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Five Public Speaking Tips They Don't Teach You in Toastmasters

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Erik Deckers has been a public speaker for more than 10 years, including 3 years spent in Toastmasters. And while he thinks Toastmasters is important for anyone who wants to get into public speaking, there are a few things the organization didn't prepare him for. Here are five tips from a seasoned speaker about what to expect when you take the stage for your first non-Toastmasters talk.
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If you've ever been in Toastmasters, you know there are certain ways to give a "proper Toastmasters speech." You stand behind the lectern (it's not a podium!); you glance at your notes occasionally; you give certain gestures at certain times; and after three to five to seven minutes, you're all done.

I was a member of Toastmasters for nearly three years, and I learned a lot about public speaking. But when I started getting professional speaking gigs, I learned there are a lot of differences between Toastmasters and speaking "on the outside."

1. A Speech Is a Lot Longer than 3–5 Minutes

In fact, if you're giving talks at a conference or sales meeting, plan on at least an hour. It's a rare opportunity to speak for less than 30 minutes; most conference talks tend to run around an hour, and you have to keep the audience's interest the entire time.

2. You Can Move Around All You Want

When I was in Toastmasters, I had two "professional Toastmasters" tell me I was doing it all wrong. Not only did I gesture too much when I talked; I also paced. I was told the proper technique is to stand in one place, have my feet shoulder-width apart, keep my hands at my sides, and gesture with one hand at a time.

But if you want to be considered a dynamic speaker, you need to move around and use gestures. If anything, it shows confidence, and it keeps attention on you. It's not only okay to move around but it's expected.

I've seen people who follow the proper Toastmasters formula on the outside. It's boring and dry. Giving a talk is one of the most exciting and/or nerve wracking experiences you'll have for a while. If you don't feel like moving around, you either don't have a pulse or you're about to put a roomful of people to sleep.

3. No One Cares How Many Times You Say "Umm" or "Ahh"

In Toastmasters, there is always one person who counts the "umms" and "ahhs" in a speech. I always found it rather annoying, although it did get me out of the habit. However, people will forgive your verbal flubs, miscues, and verbal fillers.

Basically, as long as you present valuable and interesting information, your audience is going to love you and no one will ever tell you how many verbal tics you had.

While you don't want to drop in verbal fillers every three words, it won't matter if you do it a few times. (Still, try to get out of the habit. You probably do it more than you realize.)

4. No One Is Going to Evaluate You

At the end of every Toastmasters talk, you get an evaluation of your strengths and your areas to work on. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. If getting evaluations stress you out, then you'll be happy to not get one. But if you rely on evaluations to tell you what to work on, you're out of luck. Ask a friend to give you a frank and candid evaluation of your talk, or take a video and watch it later.

Because you want to improve your speaking ability, you'll need some kind of feedback to find the areas you need to improve.

5. No One Knows what Your Certification Means

I hate to break it to you. After all, you worked so hard for that CTM/ATM/DTM certification, but unless you're getting hired to speak by another Toastmaster, it doesn't mean anything.

Meeting organizers and speaker agents are looking for real-life experience. Have you given any talks before? How many? How long have you been in your industry, and how well known are you? They are looking for testimonials from people who have hired you or seen you speak, or for videos of your past talks. Certifications only mean you have given a certain number of speeches. It doesn't mean you're a good speaker. Save your certification for your Toastmasters meetings.

There's a lot you can learn from Toastmasters. And if you've never given a speech or presentation before, then you absolutely should join Toastmasters; I can't recommend it enough. But there will come a time that you're ready to leave the nest and try it on your own. When you do, keep these five points in mind and you'll shine like a real pro.

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