Lode Vermeiren: “What’s bringing all of us together is the desire to learn”
I joined Toastmasters Antwerpen in June, after meeting one of the members through work. The reason I joined was to get better at public speaking, something I often have to do for my job.
Even though I wasn’t a member yet, so as a guest, I got the chance to speak at my first meeting, during the “Table Topics” portion of the meeting. During the Table Topics, guests and members can come up to the stage and hold a short speech (between one and two minutes) on a topic that is defined by the Table Topics Master of the evening.
One of the ways you improve at Toastmasters is through the feedback you receive.
During this first meeting, it was quickly clear that Toastmasters members come from a lot of different backgrounds. There’s diversity in terms of age, gender and professional background. What’s bringing all of us together is the desire to learn.
One of the ways you improve at Toastmasters is through the feedback you receive. Almost every aspect of the meeting is analysed: people take up different roles (keeping the time, reviewing a specific speech, counting the numbers of “ah’s” or “euhm’s” you use, etc.), and report back at the end of the meeting. In the end, even the evaluators are evaluated.
This direct feedback sounds like it’s not for the faint of heart, but the main advantage is that your fellow Toastmasters and guests are a friendly audience. No one is out to get you, and failure is absolutely an option. Feedback is obviously also given in a constructive and respectful way, taking into account your level of experience.
Since I joined, I already had the chance of giving two prepared speeches. The first speech, your “ice-breaker”, is about a topic you should be very familiar with: yourself. But even there, there’s a range of ways in which people present themselves.
The second speech is all about bringing structure to your speech, making sure it’s easy to follow and that it captivates the audience. One of the biggest challenges for me was finding a topic. The more choice you have, the harder it becomes to choose. I went back to an archive I keep of newspaper clippings, that sometimes serve as an inspiration for a pub quiz I help organise.
From there, I got to the game of “rock, paper, scissors” and how there’s more to it that meets the eye: there’s a kind of animal that uses this strategy in mating (look up the common side-blotched lizard), and it also gets used to take million-dollar decisions (look up the story of how the Japanese company Maspro Denkoh used it to decide which auction house it would contract to sell its art collection).
A totally abstract subject perhaps, but it did give me the freedom (and the challenge) to structure my speech around these two topics that were only related in a small way. It also shows how almost every topic can serve as inspiration for a speech.
In the few months that I’ve been a member of Toastmasters Antwerpen, I’ve met a lot of interesting new people, and learned a lot about myself and a range of different topics. I’ve seen speeches about the “Dodentocht”, the history of the Chinese empire, alternative currency systems, how computer games can teach you something about psychology, and how failure is an option in daily life. I’ve mostly learned that everybody can be a public speaker, and how everybody has something interesting to contribute to the larger conversation.
What are you waiting for to join us?