Toastmasters | Zach Everson

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Meet Toastmaster’s April 2012 cover model: Me

The Great Wall of China is around 2,300 years old, but it's never looked better than on the cover of the April 2012 issue of Toastmaster

The Great Wall of China is around 2,300 years old, but it's never looked better than on the cover of the April 2012 issue of Toastmaster

A few months back, travel writer Beth Blair interviewed me for a Toastmaster magazine article on Toastmasters who are travel professionals. (I was a member of the organization, which promotes public speaking skills, from 2006 to 2008 and found the experience invaluable.) A few weeks later, Beth asked me if I had any pictures of myself on the road that the magazine could run. It took a while to find some in which I didn’t have a drink in my hand or a zit on my forehead, but I passed along four or five to her.

In late March, Beth emailed me once more:

Subject: Holy cow!

Well, you are famous. Toastmasters put your photo on the cover of the magazine! See attached. [In your case, see above right.]

The Toastmaster editors used a photo of me walking the Great Wall of China on a press trip to Beijing with the Ritz-Carlton as the cover shot. Thanks to Melanie Nayer for taking the picture and making me feel so comfortable in front of the camera that I forgot I wasn’t wearing pants (kidding, well, not about my appreciation). More than 270,000 Toastmaster members living in 116 countries read the magazine each month.

You can read a .pdf of Beth’s article, “Professional travelers: How they developed the confidence to explore the world” here (I’m quoted on pages 17, 18, and 19).

Me: In podcast form

Yvonne Perry of Write On! Creative Writing Services interviewed me last month for her weekly Writer’s in the Sky Podcast. Well, she just released the podcast this week: TGI Friday December 22, 2006–Zach Everson. Consider it a Christmas present for the Internet.

In Part One of our interview we discuss how Zach started his writing and editing career from the proceeds of a real estate investment.

Click here to listen to Part One…

In part two we discuss why he decided to become a Toastmaster and how his public speaking experience has been helpful to him as a writer.

Click here to listen to Part Two…

While it’s awkward to listen to myself, I’m happy with the result; hopefully you’ll enjoy listening to it. And feel free to share your thoughts about the podcast.

The thrilling conclusion to the Toastmasters’ humorous speech contest

Saturday was the final round of the Toastmasters’ Humorous Speech Contest. While I was pleased with my performance–I was told it was my best rendition of my speech, “Zach Everson’s entry in the humorous speech contest”—I didn’t place. As in the previous round, I had a few jitters beforehand, but felt calm when it was my turn.

I went first, which is a handicap. As in Olympic events like figure skating and gymnastics (and the comparison of Toastmasters with the Olympics ends here), judges often are reluctant to give early competitors high marks so they can leave room to score possible great performances from subsequent contestants. Also every other participant had been a Toastmasters member for at least six years; I’ve only been participating for seven months. All of the other speeches, however, were fantastic. They were both funny and well delivered.

Nevertheless, I didn’t join Toastmasters to compete, but rather to hone my public-speaking skills. And Saturday night I did just that, speaking on a stage and with a microphone, both for the first time, in front of 200 people. I am glad the contest is finished, however; I’ve been practicing this speech since August and am bored of it.

Tomorrow night I am giving another speech at my club. Standing before an audience of just 15 people is a lot easier now.

I advanced to the next level in Toastmasters humorous speech contest

Well, I joined Toastmasters to improve my public speaking by getting experience talking in front of an audience. And while I’ve tried to give a speech at every meeting I’ve attended, the Humorous Speech Contest is helping me achieve my goal.

A week from last Friday I won the district contest, meaning I will compete again—this time at the division level (pictures from the competition, including one of me looking like I’m about to get a hook in my mouth, are on my club’s site). There were about 50 people at the district contest; the audience at the next level is expected to be than 200.

As for the contest, I went fifth out of the six contestants. When it was my turn I knew that my speech was funnier than the ones I heard. My concern, however, was my delivery. Some of the other contestants were Toastmasters veterans with a polished stage presence. My other problem was that I came close to running over the 7:30 time limit and had to cut off the ending.

There’s a month before the next competition, however, so I have ample time to hone my delivery.

District-level Toastmasters humorous speech contest time, date, and location announced

I have no idea why Toastmasters officials don’t provide the time, date, and location of the next round of the Humorous Speech Contest at the previous competition, but the district contest will be 6:30 p.m. October 6 at 810 Vermont Ave., Washington, DC. Yes, I’m spending the Friday night of a long weekend at Toastmasters. Perhaps I shouldn’t just compete in the humorous speech contest, but also should enter the dork off.

It’s unfortunate that contests are on weekends, as many people will not be able to compete: a friend of mine won the first two rounds of the humorous speech contest in Louisville, KY, with a hilarious spiel about the plight of redheads, but had to forfeit because the next round is on a Saturday morning and he’ll be out of town.

