“The biggest problem of Toastmasters is that we’re trying too hard to impress. We’re like bad actors.” – Tetiana, a former Toastmaster and a recent visitor to our Club Meeting
While I would not call all Toastmasters “bad actors”, I got her point. After all, it is easier to mimic engaging use of voice than crafting a coherent message; it is easier to employ big gestures than to bring a fresh insight; it is easier to add exaggerated words like “amazing”, “wonderful”, “unbelievable” rather than finding the right descriptive words to actually make people feel that way.
I admit – looking back, even I found myself guilty on many occasions.
“Whether they admit it or not, many public speakers dream of being cheered as they leave the stage (…). And therein lies the trap.”
“They may look at talks given by inspirational speakers and seek to copy them… but in form only. The result can be awful: the ruthless pursuit of every trick in the book to intellectually and emotionally manipulate the audience.”
– Chris Anderson, TED Talks
How can we fix this?
Step one: Relax.
You won’t become “inspiring” by trying to “be inspiring”. On the contrary.
Step two: Shift focus to the message.
When writing your own speech, focus on making it clear what is it you want to say.
When evaluating another speaker – focus on how clear it was what they said – and whether it had any value for you as a member of the audience.
When talking to the members of your club after they gave a speech, ask them: What was it what they wanted to say? Why did they choose to share exactly that? What did they want to achieve? Based on what they say and your experience of their speech, you can provide suggestions on how they can do it better next time.
Public speaking is a key skill nowadays and will only grow in importance in the future. When working on improving that skill, don’t fall into the trap of “quick fixes”, putting on a confident face, speaking louder and making bigger gestures. All these are useful – but used in a presentation that does not have a substance, they look absurd (demonstrated by Will Stephen in his short talk “How to Come off as Smart in a TEDx Talk“).