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Communication Skills

Communication Skills

This section hosts articles related to public speaking, writing articles/webcopy & presentation skill development. 

Enjoy the articles!


TM Club Meeting, We shake hands a lot!Assuming that you are over the age of 18, the undeniable best way to overcome your fear and to become not only a good speaker but an exceptional speaker, is to join Toastmasters.

If you go to and then locate the Find a Club feature. It will quickly tell you if there is a club near you. Guests are usually quite welcome. I say usually because some clubs may be restricted to employees of a certain business. You can also usually check out a couple of meetings to see if it is for you, before you join.

There is value in reading self-help books. I still do and have my own library. The problem with them is that while they may provide you with sage advice, they don’t provide you with the opportunity to speak in public. You don’t learn public speaking by osmosis. You have to get up and speak!

In addressing your fear, you aren’t alone. There is an old hard to find quote, from a book from the 1970s The Book of Lists. In a list of top 10 fears experienced by people, fear of public speaking was number one. Number three was fear of death!

Something is wrong with that. More people would rather die than speak in public? I’ll speak for hours, just don’t kill me!

How many sets of kidneys has your glass of water filtered through.Here is what I recall as being the most memorable attention getter for me. I believe that it might have been from an article in the Toastmaster magazine on the subject of grabbing your audience’s attention. The presentation was on water conservation.

While holding a glass of water the presenter looked at the glass and then looked at the audience and then took a sip. “This glass of water has gone through eight sets of kidneys before it has collected in this glass. The bad news is that there isn’t enough to go around!”

That opening was attention grabbing on several different levels.

I often start off with a rhetorical question to engage the audience from the get-go. The idea is to answer the audience’s question “What’s in it for me?” “Why should I listen to this speaker?” Being that the question is rhetorical, I’m not really expecting an answer. I’m hoping the audience will be reflective, allowing me to transition to the next stage of my presentation. I also prepare for the eventuality that somebody does actually answer the question and take me in a direction that I don’t necessarily want to go. There are a lot of literal thinkers out there that may not realize that the opening question was intended to be rhetorical.

Sunday, 11 September 2016 00:38

How do I stop shaking when speaking in public?

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Impromptu Speaking before and after. Which describes you?In the immortal words of Jerry Lee Lewis “whole lotta shakin goin on!”.

The ‘shakes’ are merely a physical manifestation of our nervous energy. It ties into the flight/fight reaction. Our body releases adrenaline so that we are prepared to either run away from the stressor or to stay and fight it. In the case of speaking publicly, we are likely staying to fight. By choice! Well, perhaps in most cases.

Not everyone experiences shakes. Equally annoying can be nausea, dizziness, hyperventilation, headache and numerous other somatic complaints. While they are all annoying and perhaps very scary at the time, they serve a purpose. They are designed to keep us safe and out of trouble.

The challenge is in working past these somatic symptoms. In Toastmasters, we often talk about the ‘butterflies.’ These butterflies are the aches and pains we feel in our stomachs at times like when we have to speak in public. It has probably become a cliché, but it still holds true … the secret is to get those butterflies to fly in formation.

Should you listen to your audience? Of course!For far too long, many presenters believe that delivering a presentation is a one-way process. The presenter delivers the goods and the audience passively receives them.

It may have been that way once upon a time. Nowadays, audiences have higher expectations of presenters. They expect the presentation to be interactive and they expect to be able to ask questions of the presenter.

The basics of communication is as follows: A delivers a message to BB receives it and responds to A. If B doesn’t receive the message in the first place, communication hasn’t taken place. If B does receive the message but chooses not to respond to A, then communication has occurred but A does not receive any feedback.

When presenting i.e. communicating to your audience, listening to your audience is only one of the tasks that you need to be doing.

The most obvious reason to listen to your audience, at least to me, is to ensure they are awake. Snoring is a good clue that your presentation and topic aren’t as exciting as you would believe. More than one audience member snoring is even a more startling observation. Not in my presentations of course … but I have seen it many times in others.

As a presenter you need to listen to your audience and perhaps direct your presentation to meet the audience’s needs, not necessarily yours.

Depending on the structure of your presentation you can allow questions as you proceed through your material or you can wait until the end. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. If you allow questions throughout your presentation you need to allow time for the questions, your answers and additional dialogue. This can take up time so you likely need to plan on delivering less content than you might have expected.

Thursday, 01 September 2016 01:50

How do I make my students deliver a good speech?

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This is a challenging question in that it doesn’t provide a lot of parameters. How old are the students? Have the students had any speech construction and delivery training? What is the nature of the speech that it is expected? Is it exciting or mundane? Is their performance and delivery rated by a pass/fail grade?

I would start off by addressing one aspect of the question “How do I make …” You can’t make anybody do so. You can encourage them, teach them, help motivate them but make them, no.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016 03:55

How should I end my extempore speech?

