Category Archives: Toastmasters

Toastmaster Advanced Manuals: Facilitating Discussion

This manual is designed for practicing leading group discussions. This is one I would like to do, but the projects are all extremely long (too long for a one hour meeting). Optional shorter times are provided, but they only shave off 5-10 minutes.

1. The panel moderator – 28-30 minutes – This requires getting three other club members to be panelists. It’s not the kind of panel I’m used to seeing at cons, with everyone giving short answers to questions. Instead, each panelist gives a four-minute speech and a short Q&A follows.

2. The brainstorming session – 31-33 minutes – The whole club brainstorms a list of ideas and then chooses the three best ones.

3. The problem-solving discussion – 26-31 minutes – Lead the group to discuss the three ideas from the previous project and vote on the best one.

4. Handling challenging situations – 22-32 minutes – This one would be fun. Like the previous projects, you’re leading the club members to make a decision. But four club members (chosen by someone else, so the speaker doesn’t know who they are), are assigned to be troublemakers: interrupting, taking over, or refusing to participate. I imagine the success of this project depends on how well these members play their roles.

5. Reaching a consensus – 31-37 minutes – Lead the group to discuss a problem and solutions and reach a consensus on what to do.

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Toastmaster Manuals: Competent Communication

Since I’ve covered all the advanced manuals that I’ve actually done, I thought I’d talk about the basic manual. The Competent Communication manual has 10 speeches (twice as many as the advanced manuals) that cover the basics of public speaking. Most of them are only 5-7 minutes long; the first is a little shorter and the last a little longer.

The first project doesn’t have any particular focus other than survival (for those of us who started out very nervous) and getting a baseline so you know what you need to work on. The next three projects are about constructing a speech: organizing it, having a clear message, and expressing yourself clearly (word choice etc.).

The next few projects cover speaking techniques: body language and gestures, vocal variety, researching your topic, using visual aids. Finally, there are two projects about specific types of speeches: persuasive and inspiring.

This is a good introduction to speaking. It was enough practice to make me more comfortable in front of an audience and pick up a few new skills along the way. I’d like to go back and do the manual again and focus on each project, since the first time through I was more concerned with just getting through each speech instead of doing a good job.

Also, if you are in Toastmasters: read the end of this manual. The last 20 or so pages have a lot of information about the communication and leadership programs, the meeting roles and officer positions, and tips about Toastmasters and speaking in general (like coming up with topics).

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Toastmasters Advanced Manuals: Specialty Speeches

AKA the miscellaneous manual. I think they made this manual for people who just finished their Competent Communicator awards and don’t know where to go next. It’s like a sampler of some of the other manuals.

The projects in Specialty Speeches are:

1. Impromptu speaking – 5-7 minutes – This was fun. You give the evaluator a list of topics, and when it’s time to speak they tell you which topic they picked. You could cheat and prepare five whole speeches instead of just thinking about what you want to say, but who wants to write five speeches at once? I didn’t feel that I did very well at this–my speech wasn’t very organized. I plan to try it again the next time a speaker cancels at the last minute.

2. Uplift the spirit – 8-10 minutes – Motivate people to change. Basically the same as CC project 10. I’m doing this project on Thursday and not looking forward to it–It’s a good project, though not one I have a natural talent for or interest in. But it’s a good skill for people to have, so I’m glad to see it included.

3. Sell a product – 10-12 minutes

4. Read out loud – 12-15 minutes – Now you see why I chose to do this manual. This project is a little longer than the Read a story project from Interpretive Reading, but it’s otherwise the same.

5. Introduce the speaker – whole meeting – This is a weird project. Instead of giving a speech, you are the Toastmaster for the meeting, and you’re evaluated on how well you introduce the speakers. This is a useful skill to learn, but it seems like it belongs in the leadership manual rather than a speech manual.

This is a good manual for someone who isn’t sure what they want to focus on, or, to be honest, someone who’s looking for an easy manual, since there’s somewhat less preparation required for projects 1 and 5.

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Toastmasters Advanced Manuals: Speaking to Inform

Last week I talked about the Interpretive Reading manual, which was not something I’d expected to find in Toastmasters. Speaking to Inform, however, is exactly what I expected: a series of potentially very dry speeches.

Speaking to Inform was the first advanced manual that I completed. It was easy; since the purpose of the projects is just to inform people. Trying to persuade or inspire people is a lot harder for me, but this manual didn’t ask me to do that. The main challenge here is not boring your audience.

The projects here are:

1. The speech to inform – 5-7 minutes

2. Resources for informing – 5-7 minutes – This is similar to the Research your topic speech in the CC manual.

3. The demonstration talk – 5-7 minutes – Here you have to demonstrate something, either by doing something, bringing in the object you’re talking about, or using a model. For the latter two options it’s just a standard speech with a visual aid.

4. A fact-finding report – 5-7 minutes plus 2-3 minutes of Q&A – In theory I like the Q&A portions of talks, but in practice the Toastmasters audience is too soft on the speakers. We’re too used to being nice. For this speech I cheated; I didn’t want to spend extra time doing research, so I wrote a flash fiction story in the form of a report. I still need to get that cleaned up and start submitting it. (Again, another example of keeping my own goals in mind rather than what the organization wants me to do.)

