Rocking the Boat

You’ve already heard this evening’s Toastmaster describe some of the roles we take on as Toastmasters.

In the year that I’ve been a member, I’ve performed most roles at least once, as well as delivering eight, now nine, of the manual’s ten prepared speeches. Clearly, I enjoy Toastmasters.

I presume that most of you are here because, like me, you want to improve your public speaking skills. After all, that is how guests and new members introduce themselves. I’ve never yet heard anyone say: “I want to improve my evaluation techniques” – “I want to become a better listener” – “I want to improve my organisation and timing” – “I want to sit on a committee” – “I want to be a leader”. Though we do increase our proficiency in all these areas.

And we do so at our own pace and in our own style. We all have different goals, different strengths, different areas and levels of expertise. I love researching and writing speeches – and I’m even beginning to enjoy delivering them; other people have been members for years before completing the manual, preferring instead to develop their prowess in extemporisation or evaluating perhaps. Some people enjoy serving on the committee.

All these roles are essential to the running of the club and, as active members of a dynamic club, we must push ourselves outside our comfort zone in taking on these roles; and so we grow. Everything we do is a learning process. None of us is born with these skills, and we acquire them at different speeds. A good Toastmasters club allows us to grow in our own time, at our own speed.

But ultimately, Toastmasters is known as the place where people come to learn public speaking. So the most important people at any meeting are those of us giving our prepared speeches. The whole evening revolves around us. The table topics serve as a warm-up for the prepared speeches, the toastmaster introduces us, the timekeeper times us, the grammarian considers our syntax and verbal perspicacity, the evaluators evaluate us, and the audience is educated and entertained by us. We prepared speakers and our speeches are the heroes of the hour. All else is secondary. What an onerous responsibility. No wonder I feel sick with fear! No wonder it isn’t the same as when I rehearsed.

I strive to ensure that my speech is well-constructed, that it has a commanding opening, a convincing argument, an inspiring conclusion. I practice, refine, hone and rehearse and, when I stand here, with pounding heart and dry mouth, to deliver my speech, it is, generally speaking, its first and last public outing. There is no margin for error. I am judged on this performance. If my audience laughs at my humour, I have to account for that in my timing. And, if my jokes fall flat, well, I have to account for that possibility too. Through nerves, I might race through my speech and finish too early. Or my carefully-crafted brave words might be stricken with terror and hide in the deepest recesses of my mind. Where are my notes? And now my timing is completely out.

At our last meeting, a speaker fell victim to this club’s recent barbarous decision to clap the speaker off the stage should the speech overrun its allotted time. It was the speaker’s second speech. Not his seventh, not his eighth. His second! How shameful! How lacking in compassion! What an appalling manner in which to treat a fellow toastmaster, a fellow human.

Who made this vile decision? The committee? General consensus? No one ran it by me, that’s for sure, though I’m ashamed to say that I think I joined in. Is it that easy to descend so low? To follow the common herd? I would have thought better of myself.

We are here to support each other. We don't learn our craft in the usual learning environment, but in one of positive support. Did we do that?

In closing, I leave you with the vision and mission statement of Toastmasters International. In listening, consider whether we treated that inexperienced speaker with the dignity inherent in these words. Oh, and if I run into the red light, feel free to stop me in mid-sentence. I won’t think any less of you.

Vision statement: Toastmasters International empowers people to achieve their full potential and realise their dreams. Through our member clubs, people throughout the world can improve their communication and leadership skills, and find the courage to change.

Mission statement: Toastmasters International is the leading movement devoted to making effective oral communication a worldwide reality.

Through its member clubs, Toastmasters International  helps men and women learn the arts of speaking, listening and thinking – vital skills that promote self-actualisation, enhance leadership potential, foster human understanding and contribute to the betterment of mankind.


I wrote this speech because I was appalled by the clapping thing. Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that the inexperienced speaker I refer to is the same person who wrote the wholly inappropriate comment on my Close Encounters speech.

Guests and Club Members' Comments

"Great job, very persuasive. Excellent vocal projection and variety and communication with the audience. Very well done."

"You have great moments of humour and almost poetic phrasing. I was left unsure of your proposal though."

"Very good message from your speech. I agree. Another brilliant speech, fantastic imagery; you don't need the notes."

"Well structured speech. Need examples to support comments."

"! thought you varied your tone well and you made good use of gestures and body language. A recommendation would be to reemphasise what you want to persuade the audience to do in the summary. Your presentation clearly showed how well you had prepared. A very enjoyable speech."

"Very well done. Well prepared and presented."

"Captured my interest for the whole time. Excellent in all areas and achieved the objective affined for speech #9."

"Very entertaining speech! Commanding and convincing. A well prepared speech. By no. 9 though, I think you could do without notes - they were more of a hindrance because you knew your speech. On to the last and final frontier now!"

"Very good! Entertaining. Good use of questions."

"That was excellent. Great subject, well delivered, sense of humour. My recommendations: I would like to see you hold eye contact longer to add greater impact. I look forward to your no. 10."

"You have wonderful writing skills that involve humour and great variety in your pace when you deliver. You always write in a creative, imaginative way."