Putting one block on top of another is a skill you learned before you could walk. Putting one block on top of another, so simple a child can do it, nearly any child. Can you still do that? If so, you can be a world-class public speaker.
Becoming a more effective public speaker is an exercise in putting one block on top of another, building a pyramid of individual speaking skills. But this pyramid balances on its vertex, not its base; it’s upside down, from our normal perspective.
The bottom block, the one on which all the others rest is getting up in front of an audience, the very first time, presenting your “Ice Breaker.” Your Ice Breaker is a brief speech about the topic you know best, YOU! It’s a chance for you to tell others about what makes you the person they see before them now. It’s also the most important speech you’ll give in your public speaking career, your first opportunity to give a prepared speech and then receive constructive feedback about what you did well and where you can improve.
The next level of your building block pyramid consists of the other Competent Communication manual speeches, projects #2 through 10. Each of these speeches is designed to build on and leverage the skills you’ve learned in previous manual speeches. And, following each speech, you get more constructive feedback. And as the speeches advance, as your skills improve, your Evaluator will take that into consideration, holding you to a higher level of performance as you get better. This approach ensures that you will keep getting better.
When you’ve completed your first ten Toastmasters manual speeches, you are awarded the designation of Competent Communicator, the first step on your journey to the coveted title of Distinguished Toastmaster.
Level three of your pyramid continues to build on the solid foundation you have already established by allowing you to focus on specific types of speeches and learn advanced presentation skills. Whether your interest is in Speeches by Management, Technical Presentations, Storytelling, or Special Occasion Speeches, Toastmasters has an advanced manual to help you develop the skills you need to deliver exceptional speeches that suit your style, your audience, and the current situation. And you’ll still be getting that constructive feedback on every speech. But now you’ve entered the realm where your Evaluator is going to expect you to be really good, really, really good. And the feedback will reflect that level of expectation.
Many new Toastmasters cringe when they first hear an evaluation of an advanced manual speech. It sounds so “critical” of what, to them, appeared to be a letter-perfect speech. The speaker, on the other hand, expects that level of feedback. He or she wouldn’t be presenting advanced speeches otherwise. You can only get better when someone is kind enough to tell you what you’ve done wrong, where you can improve, and how to go about doing so. Advanced speech evaluations do that.
The fourth level of your pyramid actually begins fairly early in your Toastmasters career, evaluating and coaching others. Although it spans your entire Toastmasters career, the real value it brings to helping you become the best public speaker possible is when you’ve already completed some advanced manual speeches and are evaluating other advanced speakers yourself. You always learn more from evaluating someone else’s speech than you learn from giving your own speech and having someone else evaluate you. You have to listen more closely, you have to pay attention to details, and you have to be alert for the little things that can change a really good speech into a masterpiece of oratory.
Once you’ve reached this level it’s time to pull out the stops and really get your public speaking career rolling down the track. The top level of your pyramid is simple:
Continually practicing and reinforcing what you’ve already learned and then using the feedback you get from your audience to hone your skills even more. You can still learn a lot from Toastmasters-style evaluations, but by this point, you’ll have learned to “read” your audience and adjust your speaking style, speech content, and even your attitude in real time to reflect what your audi-ence is telling you. This level never ends, never ends, never ends!
If you are determined to become the best public speaker possible, you will be your own coach, your own evaluator (with a lot of help from your audiences), and the most critical reviewer of every word you say and every gesture you make. You will also learn that you are now unable to resist helping others learn what you’ve already learned. Great public speakers are, by the very nature that drove them to be great public speakers, teachers who cannot resist or turn down a request for help.
Putting one block on top of another is a skill you learned before you could walk. Putting one block on top of another, so simple a child can do it, nearly any child. Are you still child enough to do that with your public speaking career? If so, I’ll see you at the next Toastmasters meeting. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.