5. The abstract concept – 6-8 minutes

This is a decent manual for just about anyone. There’s nothing exciting about it, and nothing particularly challenging about it, so I feel that it’s a good choice for someone who just finished the basic manual or who isn’t as confident and comfortable as they’d like to be. Where the Interpretive Reading manual stretched me, this one solidified what I had already learned to do.

(Ha, last week I said I’d do Specialty Speeches this week. That’ll be next week.)

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Toastmasters Advanced Manuals: Interpretive Reading

Continuing on from last week’s post, here are my thoughts on Toastmasters’ Interpretive Reading manual.

This manual seems to be one of the best-kept secrets. It’s certainly not what I thought Toastmasters was about the first dozen times I heard about it. It’s also one I’ve only seen two other people do so far. It is, however, one of the best ways to practice expressiveness. Compared to a standard informative speech, interpretive reading requires a lot more effort with the voice.

The projects in this manual are:

1. Read a story – 8-10 minutes – I’ve done this project five times, always reading my own work.

2. Interpreting poetry – 6-8 minutes – Supposed to be one long poem.

3. The Monodrama – 5-7 minutes – I blogged about this before

4. The play – 12-15 minutes – Portraying one character was hard enough. But two? This was good practice but I have no desire to do it again.

5. The oratorical speech – 8-10 minutes – To be honest I’m not sure what the point of this project, in which you find a famous speech and deliver it, is. If I’m just doing a speech I want it to be one I’ve written.

I find that the Interpretive Reading manual, in particular, is one where I have to keep my goals in mind when planning a project. For example, all the stories I’ve read for project 1 are stories I’ve written, so editing them to fit the time slot is a very different process than it would be if I were reading someone else’s story, as is getting the author’s point across. In some cases I read 2-3 very short stories instead of one longer one. Is this exactly what the manual says to do? No. Is it what I need to do to practice the skills I need to learn? Yes.

It’s also one where you have to train the audience and evaluator. No, I’m not supposed to make eye contact with the audience. No, reading a story does not mean acting. My club does seem to enjoy it though. It’s a nice change from the usual speeches.

For a writer, doing this manual is a no-brainer if you ever plan to give a reading. Well, unless you do the Specialty Speeches manual instead, because that also has the Read a story project. More on that manual next week.


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Toastmasters Advanced Manuals: Introduction

I’ve been meaning to do a short blog series on Toastmasters for some time. I got my Advanced Communicator Bronze award a couple months ago–that means I completed two advanced manuals of five speeches each. Now I’ve moved on to two more advanced manuals.

So what’s an advanced manual?

The Toastmasters program starts with the Competent Communicator manual, which has 10 speeches. Most of them cover different aspects of speaking–body language, vocal variety, etc.

Once you finish that, you can pick two free advanced manuals. All of the 15 advanced manuals have five speeches, and most of them focus on a specific topic. There are manuals for sales talks, technical presentations, and interpretive reading (that would be the one that I joined Toastmasters for). Some of the projects are short speeches (yes, there is one for making a toast) and others involve team presentations, role playing, and can be 20 minutes long.

It’s hard to know what a manual is really like without seeing it, so when I picked the manuals I’m doing now, I relied on blog posts by people who’d done them. So next week I’ll continue the favor and start reviewing the manuals I’ve done so far, starting with Interpretive Reading.

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Toastmasters, Part 2

I’ve mentioned before that I joined Toastmasters last spring.

In almost a year, I’ve given twelve speeches, and spoken at many more meetings–the program is designed so that nearly everyone who attends a meeting gets a chance to speak in front of the crowd. I’m a lot less nervous about it than I used to be. Admittedly, a lot of that is probably that it’s pretty much the same group of people every week! But I’ll take it.

Recently I gave the tenth speech in the Competent Communicator manual–that’s the first set of speeches that everyone starts out with. For this I get a certificate and the happy feeling of surviving.

I skipped ahead a bit, which is why I’ve done twelve speeches. I bought the Interpretive Reading manual last summer and have done the first two “advanced” speeches from that: reading a story and reading a poem. Since being able to give decent readings was one of the main reasons I joined, I plan to repeat Read a Story about a zillion times. My poor club–I don’t think many of them read fantasy or science fiction. Maybe I can turn them into fans.

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A couple months ago I joined Toastmasters. I really hate getting up in front of a group of people, and I hate that I hate it, so…yeah.

I’ve given 3 speeches so far and am not dead, so I guess it’s going ok.

I’d seen it mentioned as a way for writers to improve their public speaking skills, but I hadn’t given it much thought because the two things I can see myself doing someday are panel discussions and readings, not speeches.

But I must have been bored the last time someone mentioned it, because I looked into it more closely, and discovered 1) there’s a part of every meeting called Table Topics that focuses on impromptu speaking, kind of like a panel, and 2) there’s an advanced manual (after you finish the first 10 speeches you do shorter sets with specific focuses) on interpretive reading. I have a feeling I’m going to go through that manual a bazillion times. I already have a copy and might even skip ahead.

I can see it being a big help if I stick with it. And since if someone had told me years ago that it wasn’t all speeches I might have tried it earlier, I thought I’d let you guys know it’s not all speeches. Any other Toastmasters members out there? Has it been helpful?


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