I attended my very first Toastmaster meeting three years ago. As you could expect, I saw people giving speeches of varying quality and a couple of evaluations given to the speakers. Especially the second speaker that evening made quite bad impression on me. She was just terrible – very stiff, with quiet and trembling voice and with speech structure that had me lost right after the first sentence.
“These Toastmasters are so silly! No matter how bad the speaker was, he always receives the same share of positive feedback and just very mild criticism, labeled as recommendations!”, I thought.
And I was not the only one in the world who thought that! A few days later I found the presentation Three reasons I’m not a Toastmaster mentioning Toastmasters being too nice in giving feedback. “Exactly!” I was happy that even a professional presentation coach (who created those slides) shared my opinion.
These Toastmasters are only for shy introverts. Give them a chance to speak in front of people who will not start throwing rotten tomatoes at them right after they say their first word. And praise them for their courage, no matter how horrible their actual performance is. Good for them. But not for me!
As the presentation coach suggested in her shared slides – I knew I had to find another way how to improve my presentation skills. One that would be more suitable for tough, extrovert and presentation-loving management consultants like myself! Yeah!
One year later a friend asked me if I wanted to join him for a social event – he was going to see a demonstration meeting of a new Toastmaster club in Prague. I remembered about my one-year old impression and about the slides I read. I remembered that there were better ways to improve one’s public speaking than Toastmasters. So how many of them had I tried?
The meeting was open to public and strongly advertised. More than 80 people were sitting in the audience. This time the “Table topic” session (which means – calling unprepared people on stage to give short, 1-2 minute speeches) got more exciting. The so-called “Table topic master” was inviting people from the public to come up. If you’re guessing she called me – you’re right.
I came up on the stage. The moderator gave me the topic I was supposed to speak about. My face turned red. Drops of sweat appeared on my forehead. For 10 seconds my mind went blank. I wanted to teleport myself away. Anywhere.
Finally, I blurted out the first sentence – and slowly I caught on with the following ones. I guess I was staring at the ground the whole endless 40 seconds I was standing there. When I finished, an applause came and I breathed out in relief. I literally ran back to my chair.
Because this was Toastmasters, even these 40 seconds of terror were subject to public feedback. The evaluator smiled at me from the stage. She commended me on my use of language and interesting insight about the life of foreigners in Prague. As for criticism – still with a smile, she encouraged me to use the whole time allocated – at least one full minute – as the audience would certainly be interested in hearing more.
That was it.
Was that feedback objective? Did it comprehensively assess my performance? Could it help me estimate the overall impression I made on the audience that evening?
Not – at – all.
But what if that was not the point? What if the point was to make me want come back and give more table topics, speeches, and sometime later, when I would become really very experienced – even give evaluations myself? Convincing me that I’m actually talented for giving presentations and that I should start working on becoming even better right away? Even if – objectively speaking – that would not be the truth at that time?
As for me , right now I can say only – well done, nice evaluator!