Getting ready for your first speech…

Here’s a great link to a fantastic set of resources from Toastmasters International for new speakers.  Why don’t you take a look and ask your Induction Buddy to go through with you any of the information that you are interested in. http://www.toastmasters.org/en/Shop/Members/manuals-and-programs/the-better-speaker-series/The%20Better%20Speaker%20Series%20Set_269.aspx


Keeping the Commitment

Keeping the commitment is a reminder of the expectations of members as part of this Club. This is the speech I gave as President on April 4th 2016. I would like a discussion and answers to the questions in bold.

Over the past few weeks we have been provided with an exceptional learning opportunity if we choose to address it. I would like to sincerely thank everyone involved in providing us with this. We could ignore this opportunity or we can use the professional strength of this club to have an open and honest discussion on the etiquette or unwritten protocols. We can recommit to the Toastmaster Promise.


As a member of Toastmasters International and my club, I promise…

  • To attend club meetings regularly
  • To prepare all of my speech and leadership projects to the best of my ability, basing them on projects in the Competent Communication, Advanced Communication Series or Competent Leadership manuals
  • To prepare for and fulfill meeting assignments
  • To provide fellow members with helpful, constructive evaluations
  • To help the club maintain the positive, friendly environment necessary for all members to learn and grow
  • To serve my club as an officer when called upon to do so
  • To treat my fellow club members and our guests with respect and courtesy
  • To bring guests to club meetings so they can see the benefits Toastmasters membership offers
  • To adhere to the guidelines and rules for all Toastmasters educational and recognition programs
  • To maintain honest and highly ethical standards during the conduct of all Toastmasters activities

I would like your advice, as members of Casterbridge Speakers, as to how we live our values. The values and associated behaviours set the culture of the club. Too often we can assume understanding.

Toastmasters International Casterbridge Speakers
·         Integrity

·         Respect

·         Service

·         Excellence

·         Supportive

·         Mentoring

·         Active

·         Recognition

·         Tenacity

Are they to be just words on a page or a blueprint for our behaviours?

I believe my role as President is to help clarify expectations. We may all have different views, and I would like us to start talking about it. The fact is there have been a number of incidences where speech content has made the audience feel uncomfortable or even offended. Now we can turn a blind eye to this situation or as a professional, courageous and caring club resolve it.

As you know, I am very proud of this club and what we have achieved. Having fun is a key part of that and long may that continue. However, one person’s joke can be offensive to someone else.

One of the Toastmaster commitments is that we observe ethical standards – in words and action. This includes being respectful and courteous to everyone.

What I don’t want, as I am sure you don’t, are

members or guests coming to meetings apprehensive of what they will hear, feeling uncomfortable; or going away and not coming back. Nor do I want speakers feeling they have been gagged. We have to accept that Speakers have the right to choose their subject material.

How do we balance freedom of speech with the sensitivities of the audience? 

How do we define an appropriate or inappropriate speech?

Is it down to us to agree as a club?

How do we balance the speaker’s judgement of an appropriate speech with the audience’s view?

Not everyone will respond to your speech the same.

Not everyone will respond to your speech the same.

How far do we push the boundaries?

Should we let anything go or agree boundaries?

Perhaps Speakers when choosing a certain topic can reflect more on what impact it may have on a known audience and run it past a mentor or friend.

Swearing is another part of this. I realise that what we have not done as a Club is agree what is appropriate.

How much swearing is acceptable?

Members and guests come to these meetings and expect a safe environment, whether physical or emotional.

Do we not have an obligation to provide that?

How open minded do we need to be?

Do we ignore our values and be more liberal?

Where do we draw the line?

How do we respond when we feel someone has crossed that line?

Is it our individual responsibility to make people aware how we feel?

We have a fantastic opportunity to address a key leadership issue of defining the culture we want. We are all leaders in this balancing act of managing ours and others expectations. In a fast changing world, deciding where the line is can be fraught with difficulties, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

I trust you to rise to this challenge and for Casterbridge Speakers to grow in strength and integrity as a result.

