I have been a Toastmaster for the past 12 years and got the Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) award, the pinnacle of Toastmaster’s journey way back in 2014. This was when Toastmasters was following a traditional education curriculum.
Toastmasters is now a a 90 + years old organization and have revised their education curriculum called Pathways program few years back. I was so curious to re-start my 2nd DTM journey again using the newly revised Pathways curriculum. For this, I have to choose two paths out of the 11 available paths. “Presentation Mastery” is one of the paths I have chosen, when I started my second DTM journey. In this post, I am going to elaborate my experiences and learning, while delivering my presentation mastery projects. In each path there are five levels. In each level one has to complete few mandatory projects as well few elective projects. Following image gives a high-level overview on the projects.
Why did I select “Presentation Mastery” as one my chosen paths?
Let me explain why I chose “Presentation Mastery” out of 11 paths. I feel that today every other speaker is making a presentation, some where or other. We also know that giving presentation on a daily basis has become a norm in corporate life. Hence I feel that understanding more about presentation techniques is essential for people who would like to be a great communicator and a leader. A speaker may speak on any topic, which may fall under Informative, Entertaining, Persuasive and Inspiring categories. But irrespective of the genre, the speakers may have to pay more attention to delivery when they use a slide deck as a visual aid to enhance their speech. So, it is not only essential to be good in scripting the speech, the delivery part of the presentation with the seamless handling of the slides is very much essential. In this context I felt that “Presentation Mastery” a vital path in the Toastmasters pathways program. That is the reason, I chose Presentation Mastery path in the pathways program.
Now let me explain each level in the Presentation Mastery path and the kind of projects one has to do and how they were delivered by me.
- Level -1- Ice Breaker Project
Ice Breaker is the foundational project is designed to introduce ourselves to our club and the skills we need to begin our Toastmasters journey. The purpose of this project is to introduce ourselves to the club and learn the basic structure of a public speech.
Unlike the traditional program, in the pathways program, apart from self-introduction, the speaker is also expected to take care of the delivery aspects. i.e body language and vocal variety. That is the reason, the speech evaluation includes those aspects. I was cognizant of these aspects and ensured the same in my very first project of this path.
Chronological way of explaining about oneself is an easy way to give an ice breaker speech and I have used the same technique. I have tailored my ice breaker speech to align with my chosen path i.e by using a slide deck to align with the presentation mastery. In my deck, each slide spoke about different aspects of my life like, my native place, my family, my education and my professional life. Even in the slide deck, more than bullet points, I have liberally used personal photographs and mini-videos to completely engage with the audience. My prime target was to make my speech enjoyable and memorable for the audience. I also gave an intriguing title of my speech. i.e SDLC. Today many IT professionals knew that SDLC refers to Software Development Lifecycle. But the the acronym SDLC, I referred was Sundar’s Development Lifecycle. While giving this speech I was a dual member of Medley Toastmasters Club and Meraki and this speech was given at Medley.
2. Level -1- Evaluation and Feedback
This project addresses the skills needed to give and receive feedback. We will learn about giving, receiving and applying feedback. This project comprises three assignments — the delivery of two speeches and an evaluation. The purpose of this project is to present a speech on any topic, receive feedback, and apply the feedback to the second speech.
I chose a topic that was close to my heart. i.e HSE (Health, Safety and Environment). The title of this speech was “Mindfulness and SHE”. In this speech, I explained how we lack mindfulness in general which results in HSE incidents. I got the feedback from my speech evaluator and applied course corrections, while delivering the same speech again.
3. Level -1- Researching and Presenting
This project addresses topic selection strategies, suggestions for research and methods for producing a well organized speech. The purpose of this project is to learn or review basic research methods and present a well-organized, well-researched speech on any topic.
The topic I have chosen for this project was “Strokes” . This subject is part of the Transactional Analysis. I started with a humorous opening with a personal story. I explained the different types of strokes. I gave examples for positive and negative strokes. The experiment conducted on the topic Strokes was discussed. On the whole, I tried to give quick snapshot on Strokes in just 7 minutes.
