March 31, 2012

Three Steps To Get The Most Out Of Toastmasters

three steps - safe and simpleby Promod Sharma, President 2011-2012

Goodyear Toastmasters is like a fitness club. It's easy to join but your progress depends on what you do. For best results
  1. attend
  2. participate
  3. stretch


In the beginning, you probably intended to attend the regular meetings. If not, why would you join?

Life has a nasty way of getting in the way. If you let it. There's work. There's family. There's vacation. There are lots of reasons to miss a meeting. And then a second. And a third. Returning soon becomes more difficult than staying away.

There's one good reason to attend: to improve your skills in speaking and leadership. (Or is that two reasons?)


We have rotating roles assigned by our VP of Education. You'll start with the simpler ones like Crutchword Counter or Trivia Master. Eventually, you'll get major roles like Table Topics Master, Toastmaster and Chair. You can back out with advance warning but you're limiting your progress is if you do.

Our club is run by unpaid volunteer members. We need your help. As you help share the load, you build connections and make friends. You might decide to take additional responsibilities by joining committees. You might even run for club office.


The good old comfort zone is waiting to trap us. We may improve our skills to a certain level and then get stuck. We're better but we've stopped growing. Maybe we keep using the same hand gestures. Maybe we avoid taking on certain roles.

As with muscles, we need to go beyond what we're already doing to get real results. We may not notice at the time but if you record yourself, you will see the progress.


Fellow members are here to help you with your goals. We can't unless you show up. See you next week!


Promod Sharma has (gulp!) missed three consecutive meetings due to extra workload at Taxevity. He's now ready to return.

March 25, 2012

A Must-Do For Speakers (even beginners)

remember these?by Promod Sharma, President 2011-2012
You can't see or hear yourself the way your audience does.

You can't catch all your crutchwords like "ah" and "so". That means you can't spot ways to improve. For instance, you may use more crutchwords in some circumstances.

You can't see yourself or your gestures. Do your facial expressions look natural? Do you talk more to one side of the room?


When you're speaking, you know what you intended to say and do. You notice the gaps while you’re speaking. If only practiced more! If only you hadn’t messed up that quotation!

Audiences are forgiving. They only know what they see and perceive. You're probably better than you think. How would you know?

Testing 1-2-3

Always record yourself. You can then review your performance and make changes. You can also see how you're improving speech by speech.

You can record audio, video or both.

Audio is easiest. You can use your smartphone or a separate recorder. You can leave your recorder at your seat if you want to record from the audience's vantage point. The quality may suffer. Another way is to bring your recorder to the front of the room with you. Place it on or near the podium.

Video is more effective but requires a video camera and setup. Your Toastmasters club may record speeches for you. That's effortless for you but you may still want to use your own equipment. If you prefer audio, you can probably record that alone with your video camera.

You can record both audio and video. That gives you backups but you may get overwhelmed worrying about all the equipment. Simpler is often better because less can go wrong.


Even if you don't want to review your recordings right now, there's no harm in getting used to recording yourself and getting familiar with the equipment. It's easy to delete later but you can't re-create.


Promod Sharma routinely makes video recordings of his speeches and posts the results on YouTube.

Be Cautious With Vocal Variety

by Promod Sharma, President 2011-2012

If you talk in a monotone or any predictable way, you’ll bore your audience. We want variety.

Vocal variety makes your speaking more engaging but there's a limit. When you're evaluated, you may be told that you're not using enough variety. Speech 6 in your Competent Communicator manual requires you to use vocal variety. The experience may be uncomfortable.

The level of vocal variety you require depends on the type of speaking you do. Toastmasters may mislead you. If you go to speech contests, some speakers are like performers. They are entertaining, humorous and dramatic. That approach may not suit your content or audiences.

Vocal Variety

You don't want to be too extreme in your variety. That's manipulative and annoying. You can use simple techniques. Pausing is very effective. Shouting may startle your audience. You may look manipulative or out of control. Whispering is tricky. Unless you're using a microphone, some audience members may not hear you. You can vary the speed at which you talk.

