Club Information
Next Meeting:
23rd May 2019

Meeting Time:
18:45 for 19:00, every 2nd & 4th Thursday of the month

(Mingle time from 18:30 to 19:00!)

RSVP:
easy-Speak

Meeting Place:
Tennis Pavilion
Morningside Country Club
De La Ray Road
Rivonia

If you are coming from Sandton on Rivonia road, turn left after the Engen garage into 7th Avenue, then left again into De La Ray

District: 74
Division: H
Area: 4
Club Number: 8217
Charter Date: 6/1/1991
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I suffered a significant health crisis as a result of stress, which lasted approximately three years. It was caused by a number of factors but I believe the key reason was doing the wrong work for an extended period of time, in a stressful environment. It would make no sense to return to the work, nor the environment so, as I focussed on recovery, I also had to figure out a new career path.

I chose writing as the work I’d like to be doing and wrote a book called Avoiding Burnout about my experience. It’s tricky to make a living as a writer and a natural companion for writing is public speaking. A friend introduced me to a contact looking for a speaker for an event in August 2016. I gladly accepted the opportunity, and then began my search for help in building a new skill set.

I hired a speaking coach who recommended that I join a Toastmasters club in order to practice my speeches and to obtain formal feedback. I found a venue which hosted a few different clubs and was situated a few kilometres from home. I sampled a few different clubs on the various nights and I signed up. The one I chose, Morningside, was not the one containing people most like me. In fact, it contained people who were so different from me that I was fascinated by their views. The club consisted of a variety of ages and cultures and I knew that I would need to practice my speeches to a diverse audience to gain the most benefit.

I joined in June 2016, at a time when I didn’t have a lot of energy. Going out in the evening for a few hours was tough going as I was struggling with chronic fatigue. But I was motivated by the fact that I’d be speaking to a large audience in a few months and I wanted to grow my skills as a speaker as quickly as possible. I had written a rough first draft of my book when I delivered my first speech, my CC1. The speech was not a success and I realised that my speaking skills were mediocre, but my story had such a depressing tone. This insight slowly led me to realise that the first half of my book needed to be rewritten with the tone of appreciation, learning and grace. It was a surprise to find out that my speaking would feed my writing. An unexpected benefit.

I kept building on my skillset as I worked on each speech, bringing in structure, vocal variety and body language. My fellow club members were amazed at how fast I was progressing through the foundation speeches. I did five speeches in two and a half months. I had a pressing need to gain as much feedback and growth as possible before addressing my audience that August.

The day came for my big speech and I felt as ready as I was going to be. It was a great success and I enjoyed the day tremendously. The feedback was great and I was so happy to feel confident enough to address a large audience. I began looking for other speaking engagements and in parallel, continued my skills development.

Something significant happened next. I did the next speech and I received feedback that sounded very familiar – I had received the same comments a few times. I realised that I was so busy ticking boxes that I wasn’t incorporating the feedback into my speeches and I wasn’t growing to my satisfaction. Without the ability to pursue work or sports goals, I became a little overzealous with the speech progress. I put on the brakes and didn’t book a speech for a few weeks. I developed a checklist for myself of all the aspects that are required in a good speech plus the feedback areas I was working on. Each time I developed a speech, I ran it through my checklist to see if I had addressed my areas of weakness.

As part of my recovery from my illness, I read a lot of books. I didn’t have a lot of energy to work or pursue goals, so reading was an obvious pastime. I love to learn and I applied myself to learning in areas that would enrich my life. I read two books on deliberate practice, a field of study into people who are world-class in their domains with the aim of applying it into our own lives. I learnt that people who are at the top of their fields, continually work on the edge of their skillset, pushing themselves to master aspects of their craft. The checklist was my way of reminding myself to become strong in my weakest areas.

Once I felt more confident, I signed up for a few more speeches and by the time I completed my CC10 in April 2017, I felt that I was a competent speaker. Since I’m always aiming to improve, I signed up for the advanced series and I selected two areas that interested me. As a writer I am a natural story teller so I chose story telling speeches and the second area was professional speaking. I wanted to gain skills to the point where I felt legitimate in charging clients for my offering.

The story telling speeches were quite easy for me. I enjoyed them and I completed the speeches in a short period. The professional speaker series was a little more challenging. The speeches were much longer, and each project was quite an endeavour to prepare for. I was now expected to prepare speeches of twenty to forty minutes.

I included visual aids and put together presentations. I had to learn how to tweak these for maximum effect and to help me to remember longer speeches. The projects pushed me in ways that I was completely out of my comfort zone. At times I wondered if these efforts were still growing my skills or were they just taking up time. Looking back, I’m so pleased that I persevered through them as I gained from every project.

Doing an entertaining speech was quite hard for me. The pressure of being humorous is tough for someone who is quite serious. However, the evaluation showed me how much more the audience enjoys a speech when I’m having fun. The sales pitch was also a stretch since I’m not a natural sales person. It was clearly a success since I even made a few sales of my book that night after delivering the speech. The seminar was focused on teaching others the content I learnt about as part of my recovery. It was so well received that people were willing to sign up for my fictitious seminars afterwards!

I am one speech away from completing my ACB. I look back on this path of skills development and I marvel at how far I’ve come. I started with so little confidence and energy. The quality of my book was enhanced by my speaking journey. I gained so much insight into how my message is received and I was able to practice in a supportive environment at a time when I was struggling with so much in my life. I am so grateful to Toastmasters, my fellow club members and the wonderful evaluations that shaped my growth and developed my skills as a speaker. I have booked my final ACB speech for May 2018 and I’m so excited to achieve this milestone.

Kathy Mann is a wife and mother of two daughters, living in Johannesburg. She is an author and speaker, guiding others towards their best life possible. http://www.kathymann.co.za/