Anyway, I need to get back to rehearsing: members of my club gave me some great suggestions for improving my speech (add another imitation, don’t use the podium, and project myself more), and I need to incorporate them.

I advanced to the district-level in Toastmasters humorous speech contest

Despite some hilarious speeches, Thursday night I won my Toastmasters’ area-level Humorous Speech Contest. My speech was the same one I gave in my club’s contest: titled “Zach Everson’s entry in the humorous speech contest,” it’s about a competition my girlfriend and I have been having for the past year to see whose father is the biggest, well, dork.

Even before I heard the results, I was pleased with my performance. While I was anxious waiting for my turn to speak, I was calm when at the podium. I improvised, adding an anecdote that I’d remembered just a few minutes beforehand; did a better job making eye contact than I’d done in the past; and incorporated more physical movements. I still need to work on speaking slower, however.

And, as expected, the Table Topics competition was impressive to watch. The question was “You were elected mayor of Washington, DC, today; what will be your three biggest initiatives?” The impromptu answers ranged from firing the woman who’s the voice of the Metro and firing all of Washington’s teachers to banning automobiles and installing a light rail.

The district level of humorous speech contest will be October 6 (the time and location will be announced later).

Area-level Toastmasters’ humorous speech contest time, date, and location announced

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m competing in the area level of the Toastmasters’ humorous speech contest.

The contest will occur from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. September 14 at 1850 I St. NW, Room 1-200, Washington, DC. Feel free to attend. (I need to begin rehearsing my speech; I haven’t given it any thought since the club-level contest a month ago and I never wrote down any of it.)

In addition to the humorous speeches, there also will be a Table Topics contest, where each competitor has to give an impromptu one- to two-minute talk about a subject just given to him or her.

I try to give a prepared speech at every Toastmasters meeting, so I don’t have much experience with the Table Topics, but being able to speak about a topic you’ve just been given is an impressive skill. After I earn my Competent Communicator certification, I probably will focus on Table Topics.

Tips from Toastmasters that will improve your writing

While preparing for a Toastmasters speech that I gave last night (Project 4: How to Say It in the Communication and Leadership Program manual), I noticed the speech instructions had great advice not just for speaking, but also for writing:

  • “If you want listeners to understand and accept you, be sure to speak the same way they speak, using familiar words and concepts.”
  • “Select words that leave no opportunity for misunderstanding.”
  • “Select verbs carefully…use verbs that have energy. Shake, roll, and wiggle have more energy than move.
  • “Use active voice…The active voice uses fewer words, is easier to follow, and sounds more lively and interesting.”
  • “The verbs is, are, were, and was weaken your message because they don’t show action.”
  • “Strive to say a lot in as few words as possible. Many words are unnecessary or are used as ‘fillers.'”
  • “Use specialized terminology only when speaking to people familiar with those terms.”

I advanced to the area-level in Toastmasters’ humorous speech contest

Last week I won my Toastmaster club’s humorous speech contest with a spiel about my dad. I’d share it here, but I never wrote it down. I’m forcing myself to speak without notes, so when preparing my speeches, I just jot down the main points, memorize them, and then rehearse in front of the mirror.

While I was pleased with the content (my dad does give me a lot of fodder), I need to continue to hone my speaking skills.

Before the contest I read a Toastmaster’s book on communicating with body language. It helped a lot—not only to gain my audience’s attention and underscore the points of my speech, but also to dissipate my nervousness. In my previous two speeches I had no idea what to do with my body. Using gestures when speaking provides a physical outlet for anxiety.

Anyway, I’ll be giving my speech again at the area-level contest on September 14. I’ll post the time and place once I get that information.

Improving the spoken word

A client recently asked me if I critiqued people’s English when they spoke. While that’s the case with everything I read (which is probably why I get all of my news from The Economist and The New Yorker—they are well written and rarely have a distracting grammatical mistake), when listening I tend to only pick-up horrific gaffes.

Maybe my ears aren’t as critical as my eyes is because my speaking skills lag behind my writing and editing abilities.

I often talk like I write: I start a sentence, think of a better beginning mid-stream, and then start the sentence over. Hence listeners sometimes hear 1.5 sentences—and a confused look.

To rectify this problem, I joined the Global Links chapter of Toastmasters. It meets semi-monthly at the World Bank headquarters. My first speech is at the next meeting (a four to six minute bio sketch), although last week I gave the “word of the day” (one of my favorites, behoove).

The club is a mix of new and old members, some of who are not native English speakers–it’s impressive to hear them deliver a speech. Many of the members work in the development field as well, but there is a good mix of careers.

If you’re looking to hone your speaking skills, I’d suggest joining a club in your area.

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