I welcome your comments either personally or by email.



Chairing a successful contest

I find being Toastmaster for a meeting requires a serious amount of preparation. There are an awful lot of moving parts in a meeting. Compared to running a contest though, it’s nothing. The number of moving parts easily doubles, and they move in ways that can’t always be predicted.

Here’s how I managed the International Speakers Contest and Evaluation Contest for Casterbridge Speakers in 2016.

Before the contest

I started by splitting up the organisation needed before the meeting into three main strands: roles, contestants, and paperwork.


I was given a free pass when one of the club members (Andy Pettman) volunteered to help organise the contest. This is something that can be evaluated for the Competent Leadership manual (I think it’s Project 6), so it’s worth asking if anyone in the club is willing to give you a hand.

Andy took on the task of making sure we had all of the paperwork arranged, which included getting hold of forms for eligibility, judging, counting and results, as well as printing out the certificates for participants and winners. Having someone take that off my plate made everything more manageable.


Ideally, you want to have several competitors — four or more — in each contest. Apart from making a more interesting contest, it also avoids the conundrum of having to tell someone (or let it be easily deduced) that they came last. We had three evaluators and four International Speakers, and could probably have done more to strong-arm people into participating.

We reminded people at meetings to sign up, and we mentioned it in the email newsletter, but we certainly weren’t banging on people’s doors saying “YOU! You ought to take part.”

Once you have people signed up, you can send them the contest rules, as well as some forms to fill out. We emailed out the eligibility forms and biographical details sheets ahead of time, so that contestants could fill them out before the meeting. Meanwhile, I checked that everyone was eligible for their contests, just in case they tried to slip anything past me.

We also encouraged speakers to give us their titles (or, better yet, put them on the website themselves) before the meeting, so I had a chance to practice introducing the speakers. Luckily, nobody had thrown in a tongue-twisting title this time.


The two key roles for a contest are the contest chair and the chief judge. It pays to recruit the chief judge well in advance, and work with him or her to arrange several other judges for each contest. You also need two timekeepers, a sergeant-at-arms and a couple of counters, all of whom need to be neutral.

Lastly, if it’s an evaluation contest, you need a “target speaker” to be evaluated. The sooner you arrange this, the less stressful it becomes. Ideally an exchange with a neighbouring club or clubs works best, but it depends if they are willing. We were in a tight spot with a couple of days to go and only rescued by one of our members (Andrew Knowles) stepping up to the plate to speak at short notice.

Contest chair!

Then there was my personal preparation.

I’ve tried running meetings directly from the agenda, but find that I continually lose my place and get flustered. Instead, I make up index cards before the meeting saying things like

“Sergeant at arms opens meeting, passes directly into President’s Introduction, who hands over to me.

  • Explain agenda
  • Explain clapping/shaking hands
  • Warm-up question: [whatever the warm-up question is]
  • Introduce timekeeper
  • Introduce grammarian”

I have one card for each time I’m on stage, numbered in case I drop them or they get out of order. They help me. Your approach may differ!

Two of Colin's notecards for chairing a contest

There are a couple of wrinkles to the system on contest night. The main one being that I don’t know until the briefing who is going to speak first. That’s easily managed though. I can simply have a card for each speech and arrange them into the right order once I know what’s happening.

The other major wrinkle is that there’s a gap in proceedings while the counters leave the room. You can stand there and twiddle your thumbs, furiously ad-libbing, or you can set up some table topics, which I did.

I also needed to come up with some interview questions. Interviewing is something I’m working on at the moment, and it’s not something I’ve often seen done well at contests. The contestants have been through a stressful time, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them.

My structure was to have a handful of open-ended questions about the contestants and their speeches that I could ask to anyone. You can supplement them with any ideas springing up out of the speech itself or the biographical information. Things like “how was that different to a regularly-scheduled speech?”, “what inspired you to enter the contest?” and “how do you structure your speeches?” are always questions that are answerable for the contestant and (hopefully) interesting for the audience.