The effect of vocal variety is easiest to experience with a video. Notice how other gestures and movement reinforces the messages.

Professional Speakers

Outside Toastmasters, notice how professional speakers use vocal variety. Some barely do but they are rarely boring. They capture our attention because of their popularity/celebrity or their topic. Would more vocal variety really help them?


You would probably benefit from more vocal variety. How much? Practice to find out. You might want to add gestures and movement at the same time.

Focus on having great content first. The vocal variety comes next and in moderation. With practice, you’ll add variety subtly. Your audience will benefit without even noticing.


Promod Sharma has worked on adding vocal variety. In the past, he had a tendency to sound pleasant but monotonous |

March 18, 2012

You’re A Competent Communicator. Now What?

Toastmasters CC manualby Promod Sharma, President 2011-2012

After you finish the 10 speeches in your Competent Communicator manual, you've graduated speaking school. You're now a Competent Communicator. You're among the elite. That's quite an accomplishment. Congratulations!

Now what?

You can stop but if you keep going, speaking becomes more interesting. You've mastered the basic skills. Now you're ready for speaking university. You get to pick what you'd like to learn from 15 advanced manuals with five speeches each.
  1. Toastmasters Advanced manualsThe Entertaining Speaker
  2. Speaking to Inform
  3. Public Relations
  4. Facilitating Discussion
  5. Specialty Speeches
  6. Speeches by Management
  7. The Professional Speaker
  8. Technical Presentations
  9. Persuasive Speaking
  10. Communicating on Video
  11. Storytelling
  12. Interpretive Reading
  13. Interpersonal Communications
  14. Special Occasion Speeches
  15. Humorously Speaking
You'll find descriptions here.

There are three levels beyond Competent Communicator: bronze, silver and gold.


Complete two advanced manuals and you earn your Advanced Communicator Bronze (ACB).
What's more, you get these two manuals free.


Once you're an ACB, you complete two more advanced manuals (not free this time). You also give two presentations from the The Better Speaker Series or The Successful Club Series. Now you've earned your Advanced Communicator Silver (ACS).


Guess how you get your Advanced Communicator Gold (ACG)? You complete two more advanced manuals, give a presentation from a specified set and mentor a new member through their first three speeches.


If you're going for the gold, you'll complete six advanced manuals (30 speeches). You can pre-select the manuals now. You might want to buy all 15 manuals as a set.

You might want to stretch by resisting the "obvious" choices for you. For instance, in real life I'm mainly Speaking To Inform (226B) and doing Technical Presentations (226H). While I can certainly improve, the incremental advantages are limited. I could get more advantages from straying further from comfort and taking greater risks.


Here’s my roadmap.
Bronze Silver Gold
on Video
The Professional Speaker The Entertaining Speaker
Storytelling Public Relations Specialty Speeches

I’d like to finish one level each 12 months. What's your plan?


Promod Sharma completed his Competent Communicator manual this month, exactly 15 months after his first speech. For more about him, visit

What A Speech Evaluation Contest Teaches The Audience

Promod Sharmaby Promod Sharma, President 2011-2012

We see as we are.

In Toastmasters, we improve our skills by observing others. As you listen to a speaker, you form your own impressions. When you hear the Evaluator, you often get different perspectives. That's valuable.
running track
What if you good listen to different evaluations of the same speaker? In a recent Speech Evaluation Contest, five contestants evaluated the same guest speaker.

For Example

While there was overlap, each Evaluator had different perspectives. They commented on such elements as
  • the importance of pausing
  • the challenges of speaking to a new audience
  • the effective use of hand gestures to show how a cantilever works
  • the size of the props used
  • the intricate design of the content
  • the vocal variety in the delivery
  • the multiple meanings of the title


Do you read movie reviews? If you've seen the film, you might wonder if the reviewers saw the same film. A speech evaluation is like a 2-3 minute movie review.