4. Level- 2 - Understanding Your Communication Style
This project focuses on recognizing our preferred communication style and understanding how our style impacts our interactions with others. The purpose of this project is to learn about different communication styles and identify our primary style.
When I opened my topic, I candidly admitted that I was not aware of my communication style until I took the survey. In fact I was not at all aware of different communications styles all these days, till I delivered this speech.
I used popular Tamil film characters to showcase each of the communication styles defined in the project. While explaining different styles of communication styles, I also mentioned how they are perceived by others. For example, direct communicators are decisive and result-oriented, but they are perceived as demanding persons.
Each time when I showcased the film characters, the audience laughed and they were easily be able to understand the different communication styles. I clarified that one need not completely fall under any one of the four communication styles, but one should be aware of his or her dominant communication style. Finally I concluded the presentation saying that I am a Connected Communicator (CC) taking styles from each of the four styles. My speech was titled as CC to arouse curiosity for the audience.
5. Level- 2 - Effective Body Language
This project focuses on how to recognize body language used when speaking publicly and how to use gestures to enhance speech content. The purpose of this project is to deliver a speech with awareness of our intentional and unintentional body language, as well as to learn, practice, and refine how we use nonverbal communication when delivering a speech.
In a written text, punctuation marks such as comma, exclamation and question marks make the readers understand the emotions of what is written. In the same manner, body language helps the speaker to convey his / her emotions. That is why I titled this project as, “ Your Body is Your Punctuation Mark.” I started of with an overview on the significance of body language and its benefits. In my slide deck, I used more of animated GIF images than plain vanilla static images. This helped me to articulate easily about the different gestures, say descriptive gesture, emphatic gesture, suggestive gesture, prompting gesture etc without much of the words. I also shared several images and asked the audience to figure out the best phrase for those images. This made my session more interactive and sticky. On retrospection, I was thinking whether this speech was actually met the project objectives. Probably rather than giving an educational session on body language, I should have given a speech on any topic, incorporating the various aspects of the body language, .
6. Level- 2- Introduction to Toastmasters Mentoring
This project introduces the value of mentorship and the Toastmasters view of mentors and protégés. The purpose of this project is to clearly define how Toastmasters envisions mentoring.
In this project, I mentioned about the various mentors I have come across in my life. I shared my experience as a protégé. In this speech, I also highlighted the difference between the terms ‘mentor’ and a ‘coach’. Many a times Toastmasters think that a mentor would only help them to refine their speech scripts. It is really not so. A mentor can do so many things for his/her protégé. I have highlighted how I guided when my proteges, while they performing the roles like Toastmasters of the day, General Evaluator or Table Topics master for the first time. Unfortunately there was no video recoding made available for this meeting. Hence I am unable to share my video for this speech.
7. Level- 3- Persuasive Speaking (Mandatory)
This project focuses on helping us to develop and support a viewpoint, and identify the most appropriate type of persuasive speech for our topic. The purpose of this project is to understand the types of persuasive speeches and deliver a persuasive speech at a club meeting.
In the persuasive speaking project, one has to very clear about the final message or the ‘call for action’ from the audience. So keeping the end in mind, one has to draft the script involving logic and emotion. While using the logic, the speaker has to convince, he/she may use emotion to connect with them.
I gave a speech titled, “Pen Down”, wherein I made an appeal the audience to write their first book. I explained how publishing a book would add significant value to them. I shared lot of personal examples on book writing. My speech also had subtle humor, which tickled the audience. While concluding my speech I used an image of Meraki members having their books in their hands. Audience liked this ending of the speech with a high note.
8. Level- 3- Using Presentation Software (Elective)
This project addresses the use of presentation software — from identifying topics that benefit from the use of technology to effective slide design and presentation. The purpose of this project is to introduce or review basic presentation software strategies for creating and using slides to support or enhance a speech.
This project titled “OK. Google” was really interesting project based my experiment with school children. My project was all about a smart speaker from Goggle and how it can improve the knowledge level of students. In the beginning of the speech I showcased the actual gadget and explained its purpose. Later with the help of a slide deck, I explained the steps involved my experiments. Generally people use PowerPoint as the presentation software. But since I am strong advocate of Canva, I have created my slide deck using Canva and made the presentation.
