Public speaking is a doddle for the lucky few; meanwhile, the rest of us wake up at 4am in a cold sweat the morning before a big presentation. Need help? If you haven’t yet heard of it, Toastmasters International is a global organisation with a membership of more than four million people worldwide. We bet you didn’t anticipate that many people shared your desire or determination to get a handle on the tricky task of being a captivating speaker.
Saira Ranj, a Dubai-born Indian and the elected president of Think, Grow, Inspire and Succeed – better known as TGIS, one of Dubai’s ‘chapters’ of the international community – explains that there are now 66 Toastmaster groups in the UAE alone. TGIS, her Sheikh Zayed Road branch, has more than 40 members. ‘During each session, we work from a manual that talks about prepared speeches,’ she explains, adding that throughout each person’s membership they will regularly give speeches to the rest of the group to build confidence. These are prepared with the help of a mentor: a long-standing member of the group, such as Ranj, who has been with the TGIS group almost five years and has conducted more than 40 speeches herself. If you’re a new sign-up, you’re free to wait until you feel ready to take your first speech – there’s no rush.
Each of the Toastmasters’ fortnightly meetings lasts two hours, during which time between three and five speeches will be performed, and feedback will be given. ‘You work from another manual for evaluations, and then there’s a third manual on how to handle impromptu features,’ adds Ranj. ‘Everybody who joins needs to work through these manuals to get all the skills they need.’
Each Toastmasters group, Ranj explains, contains members from every conceivable profession. ‘We have vice-presidents, bankers, pilots, teachers, everything – almost every profession involves situations in which you’ll need the ability to speak confidently in public.’
Though the main focus of the organisation is improving members’ public-speaking skills, Ranj is quick to emphasise that this isn’t the only reason people decide to join. ‘Public speaking is a great tool for enhancing your confidence in a lot of situations, and you can learn by watching people on stage, and slowly taking up small roles within the meetings long before you get on stage and start an actual speech. It’s all about developing yourself, boosting your self-esteem, and from that emerging as a confident communicator and leader.’
Perhaps most importantly of all, Ranj stresses that TGIS Toastmasters is an encouraging environment. ‘We’ve had people stutter and stammer their way through speeches on stage and nobody laughs or giggles, because it’s all about supporting each other. You’ve got to be there to understand, and that’s what we invite you to do.’
TGIS Toastmasters’ meetings take place on the second and fourth Saturday of the month (the next is on Saturday January 27), at Emarat Atrium, Sheikh Zayed Road at 6.30pm. The Toastmasters manuals and kit are Dhs132; annual membership is Dhs400. www.tgistoastmastersdubai.org (050 457 1432).
Saira’s simple tips
Saira Ranj, president of TGIS Toastmasters, offers some public speaking techniques you can practise at home
Know your material.
‘Having a thorough knowledge of the subject at hand always helps. The topic is often best presented using conversational language – that way you don’t forget the points. Prepare a few points and present them with clarity.’
Practise, practise, practise!
‘Rehearse out loud with all the equipment you plan to use. Revise your speech as necessary. Work to control filler words, then practise, pause and breathe.’
Visualise yourself giving your speech.
‘Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and confident. Visualise the audience clapping – it will boost your confidence and ensure a well-turned-out performance.’
‘Always understand that the audience wants you to succeed, so don’t apologise for any nervousness you feel. Begin by addressing the audience. It buys you time and calms your nerves. Pause, smile and count to three in your head before saying anything. Transform nervous energy into enthusiasm.’