Ultimately, an evaluation is an opinion and opinions vary. You need not agree to become a better speaker or Evaluator. You just need to listen and watch. It's best if you form your own opinions before the Evaluator speaks. Even if you disagree, you learn by seeing how others interpret the same event.


There's pressure on contestants in a Speech Evaluation Contest, but not for you in the audience. You can silently pretend that you're an Evaluator without competing.

As you build your powers of observation, you'll find yourself using them regularly without noticing. You'll find that even professional speakers can improve.


You'll find more about Promod than you'd ever want to know at He's speaking about trust at Freelancecamp Toronto on March 25, 2012.

March 11, 2012

Get Feedback From The Right Group

by Promod Sharma, President 2011-2012

Feedback is easy to get. The challenge is getting feedback from the right group. You may think you want a group similar to your target audience. Maybe not.

There's another choice: a general group that isn't familiar with your topic. They are ideal for spotting what's "obvious" to you but a mystery to them. If you're skeptical, watch several TED Talks. The topics range widely but can be understood by an intelligent audience.

the right audience?Worst?

Feedback from colleagues or experienced speakers may be the least valuable unless they are good at understanding audiences other than themselves. They may also suffer from strong biases for the “right” way to present (which means their way).

In the end, you decide what feedback to act upon. Getting the wrong inputs makes this more difficult.


Also, consider collecting written feedback from your entire audience on simple forms. You may be surprised at the range of opinions. If you're told that you
     A) relied too heavily on notes, and
     B) spoke from memory
you're probably fine. If the feedback is only A or B, you've got an opportunity for improvement.

What About Work?

At work, you may face additional constraints, especially if you're developing a presentation for your boss or someone with strong views on presentations.

You could create your own version of the presentation (removing any proprietary information) and deliver it at your Toastmasters club as a lesson and get feedback. You might speak at other clubs too.


Recording your presentation is an effective way to practice. Video is best but audio is good too. You then get feedback directly from yourself.

We can't tell how an audience reacts without feedback. Magician Dai Vernon said we can sweat in private or in public. Your semi-private Toastmasters club is an ideal place to practice.


You’ll find more about Promod Sharma at

March 10, 2012

Table Topics: The Tropics

by Barbara Berezowski

As Table Topics Master of this week’s meeting, with its theme being TRAVEL, I thought it would be a great idea to design the Table Topic activities to be in line with the theme.

I decided to focus on "The Tropics". Hawaiian music, a slideshow of tropical destinations and a lei greeting at the door helped set the mood of the night. Lyle was a great contributor of spirit arriving in a brightly coloured Hawaiian-style shirt, an armful of props and a great smile!

clip_image002Table Topics were served from a tropical tray loaded with fruit cups, topped with tropical paper umbrellas as the garnish. It was under these decorative umbrellas, that the members found their topics.

Fun was had by all. Everyone, including every guest, participated with Great Spirit. This contributed to the quality of the presentations given, so much so that there was a three way tie for the Winner! Three Awards were handed out to Anita, Yvonne and Trevor. Congratulations to these members as well as everyone who participated.

Thoughts On The Theme

My thoughts on the theme of Travel (read by meeting chair, Anita):
For those lucky enough to leave their backyards and travel, whether it be down the street or to the other side of the world, I am so thrilled for you.
It can be an experience of a lifetime. Open your mind and be prepared to meet people from all walks of life and see new sights that can be beyond your wildest dreams.

All in all, you will earn an education that no brick and mortar institution could ever give you. So pack your bags and "Bon Voyage!"

Word Of The Day

Word of the Day: vivacity [vi-vas-ity]

Meaning: liveliness

Members who don’t use the word pay a $0.50 fine. There’s no penalty for guests.