9. Level- 3- Using Descriptive Language (Elective)
This project addresses the difference between literal and figurative language along with how to determine when to use each to create vivid descriptions. The purpose of this project is to practice writing a speech with an emphasis on adding language to increase interest and impact.
For this project, I have deliberately NOT used a presentation deck. I just wanted to leverage my descriptive language to captivate the audience. The speech was titled “Officers of America”, wherein I was trying to explain my personal experiences with the cops of US, when I made my first visit to US way back in 1998. I used vivid descriptions, analogies, similes etc to add power to the language. This way I kept my audience engaged throughout my speech.
10. Level- 4- Managing a Difficult Audience (Mandatory)
This project covers common behaviors of difficult audience members and how to address each behavior in a calm, effective and professional way. The purpose of this project is to practice the skills needed to address audience challenges when we present outside of our Toastmasters club.
In this project, the speech would be evaluated on the way he / she manages audience disruptions, not the content of the speech. The duration of the speech is 12–15 min. Here the speaker is tested in a simulated environment where the difficult audience are planted by the Vice President-Education (VPE) in advance. One of them could be a talker, another one could be an interrupter, yet another could be an arguer, while the speaker is delivering his / her speech. The project manual clearly suggests various strategies to handle the different types of the difficult audience. In spite of the difficult audience, the speaker is supposed to maintain his/her cool and deliver the speech. This is the most loved project for me in this entire path. I guess I was successful in handling my audience. Even though the audience provoked me by their laughter, giggling, frequent interruptions, asking lengthy questions, I did not lose my temper and maintained my cool. At some places , I could not control my laughter. My evaluator mentioned that since this is a simulated setup, I might have maintained my cool, but in reality, the ambience may be different and hence I need to be cognizant of the responses. I took that as a valuable feedback. The project was titled “Nanowrimo”. It was all about writing a book in 30 days.
11. Level- 4- Question and Answer Session (Elective)
In level 4, I chose “Question and Answer Session” as one of my electives.
This project addresses how to prepare to answer questions and provide information clearly, concisely and with confidence. The purpose of this project is to learn about and practice facilitating a question-and-answer session.
The duration for the speech is 15–20 min. The title of my speech was, “Games People Play”. The actual subject I spoke was all about Transactional Analysis. In this project, I ensured audience interacted during my speech. I asked them few questions and audience shared their perspectives. At the end of the speech, there was a dedicated segment wherein I answered audience’s questions.
12. Level- 5- Prepare to Speak Professionally (Mandatory)
This project is designed to help us define the attributes of professional speakers and apply that understanding to our own skills as a speaker. The purpose of this project is to practice developing and presenting a longer speech.
The duration for this project is 18–22 min. But in my club, they could not accommodate a longer speech. Hence the speech duration was cut sort. I also agreed for this since I have given many professional talks outside Toastmasters for more than 20 min. “To be a jack of all Trades or not” was my speech title for this project. In this project I spoke about my contemplation whether to be a jack of all trades or a master of one single trade. The technique I used in the project was storytelling technique to make my speech interesting. In many contemplation scenario, one incident or one message was helping me to get the right answer for my unanswered question. In the concluding part of the speech, I have shared how the message from the archery coach helped me to get my unanswered question. Unfortunately there was a technical issue in the video recording and hence the following video is not a complete one.
13. Level- 5- High Performance Leadership (Elective) — Speech 1
One of my electives in Level 5 was High Performance Leadership (HPL) project.
The focus of this project is to design and complete a project with well-defined goals, lead a team and be accountable to a guidance committee. The purpose of this project is to apply our leadership and planning knowledge to develop a project plan, organize a guidance committee, and implement your plan with the help of a team.
Speechcraft is a program suggested by Toastmasters International to offer a crash course on public speaking skills for aspiring people. It is a great opportunity for us to present the fundamentals of public speaking to non-members. It can be offered as an integral part of our club meeting or as a seminar-style program presented outside of our club. The content can be delivered in four, six or eight sessions.
