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Public Service Announcement #782

April 1, 2012

TEDx Conejo yarnbombed letters

Yesterday CC and I went to our local TEDx. You know about TED, right? The best way I can describe it is “smart people talking about interesting things.” There is the original TED and then hundreds of locally organized offshoot “TEDx” events popped up around the globe.

About 500 people showed up – a sold-out house – for a day of smartening up. The event is co-sponsored by the school district, so the audience was about 1/3 high schoolers.

There were the intros and thank-yous, and then the first speaker came on. I’m not going to name him, but he’s a well-known musician who also worked in recording with some of the biggest rock bands on earth. I’m sure he has 1 million great rock and roll stories.

He was terrible. He rambled, he was vague, he said “um” about 20 times a minute. His problems were compounded by some technical issues, like his videos and slides not playing when he expected them to, and playing when he didn’t expect them to.

He also talked for about 45 minutes, his ramblings descending into a “kids these days” rant about the suckitude of MP3s, ear buds, and the fact that no one listens to whole albums anymore.

CC and I kept glancing meaningfully at each other. I whispered “Toastmasters” and she nodded hard. Here comes the public service announcement.

People, if you are going to speak in public for any reason to any size group, GET SOME TRAINING. And IMO, Toastmasters is the best, easiest, most fun way to do that. Toastmasters is like AA – almost every community has a group. My own town has about 25 meetings to choose from.

I know that public speaking is a terror for many people. It’s a great feeling to take on that fear and conquer it, and it’s not that hard. It was pretty cool to look at the TEDx speakers and think “I could do that, and do a good job.”

The reason Toastmasters works is that it has a simple, structured program where you start small and build from there. With every speech, you get kind, helpful feedback focusing on your strengths and suggesting improvements. No one ever makes fun of you, because they have all been in your position, too.

Toastmasters is a great place to try and fail – much better than in front of your workmates, at a community group meeting or, God forbid, at a paid gig.

Some Toastmasters groups meet at sunrise (oy), others at lunch or in the evening. Some meet weekly, others every 2 weeks or monthly. Some meetings are dinner meetings where you can learn to speak in front of an audience that is making noise and eating and not necessarily paying attention.

There are dues, but my group keeps them to about $90 a year, and I have heard other groups are about the same.

By the time that first speaker was done, I was bored and irritated. I was silently chanting “Get done. Get done NOW,” trying to pray him off stage. During the break, CC and I talked over his performance and we both KNEW that we could have improved his speech by at least 75% if we had 15 minutes to give him advice.

Don’t let this happen to you, people. Get thee to a Toastmasters group. You will thank me, and your audience will thank me, too.

  1. rotarykat permalink
    April 1, 2012 19:31

    Amen! I just finished my Competent Communicator this month, and I can even tell a difference in my every day conversations. I hear my Rotary president speak, or a council member, and wonder, can we make Toastmasters a requirement for handling a microphone?

  2. April 1, 2012 19:46

    Congratulations, Kat!

  3. cindymaddera permalink
    April 2, 2012 08:22

    I did Toastmasters in 4-H when I was a kid. Ah, the days of speech contests and team demonstrations. I don’t miss those years. Speaking in public (though I’m good at it) makes me ill.

    My favorite TED is the one Natalie Merchant did about turning children’s poems into song.

  4. April 2, 2012 15:07

    I just taught a lesson on gestures to some 4H Toastmasters kids. They were SO cute. My favorite speech was “5 Good Reasons My Parents Should Let Me Have a Dog” by a 6-year-old.

  5. rotarykat permalink
    April 2, 2012 18:45

    Hey Suebob, I linked to you on our Toastmasters Facebook page! I have such a hard time thinking of things to post there, so thanks for the content. 🙂

    • April 3, 2012 06:05

      Thank you! Toastmasters unite! Our club is down to 6 regulars. If you know anyone in west Ventura County…send them my way!

  6. April 4, 2012 16:54

    I have a suspicion that the terrible-but-famous TEDx dude probably didn’t actually prepare anything at all. As evidenced by an uncle at a wedding a few years ago, even a decade of Toastmasters training cannot cancel out the effects of having nothing to say and entirely too many minutes to say it in (although maybe that would have been even worse without the Toastmasters?).

    I don’t have any personal experience with Toastmasters; does the program/group/thing work at all on content (clear thoughts; how to find a good thesis), or is it mostly learning delivery methods?

    • April 11, 2012 21:15

      I think you are right. CC and I speculated that too – we could just envision the organizers saying “Don’t worry – you’ll be GREAT.” Not so much.

      Toastmasters helps you shape content too. There are assignments as you go through the manual about learning to organize, to make your point quickly and succintly, to be vivid and interesting…my group focuses on politics, religion and philosophy, which is very unusual in TM.

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