Table Topics: The Tropics

  1. Easter Island Explorations
  2. Telephones in Thailand
  3. Activities in Australia
  4. Bikinis in Bali
  5. Night Life in Negril
  6. Ocean View in Ocho Rios
  7. Sunset on the shore
  8. Flamingos in Florida
  9. Cocktails in Cayo Coco
  10. Coconuts in Cuba
  11. Relaxation in Rio
  12. Tan Lines in Tonga
  13. Trade winds in Tahiti
  14. Deck Chair in Dominican Republic
  15. Fun in Fiji
  16. Sunglasses in St. Kitts
  17. Rain in Spain
  18. Food in French Polynesia
  19. Sand in Samoa
  20. Royal Hawaiian Resort
  21. Happy in Hawaii
  22. Duty Free Shopping
  23. Shells on the Seashore
  24. Flip-Flops in Florida
  25. Beach Blanket Bingo
  26. Bali Beachball
  27. Cruising the Caribbean
Barbara Berezowski is an Olympian, Hall of Fame Inductee and inspirational speaker. You’ll find more at

March 4, 2012

Behind The Scenes: Video of Building Trust With Podcasting (#pcto2012)

by Promod Sharma, President 2011-2012

When you’re presenting live, you may face hurdles. With practice, you’ll learn to overcome them. This session is an example.

The Hurdles

The main hurdle was getting ready. The previous speakers left no time for setup. As a result, the opening words weren’t delivered with the intended impact. Also, the camera could have been moved closer.

The room was wide and attendees were scattered from stage left to stage right. It wasn’t possible to look at everyone at once. I would have preferred to stand to the left of the screen, but that would have obstructed the view and put me further from the bulk of the audience.

Initially, the projector was showing a blank screen. The solution was to change the resolution on the computer from 1600x900 to 1280x800. Normally this adjustment occurs automatically. Presenters can’t rely on normal.

The Risk

About 75% of the session was unscripted participation with the audience. That’s risky but also rewarding for everyone. This audience was warm and participated actively. That was a relief. There are strategies to deal with tough audiences but they weren’t needed here. Let’s save them for another blog post.

The Video

What do you think? What would you have done differently?

The Editing

Building Trust With Podcasting - Title slideThis video is the second time I’ve overlaid still images of the slides. The first time was a week earlier with Building Trust With Blogging. I made a mistake just before publishing. I moved the title slide. This caused the images to show several seconds earlier than planned.

If I could go back in time, I’d boost the audio volume. While editing, I was using high powered speakers and didn’t notice the levels were low. I was hoping that YouTube would have a setting to boost volume but I couldn’t find one.

Overall, video editing is easier easier. I got valuable tips at Podcamp Toronto from Craig Moore of Halifax-based Spider Video ( and @spidervideo).


Promod Sharma keeps writing these blog posts to encourage other club members to get contribute text, audio or video. His own blogs are here and here.

The Best Places To Get Free Images

Promod Sharmaby Promod Sharma, President 2011-2012

Visuals add punch to your presentations and images are everywhere. Google even lets you do an image search. The problem is that you may be using images that are subject to copyright.

The police aren't likely going to smash in your doors and drag you to jail. The bigger risk is getting caught by the copyright owner and getting a big bill.

If you want to give your presentation in public or to post a recording on YouTube, why take risks?

Stock.XCHNG (click to enlarge)Safe Sites

There are sites where you can find images free for your use. I've relied on Stock.XCHNG for years. In recent months, I've started using This search engine lets you search different sites at once — about 15 million images. The advanced options are handy. I normally select landscape photos of at least 500 pixels by 500 pixels from MorgueFile, PhotoXpress and Stock.XCHNG. In the beginning, you may want to use the default settings.
everystockphoto (click to enlarge)
Check the licenses carefully. You might be able to use the images for commercial purposes without giving credit to the creator. As a general practice, I give the creator credit when linking to images online. That feels fair.

If you don't find suitable images, try different keywords. Be a detective.


You can also get images from commercial sites. You'll get more choice for a price.

SnagIt (click to enlarge)Screenshots

If you want to capture something you see on your screen, there's a powerful tool called SnagIt from Techsmith ($50 US). I use it almost daily for captures and basic editing (e.g., resizing and cropping). That’s how I got the visuals for this post.


Promod Sharma makes many presentations that include visuals. You'll find examples on YouTube on the riscario channel.