There are no tires on a football field

by R. L. Howser on May 25, 2010 · 5 comments

I’ve just returned from competing in the Toastmasters All-Japan Speech Contest championship this past weekend in Tokushima, Shikoku, and it was a good weekend. After several past attempts fell just short, I finally brought home the gold medal.

Winning qualifies me to advance to the International Speech Contest in Palm Desert, California, this summer, where the level of competition is going to take a quantum leap up. It’s rather like winning your local Country Club golf championship and advancing from there to the Masters at Augusta National. I’m not feeling all that cocky about winning the World Championship Trophy, but it should be exciting to try, and stranger things have happened.

But beyond tooting my own horn, it occurred to me, while watching the other speakers, that a Toastmasters Speech has its own unique style. It is part performance art, part motivational appeal and part moralistic sermon. There’s no rule saying it has to be that way, but winning speeches generally contain a moral lesson or message of some sort and tend to be physically demonstrative and emotional in tone.

Some new Toastmasters I have met, mostly those coming in to learn business or sales presentation, question the value of learning such a style. It’s not directly applicable to what they need to do in business, they say.

I always counter that by pointing out that there are no tires on an American football field. Yet football players often train by running through rows of tires. It would seem a pointless exercise, training for something that will never happen in a game situation, but of course, that’s not why they do it.

They run through the tires because it trains them to stay balanced, to place their feet precisely and to lift their feet when they run. It trains them in the type of skills that ARE directly applicable to successfully running through the jumble of flying limbs and falling bodies that litter the field during the average play.

That’s what Toastmasters does too. It trains speakers to speak with power, flexibility and precision. It trains them to use their faces and bodies to reinforce their spoken message. It trains them to control or eliminate nervous mannerisms that undercut their authority. It trains them to think about what, specifically, they are trying to communicate and how they can most clearly and effectively structure the words and ideas. It trains them to be disciplined, to stay on message and not go on pointless, unproductive tangents. It trains them to stand in front of a crowd, of any size, with composure and confidence.

It trains them in precisely the skills that are directly applicable to delivering a disciplined response to a media inquiry, to presenting a scripted sales demonstration with an air of spontaneity, to explaining a complex technical problem to the suits in management or to rallying the troops in times of uncertainty.

Those are the skills that will make you stand out from the pack and put you on the fast track to the top.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 florian May 26, 2010 at 8:27 am

Thanks for this great post. I fully agree. Reading your football metaphor more comparisons occured to me. Being a European I learned to drive a car with gear shift. I can easily switch to automatic shift. But it’s a nightmare for those trying it the other way around. Or a Picasso, a MirĂ³ – they all could create wonderful photographic paintings. Yet, it were the circles and the lines which set them apart. A less skilled painter just cannot do it the same way. – Apart from the skill sets I would like to add another point of view. Personally, I believe that we always can shoot some emotional arrows at the hearts of the audience no matter what kind of people are sitting in front of us. Business presentation or International Speech Contest – a Toastmaster will always win!

2 scott May 27, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Congrats on the Gold!!

I’m very intrigued with this Toastmater system. I might have to get over my fear and come see what it’s all about one of these days.

3 R. L. Howser May 28, 2010 at 9:23 am

I was a bit dubious when I first joined, worried that I was going to end up teaching English for free, but it has been one of the best and most fulfilling things I have ever done. Not only have a learned a lot of very valuable skills, I’ve also made a lot of good friends. And it has certainly made me a better teacher.

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