Toastmasters International speakers walk the talk

Monday, August 28th, 2017

Organization offers tips and skills on conquering your fears of public speaking

The Province

Jim Kokocki says the most important thing for public speakers to be mindful of is their purpose.

“No. 1, focus on what’s the message you want to leave with your audience,” he said. “What’s your purpose in speaking to the group. For a lot of speakers when they start out, they worry about getting a lot of content. But purpose drives content.”

Kokocki is the former president of Toastmasters International, a 93-year-old, not-for-profit educational organization that helps people develop their communication and leadership skills in small clubs around the world. The 86th annual Toastmasters International Convention took place in Vancouver last weekend, where the Toastmasters held their annual business meeting, elected a new president and hosted the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking. This year’s title went to 43-year-old Manoj Vasudevan of Singapore, who beat out over 30,000 contestants from 142 countries, wowing the thousands gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre with an original speech Friday night. “It feels surreal, but it’s also a dream come true,” Vasudevan said of his first-place finish.

Public speaking is one of the biggest fears for most Canadians, ranking ahead of everything but snakes and heights, according to a 2015 survey funded by the Canadian Cancer Society. Toastmasters aims to change that by providing a supportive environment in which speakers can sharpen their ability and conquer their fears.

“These are skills, and skills require practise,” said Kokocki.

But if you need to improve immediately, Simon Bucknall, the U.K. and Ireland champion of public speaking and the first runner-up at this weekend’s competition, offered five quick tips for anybody hoping to improve their public-speaking ability.

“One of the most important tips for public speaking is to remember that it’s all about the audience, rather than about the speaker,” he said.

Bucknall’s second tip is to use a story to bring your point to life. His third is to focus on the change you want to achieve through your speech, and his fourth is to make that change, “the single most important thing,” he said, clear to the audience.

And finally, Bucknall said you should always be mindful of your neutral stance.

“In other words, how would you stand in front of an audience when you’re not moving.”

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