The Artful Craft of Public Speaking …
March 28, 2013
The other night I attended James Burchill’s Business-in-Burlington’s much hyped March 21st event at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Over 500 small and mid-business types milled about, chatting up old and new contacts.
Truth be told though, regardless of the very pleasant surroundings, free hors d’oeuvres and engaging exhibitor displays, it was hard work if one was coming in cold. I noticed a few shy wall-flowers clinging to the perimeters not quite sure when or where to ‘dive in’. Those familiar with other BiB events had a decided advantage. Most of those merrily schmoozed with other familiar faces. All in all, the place was rocking.
Even so, one moment stood out. The entire event came to a stand still when Burlington’s Mayor, Rick Goldring, took to the podium. He spoke for a few minutes to welcome the guests and congratulate them on their assorted start-ups and on-going ventures. When he stepped down, there was a decided lull in the conversation as his ‘tone’ set in, and then, all intensified their busy chatter.
What struck me most about the Mayor’s short presentation was his ‘delivery’. He spoke confidently, combining a deft interweaving of chummy casualness with polite formality respectful of his civic station. His voice was clear, warm and, to all listening, encouraging. He spoke very well. It was a crystalline rosy moment that made all listeners feel a part of one big happy family. And, as such, he did a very good job of it.
I started to wonder what specific attribute made this happen. Looks? Can’t hurt. Personal attire? Made an impression for sure. Nice tie? Sure. A title? It definitely helps, especially when infused with passion and vision. So, Passion and Vision? Yes, both. But personal passion or an invigorating vision won’t get a Leader anywhere without one underlying capability.
Earlier, I had seen the Mayor stand alone in the wings quietly glancing at some notes. He was obviously preparing before he spoke, and, on cue, he delivered.
His brief speech was, in sum, an insightful lesson about the on-going art and craft of public speaking.
Can anyone learn this skill?
Yes. But leadership cannot be learned in a day. It takes practice.
In Burlington, one of our best unsung resources for honing this necessary leadership capability is Mansion Toastmasters.
This eclectic group is the local club of Toastmasters International, founded in Santa Ana California in 1924 by Dr. Ralph C. Smedley. (It was he who conceived and developed a simple framework to help others speak more effectively.)
Mansion Toastmasters of Burlington’s mission is “to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment, in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which, in turn, foster self-confidence and personal growth.”
From their website, “A company’s success depends on communication. How well they communicate can determine whether a company quickly grows into an industry leader or joins thousands of other businesses mired in mediocrity.”
So, what actually happens at one of these meetings? “A typical toastmaster evening provides a variety of presentation and speaking challenges. These are varied in length and complexity and are assigned in direct relation to the Toastmasters’ expertise. Toastmasters learn by a) seeing good work presented and evaluated, and b) imitating successful techniques. Toastmasters meetings are spiced with laughter, creativity and camaraderie. We have fun! “
I went to my first Toastmasters meeting on Wednesday night and had a blast. It really was fun, as well as emotionally engaging and intellectually challenging. I watched and listened as everyone struggled with various levels of fear, shyness and “nerves” to be both ‘present’ and ‘public’. It was an inspiring introduction to the artful craft of being a ‘public persona’. Everyone, myself included, had to ‘stand and deliver’. The pace was fast with a short five minute break half way through the proceedings.
Some spoke better then others, but, at the end of the day, it wasn’t so much a competition as an opportunity for everyone to better their presentation skills. At all times members and newcomers were encouraged with on-going positive reinforcement through enthusiastic hand-clapping by the entire group. Sounds silly, but it works. A Timekeeper made sure everyone stayed on track. Sort of. At times it did appear a bit chaotic and seemed to fall into an impromptu ‘free-for-all’. But the mentors, or more seasoned members of the group, were quick to re-focus those with jittery ‘nerves’. Evaluators judged the Speakers, and they, in turn, were judged by the General Evaluator. Time just flew past.
Also from their website: “Using the speaking and leadership skills developed at Toastmasters, people become more active in business, churches, service and charity organizations. Toastmaster members are able to organize activities, conduct meetings, and speak in public as their organization’s representative. Some even become active in local, state or national government.”
Most would agree that Burlington’s Mayor, Rick Goldring, has become a much better public speaker after a few short years of practice. Know this: you can do it too.
Every Wednesday night throughout the year, from 7:30 to 9:30 pm, guests can join this small engaging group of 20 to 30 people (over the age of 18) when they get together at the Paletta Mansion on Lakeshore Road in the Cumis Room. Learn to refine your listening and speaking skills. Guests can attend for three ‘free’ visits. After that, membership, at $250 per year, is required. Based on what I experienced in those two very short hours, that expense is well worth the price of admission.
(Guest Post) Author’s Bio: Margaret Lindsay Holton is an award-winning author & artist from the Golden Horseshoe region of Southern Ontario, Canada. She generally speaks when spoken to.