Finding your voice
Vice President Student Life
For a number of weeks, my friend and co-worker, David Morales, had been urging me and the rest of SAITSA’s Executive Council to attend a SAIT Sayers meeting, our resident Toastmasters club.
David was hosting the meeting, and after introductions he called a long-standing member of the club up to the front. As we discovered, everything is very structured at a Toastmasters meeting.
First come the introductions, then a prepared speech. The speaker introduces their speech, the title and the time it will take, before jumping into it.
We were presented with “How to Be a Good Audience,” (or something along those lines), an insightful and hilarious look at what makes a good audience member is and how they should respond to speakers.
Being an audience member at the time, the meta rating was off the charts.
Soon after came the Table Topics. This is the most interactive part of the meeting; the part where everyone gets to speak, one at a time, and answer a question given by that night’s Table Topic Master. You must stand up in front of the club and two minutes to answer a question to the best of your abilities in under two minutes.
As the negative voice in my head correctly presumed, I would be the first guest chosen to take the front of the room.
Before my question was asked, I got clarification on some things. They told me I could skip on a question and receive another one if I didn’t like the first.
I asked if I should be aiming to use the entire time and was told that it didn’t really matter. It wasn’t a competition.
I stood at the front, nervous and only slightly sweaty.
“What is something you often think about?”
I skipped this one. Bad timing. I had a lot on my plate that week and decided not to unload my emotional baggage on a room full of people I hardly knew.
“What is your favourite season?”
A mundane question, but a safe one.
Knowing full well that my answer would pale in comparison to the previous presenter’s discussion about childhood dreams, I charged head-on into why winter isn’t as terrible as everyone thinks.
I sat down a minute and a half later feeling stupid.
As more and more speakers took their turn, I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one struggling with this exercise.
Public speaking is a strange combination of small talk, improvisation, and body language, something that I haven’t really grappled with before. Seeing and hearing some of the more veteran club members speak, it was instantly recognizable that this was in fact a skill, a muscle that could be trained and something one could become better at with practice.
After everyone had spoken to their table topic, we entered the evaluation stage of the meeting. Not only was there a host, a main presenter, and a Table Topic Master every night, but there was also a timer, a presenter evaluator, a table topics evaluator and a filler word tracker.
Each club member (sparing the guests) was given pointers on their speaking, including how many filler words like “um” and “uh” they had used that night and how long they spoke for.
Even though I was told it wasn’t a competition, when the timer announced a 1:59/2:00 minute speaking time, the room nodded excitedly, congratulating the victor. At least until the perfect 2:00 minute time was announced and the room burst into applause.
Once some administrative discussion around the next meeting had passed, we adjourned and I went home with a lot to think about.
I’m not the best public speaker and I know it. Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t have “the best words.” But even so, I was surprised at how difficult it was to speak off the cuff in front of a crowd.
I was also surprised at how skilled one could become with practice.
My competitive nature flared up and urged me to go back. Unfortunately, I won’t be signing up as a full member, and I definitely can’t commit a whole night every week to this, but there is certainly value there and I’m sad that I don’t have more time to work on this self-improvement.
If you’re looking for a place to build your speaking skills, your self confidence and even your ability to network, then this club is a great place to start.
If you want to check them out, either e-mail their president at: firstname.lastname@example.org or find them on Wednesdays at 6:30p.m. in V128 of the Campus Centre.