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 Be Sincere, be brief, be seated!I don’t think that I can add a lot to the excellent response to this question from Deb Volberg Pagnotta.

Something that I thought would be helpful for future readers of this question would be a quick definition of what an extempore speech actually is. Basically, it is a speech given on short notice i.e. without time to prepare. It is conversational in nature, meaning you are having a conversation with your audience.

One problem is that many speakers don’t realize that even though it is conversational, it shouldn’t be casual. You still need to be professional in your presentation skills. An example to support this is the scenario where a speaker has had advance warning of a speaking opportunity and instead of preparing for the task they say “I’ll just wing it!” The lack of preparation on the speaker’s part is usually quite evident.

Some people recommend using the technique of “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.” This can be a good utilitarian tool to have in your speaker’s toolbox, however it doesn’t leave you with a memorable ending. It may also work against you … “why does this speaker keep repeating themselves?”

 I know it depends on the speed of reading, but an approximate number or range would be extremely helpful.

How fast do you talk?I think when you refer to characters, it would be better to think in terms of words.

You are writing the content for a speech, meaning that its purpose is to be spoken out loud.

North Americans speak at the rate of 125 to 150 words a minute. If you drop too far below 125, many of your audience will complain. If you boost your rate to 200 or so words per minute, you will likely lose some of your audience. If the speaking rate gets too fast, then its hard to think of a particular point, when the speaker has moved on to the next.

So in a two-minute speech, while theoretically, you would need 300 words maximum, based on the above theory, you also need to factor in pauses. Pauses can be built in for dramatic effect or to allow your audience to think about what you have said. If you are intending to be humorous, you need to factor in time for your audience to laugh and perhaps applaud. You need for them to finish before you move on.

I would suggest that you aim at 250 words for your two-minute speech. It goes by quickly!

as originally answered on

 Toastmasters International Competent Leader PinThe answer depends on how one interprets the question. There is outside of the club, meaning that the activity is conducted outside of the club meeting. Another interpretation of outside the club, is that the leadership project is conducted at a non Toastmasters event, with or without fellow Toastmasters.

Yes, there are several opportunities to get credit for a leadership project outside of your club. You may have to think a little out of the box for this one.

I believe the benefit of the Competent Leadership manual is that it provides real world leadership skills development opportunities that can be undertaken within your Toastmasters club. Opportunity is everywhere, be it at work or in your private life and if you can undertake a specific leadership project task, within the parameters of our educational program, I say go for it!

 Fillers like: um, uh, y’know, like, so, etc. If not, what’s some advice for accomplishing this?

Toastmasters International Sample MeetingThe short answer is ‘yes’, it can help do that. However, it doesn’t follow that just by joining Toastmasters you will become proficient at not using fillers. Like any other skill, you have to practice, you have to receive constructive feedback and you have to act upon the feedback.

In my club, Kelowna Flying Solo Toastmasters, I assign all new members the role of Ah Counter as their first official meeting role. I believe that to extinguish fillers in your oral presentation, you first have to be aware of them. After a new member has taken on the role a few times, they start to become aware of them in their own speaking.

To facilitate the ah counting we provide the Ah Counter of the evening a form to keep track of what they hear and make it easy to deliver a report. The following info is mentioned on the form:

<<Helping members off their crutches. The purpose of the Ah-Counter is to note any word or sound used as a crutch by anyone who speaks during the meeting. Words may be inappropriate interjections, such as and, well, but, so and you know. Sounds may be ah, um or er. You should also note when a speaker repeats a word or phrase such as “I, I” or “This means, this means.” These words and sounds can be annoying to listeners. The Ah-Counter role is an excellent opportunity to practice your listening skills. It is unnecessary to report someone with no ums, ers, etc.>>

 The 2016 World Championship of Public Speaking wore his underwear over his suit. This gets attention, yes. But is this what people should strive for in their public speaking? Really?

Have you pushed an envelope lately? How about pulled one?This is a question that leads to an opinion-based answer, rather than a definitive yes or no answer.

I’ve chaired some 30 or more speech contests at the club to the District level in my Toastmasters career. In my introductory comments I usually factor in the comment “Toastmasters speech contests are for those that want to challenge themselves. The cream rises to the top …” Or something to that effect.

I usually also mention that there are at least two contests going on here. At the one level, we are choosing a winner of this speech contest, who will rise to the next level of the contest and represent us. But even more importantly to me is the fact that each of our contestants is in competition with themselves. They are stepping out of their comfort zone and challenging themselves to do the best they can. Whether they win or not, they will be better speakers for it.

I haven’t seen the video yet for the 2016 World Championship of Public Speaking. I’ve seen almost all of the last decade or so that have their videos posted on Youtube. In watching the videos, it becomes evident that as a speaker and a wannabee champion, you have to stand out in some way from your competitors.

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