters club as a place to learn and grow. If you have other creative aspirations, get out there and do the work!
Below (or here) is great little kinetic typography piece depicting Glass’ advice: