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I was at a Toastmasters meeting on Monday, and since we had five guests that evening, we all did a round of introductions. One of our members introduced himself by saying that he comes to the club meetings to be bad. He’s a professional speaker and uses Toastmasters to test material and delivery.
I find Toastmasters to be a great environment for making mistakes and taking risks. I’ve done purely humorous speeches, gave a speech in film noir style, opened a speech with juggling, had the audience pretend to be superheroes, and incorporated wacky props like Barbie dolls and a ghost made from Kleenex and cotton balls. The supportive atmosphere of Toastmasters allows me to experiment well beyond the edges of what I’ve had the opportunity to do in front of other audiences. And I find that Toastmaster audiences appreciate a bit of wackiness and creativity, since they’ve already seen “the standard speech” a zillion times before.
This experimentation has greatly broadened my range as a speaker. I’d never given a humorous speech or used props or tried unusual delivery methods before joining Toastmasters. But now I’m convinced it’s actually less risky to to take risks. As a speaker I find I have a better chance of success if I stray a bit off the “safe” path. If I give a speech just like anyone else would, even if my content and delivery are excellent, the reception will usually be lukewarm. I’m not providing enough value to the audience. But if I do something a bit odd or unusual, it keeps the audience awake and attentive.
What Toastmasters has shown me is just how important it is to keep the audience entertained while you attempt to educate them.