Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Candidates can benefit from Toastmasters

Candidates for offices that are up for election this June have made a variety of appearances at community forums. Moderators posed a series of questions and imposed time limits within which the candidates could articulate their thoughts.

Each candidate sat down with members of the newspaper's editorial staff. We asked 10 questions that had been compiled from suggestions submitted by the newspaper's readers. The candidates exhibited varying degrees of comfort with delivering timed speech. I won't single any out by name because I believe all of them could benefit from joining a Toastmasters club.

Timing of speakers is an integral part of a typical Toastmasters meeting. Whether answering impromptu Table Topics, delivering a prepared speech or offering an evaluation the speaker is held to a time limit. The reason is that in so many settings when called to speak in public, a time limit is frequently imposed -- candidates' forums included.

And then, there's the matter of the questions themselves, which we posed to local candidates. Some were straightforward but others, I confess, I did not completely understand. This is an area in which Table Topics could make a candidate better-prepared.

The value of Table Topics is that the speaker is not able to prepare his or her answer ahead of time and some of the questions that I've seen asked have been very creative.

I've had fun with some of my assignments to organize Table Topics: assembling objects into a bag and then having the speakers describe them -- from the perspective of a visitor from another planet or an archaeologist from the future -- or compiling a list of the Dewey system for numerically organizing books and then having the speaker describe a book, real or imaginary, that would be shelved under that category.

My favorite questions among those posed to me include having to tell a story about "Harry Potter, detective." Familiarity with J.K. Rowling's books only helped me so far. I think that cumulative experience with answering Table Topics has made me a better speaker.

Imagine the experience that Toastmasters would bring to fielding a question at a debate. Explain your platform or define the ways in which you differ from your competitor -- within two minutes or less.
Asked one question when there's another point that you consider it essential to make? Toastmasters provides opportunities to practice transitioning from one subject to another.

I admit that Toastmasters will probably not prepare you for dealing with a hostile audience; we're a pretty supportive bunch. Each meeting includes evaluations of the prepared speeches as well as members' roles as meeting monitors. A good evaluation will offer concrete areas for improvement, but will be supportive and focused on the positive.

But at least the unexpected zinger may be defused by the speaker's experience with answering questions for which he or she is unprepared.

Once a candidate is elected to office, the public speaking appearances continue -- and so does the need to effectively communicate. Toastmasters can provide ongoing practice with honing your ability to speak.

There are presently two clubs that are active in the County of Lake. Contagious Communicators meets at 4:45 p.m. Tuesdays in the Sutter Lakeside Hospital conference room, 5176 Hill Road East in Lakeport. For more information, e-mail cambral@sutterhealth.org.Tenacious Talkers meets at 6:15 p.m. Thursdays at Allied Information Network, 2150 Argonaut Road in Finley. For more information, e-mail gscottdtm@mediacombb.net.

For more information about Toastmasters International, visit www.toastmasters.org.

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