Going From #Toastmaster to Professional Speaker–Some Things to Know

I have been in Toastmasters International for a little over two years.    I have achieved several milestones during that time: my first Icebreaker speech, followed by my first educational award (Competent Communicator), my first speech from an Advanced speech manual, my first speech contest, my first involvement in Area and Division-level meetings (as Assistant Area Governor), and the first educational award going to the person who was the first person I mentored at our club.

All of these achievements have been very gratifying for me, but none of them were a total surprise because I had planned on  achieving them.   However, a recent speaking opportunity came to me out of the blue, and that was the opportunity to actually get paid to speak.    A fellow Toastmaster was planning on her parents’ wedding anniversary, and was planning a celebration with family and friends.   She was going to be so busy at the celebration that she wanted to get a Toastmaster who a) was a good public speaker and b) was fluent in Japanese, because she is Japanese-American and many of her relatives (especially the older ones) can speak Japanese.   I was the only person she knew within Toastmasters who fit that bill–I am fluent in Japanese because I lived in Japan for five years and have worked for most of my career at Japanese companies.

So I am going to be the Master of Ceremonies at the celebration this weekend, and I have been working on my presentation the past few days.   What tips can I give to someone who is going to give a professional speech for the first time or who aspires to do so?    That’s the subject of this post.

1.  Know your room

You should visit the room or hall where you are going to speak if at all possible.   Second best would be to get a floor plan, but nothing substitutes for physically BEING THERE.    When I went over to discuss my presentation, I insisted on seeing the room the celebration was to be in.    I was shown a floor plan, but realized when I got to the actual room that it was wider than I had envisioned, meaning that I would have be turning to the side more often than I had anticipated to sweep everybody into my eye contact and gestures.

2.  Know your audience

I talked three times before the final meeting with this woman about what the purpose of the celebration was.  Yes, I know it’s a wedding anniversary celebration, but who is coming?   What generations are involved?   What is each generation’s involvement in the Japanese, American, or Hawaiian culture (since many of them live in Hawaii now)?    The answer to these questions would determine for me how much to say in Japanese vs. English, and also how much more to emphasize Hawaiian rather than Japanese culture.   I want to use enough Japanese to please the older generation, but not so much as to show up the Japanese-Americans who may have lost contact with their culture.

3.  Know your hosts

The woman putting on the celebration was going to be busy setting up several commissioned art pieces that celebrated her parents’ anniversary.    My job therefore was to make her job easier by explaining some of the background of these pieces and the significance of the art in terms of Japanese and/or Hawaiian culture.   This would allow her to realize that the older generation would recognize HER effort to keep in touch with their culture, but also clue the younger generation to the beauties of a culture that they might have started to lose touch with.

4.  Know your guest of honor

I had a chance to meet her parents and know how important it talk about the year they were married, 1963, in a way that would evoke memories that would emphasize the long journey they have made since then.   So my remarks talk about leaving a legacy with is … the people sitting in that room, their immediate and extended family.   I know that emphasizing the family connections rather than just focusing on the two of them as a couple would please them more, based on what the host told me about their personalities.

5.  Know your schedule

I have a list of the main events:  the entrance, the dinner, the art work unveiling, the dessert and toast, and I have written remarks for all the places where I need to step in and give a transition.   I have marked some empty spaces as possible areas where I may need to improvise a transition if it is called for and am thinking ahead with remarks that could possibly fill in those spaces.

6.  Know your purpose

I will start with an introduction of myself, not because I want to focus on myself, but because I want to establish that I too have a relationship with the host as a fellow member of a Toastmasters club.    A Distinguished Toastmaster or DTM once told me that as a beginning Toastmaster, you tend to be concerned about getting across your message more than you are about establishing a relationship with the audience, but this is a mistake.   You need to establish a rapport first, and then the message will flow.    If they care about you as a human being rather than as the role that you are playing, then they will truly listen to what you have to say.    Your purpose as the MC is not to draw attention to yourself, but to take the attention that you can and focus it towards the guests of honor, in this case, this woman’s parents.

7.  Know yourself

The reason why I became a Toastmaster was to be able to touch people, to inspire people, to persuade people, based on the power of words.   But the leadership aspect of Toastmasters gradually becomes more important the more you get involved in the organization, and I can truly say that I am less and less interested in appearing clever and smart in front of others, and more about encouraging others to feel that they are clever and smart by stimulating them to think and feel something that they might not have done otherwise.

I hope my first professional speaking engagement is a success, but I think that all the points I mentioned above are ones that I have learned throughout the two years in speaking at various Toastmasters events.    The difference of someone actually paying me to do it, is a gesture of appreciation that is, of course, very gratifying.   But hearing applause and seeing smiles on people’s faces is a form of repayment that will be gratifying as well!


One Response

  1. Good job Jerome. Very useful suggestions to use in preparing for a paid engagement. I know you will be great.

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