A speech based on our speechcraft experience is very much relevant to go under the HPL project. Since I started a speechcraft program for a corporate organization, I thought of giving a speech on it under this project. As a speaker, I was supposed to make two speeches for the HPL project, one before the project and the second on after executing the project. In the very first HPL speech, I explained about the formation of guidance committee, logistics, budget etc.
Actually I was not applying my mind while doing this project. I could have reserved this speech for my other path. In the other parallel path I have chosen, the HPL project was mandatory, while this is just an elective in the Presentation Mastery path. Fortunately I was able to do another HPL project leveraging my role in the district as the club coach chair in my second path.
So, Toastmasters, a word of caution. When you have chosen two paths, figure out which path demands a HPL project as a mandatory project. Accordingly you can select the right electives.
13. Level- 5- High Performance Leadership (Elective) — Speech 2
On 28th Mar 2020, I gave my 2nd speech after completing my HPL project. I have shared my experiences, best practices and lessons learnt with the members. I could not locate the video recording of this speech.
14. Level- 5- Reflect on Your Path (Mandatory)
This project is designed to give us an opportunity to share our experience at the end of our path. The purpose of this project is to reflect on our growth during the completion of an entire path.
I gave the final speech of “Reflect on Your Path” of the Presentation Mastery on 11th Apr 2020. “We do not learn from experience, unless…” was the title of my speech for this project. In this project, I used “Gibb’s Reflective Cycle” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflective_practice).
My speech was divided into 6 components namely Description, Thoughts, Feedback, Analysis, Conclusion and Action Plan. In the description section, I quickly mentioned about the 14 speeches I have delivered. In the thoughts segment, I mentioned about my regular attendance, consistency in doing project speeches, doing justice on stage and brining in innovation in every speech projects etc. In the feedback segment I summarized what feedback my evaluators gave me during my speeches. Some of the frequently offered suggestions for improvement were, “script is good, but more focus needed on delivery”, ‘eye contact is not uniform; it is stuck to one section of the audience”, “need to smile more”, “ need to create a little more drama”. I have used a slide deck for most of the speeches, which I thought was a virtue. But on some occasions, some of the members tried to stereo-type me saying that I always comes with a slide-deck. After hearing that feedback, I started giving couple of speeches without a slide deck.
Based on my thoughts and feedback, I tried to analyze at the end of my path completion. The results of my analysis were,
- Besides hard work and passion, consistency is important.
- Even if you do something better and consistent, you may get stereo-typed.
- When people appreciate you, your responsibility goes up.
- I have not effectively used all the features of the Pathways framework.
The action plans at the end of completing this path were:-
- Plan to complete my next path (Effective Coaching) path in 6 months (give speeches not only in Meraki, but other clubs too)
- Should leverage Pathways system for archiving my project details
- Convert all my scripts into blog posts
- Explore if I can revisit all my past projects and convert them into keynote speeches. (7 min — 15 min, 30 min, 1 hr)
At the end, I tied my conclusion with the title of the speech. i.e. We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on our experience.
I felt that most of the speakers may have to use presentations in their profession, irrespective of the domain they belong to. But unfortunately today many people lack the basic presentation skills while giving a presentation. For example, PowerPoint is one of the leading tool to give a presentation. But unfortunately, many of us have not taken any formal training on how to use the tool. Since, it is such an easy tool, we take it for granted. We randomly pick a template and copy and paste the contents from the word document to the slides. Seldom people realize that the slide decks are to be used as visual aid and not for copy pasting your thesis or work in the slides of a deck. Most of us hail Steve Jobs as the most popular presentation Guru, yet many fail to learn from him. This path highlights the significance of presentation mastery and how a speaker can command respect on stage, when the presentation is done in an appropriate manner.
At the end of completing the Presentation Mastery path, I have learnt that I don’t have to kill the audience with bullet points as a speaker. I learnt how storytelling combined with slide decks with enhanced visuals makes any subject interesting to the audience. By meticulously following the pathways instructions, one can easily master the art of presentation skills.