The most common request I get from my mentees is tips for improving various speaking skills. Instead of discussing tips around specific speaking skills I want to share some meta strategies I've used for myself and helped others implement in their own speaking practice. These strategies can be applied to any speaking-related goal you have in Toastmasters.
Arm Your Evaluators
Effective peer evaluations are a key component to rapid progress as a public speaker in Toastmasters. One of the biggest breakthroughs for me was treating my evaluator less as a judge and more as a coach. In order for a coach to be effective they must know what your goals are and what weaknesses need to be addressed to achieve them.
Before every speech I have a short discussion with my evaluator in which I share my specific goals and focus areas for the speech in addition to what's listed in the manual project. For the last few months I've been focused on using more purposeful body language in my speaking. Every time I gave a speech I asked my evaluator for feedback on my body language even when it wasn't a focus of the manual project.
By giving your evaluator specific areas to focus on you make their job easier as well; in a typical speech there's a lot of topics on which one could provide feedback but only 2-3 minutes in which to deliver it. Giving your evaluator specific focus areas means they can spend their time on what's most impactful to you.
My biggest regret in Toastmasters is not recording my Icebreaker! After all the work I've put into improving my communication skills I'd love to be able to look back on that speech and see just how far I've come. Unfortunately it took me more than 2 years of speaking to finally get the courage to record myself giving a speech. I now strongly encourage all my mentees to start recording their speeches as early as possible.
Many times your perception of how a speech came across is different than the audience's perception or that of your evaluator. Being able to watch your speech back later gives you a chance to reflect on what went well, contextualize your evaluator's feedback and most importantly understand the progress you're making as a speaker. It isn't easy watching yourself the first few times but once you get beyond that initial cringe factor you'll find that a great learning opportunity awaits.
Do It Again
One important concept when training in any discipline is the virtuous loop created by taking feedback, adjusting your behaviour and doing it again. Toastmasters provides us a great environment to do this but most of the time do it again simply means writing a new speech from scratch, tackling different manual objectives and hoping that you remember to implement the feedback you just received.
A less popular way of implementing feedback and improving is repeating the same speech more than once. Just recently I decided to do exactly that: give a speech, incorporate the feedback and then give the same speech again. I was surprised at how dramatically my speech improved after just one round of peer evaluation. When I gave the speech a second time, in front of an audience of very experienced Toastmasters, I received much better reviews than the first time.
Giving a speech multiple times allows you to double down on a smaller set of speaking skills such as vocal variety, body language, effective use of language without the overhead of needing to write entirely new content. As you gain more experience, repeating speeches is a high impact strategy for rapid improvement in your speech delivery techniques.
Whether it be improving my storytelling abilities, making better use of vocal variety or keeping speeches simple I've used these three meta-strategies to make rapid, focused improvement. Now when I decide to focus on improving a specific speaking skill I pull out my strategies, tailor them to that skill and get to work!