On the day

On the day, getting the speakers together for the briefing (“These are the rules and requirements for any protests. This is how the lights work. Pick a card for order of speaking. Any questions?”) is the main thing to do before the meeting starts. Naturally, you’ll want to check in with everyone doing a role and make sure they know how everything is going to go down. For example, you want to make sure someone, usually a timekeeper, is in charge of filling out the winners’ certificates and ensuring you have them at the appropriate time.

If I’ve done the preparation right, the contest itself should just be a case of showing up and following the directions on the cards. Of course, it’s never that simple. I need to do all of the Good MC stuff like maintain eye-contact and avoid ums, and there’s always scope for something to go wrong. (I have a bad habit of forgetting to give the judges time to do their scoring, for instance, and it throws me briefly when I’m reminded.)

One of the reasons I find being Contest Chair exhausting is that the role requires being on one’s feet much more than the Toastmaster role does. The Toastmaster is forever handing over to Presidents and Topics Masters and Grammarians. On contest day, I think it’s the case that, Sergeant-at-Arms excepted, the Chair and the contestants are the only people who speak from the stage.

Although it’s exhausting, it’s also extremely rewarding! Almost as rewarding as sitting down with a cup of tea once it’s over, and smiling at the thought you won’t have to do it again for (hopefully) several years.


International Speech Contest Round-up, March 2016

Bev Hepting (left): winner, Evaluation Contest; Colin Beveridge (centre): contest chair; Caroline Brewer (right): winner, International Speech Contest

Bev Hepting (left): winner, Evaluation Contest; Colin Beveridge (centre): contest chair; Caroline Brewer (right): winner, International Speech Contest

She used to dread public speaking. Those days have changed. Last Wednesday, at the Casterbridge Speakers branch of Toastmasters International, Caroline Brewer explained her journey from a terrified talker to a terrific one, beating three other speakers in the club’s prestigious International Speech Contest. The main theme of her “One Thought” speech, the power of the human mind, was coincidentally echoed in several of the other talks: Rosie Barfoot‘s demonstration of the power of innovation, Bev Hepting‘s “Equation of Life” about dealing with chronic pain, and Dave Smith‘s description of his father’s life journey.

Caroline and Rosie progress to the Area contest at Ferndown Village Hall on March 20th, competing with speakers from around Dorset. The winners of that are two speeches away from the World Speaking Championship in Las Vegas.

The club also held an Evaluation contest, in which Andrew Knowles spoke about the “Golden Age of Computer Gaming”. Bev Hepting, Guy Kerr and Dave Smith all gave clear and constructive feedback. However, Bev’s evaluation was judged the winner and Guy will join her in the next round of the contest at Ferndown.

Casterbridge Speakers meet at the Wessex Royale Hotel in Dorchester on the first and third Wednesdays of every month at 7:30pm. Whether you’re preparing for a wedding speech, looking to improve your work presentations, or to develop your leadership skills, you’ll be made extremely welcome.

For more information about visiting Casterbridge Speakers, please contact Club President Rosie Barfoot on 01305 261540 or rosiebarfoot@btconnect.com


Getting New Members Off To A Good Start

As with any new journey, the first few steps are crucial.  We want every new member to Toastmasters to feel welcomed and to settle in as quickly as possible to how things work at Casterbridge Speakers.  We follow a simple four-step approach:-

  1. Every new member is assigned an initial mentor to help them during their first 6 months at the club.  Click here for more information about mentoring
  2. Every new member has a set-up meeting with either the VP Education and / or their mentor to discuss his/her needs and expectations, including accessing the Getting Started part of the club’s website.  Click here for topics covered on Getting Started
  3. Get them speaking – every new member is encouraged to schedule their icebreaker speech as soon as possible.  We have an informal goal of three speeches within the first 6 months
  4. Get them taking on leadership roles – every new member is encouraged to review the leadership track / Competent Leader Manual and to take on meeting roles as early as they can.  We learn by doing and by getting feedback and evaluation.  Click here for a summary of meeting roles

Tall Tales Contest Round-up: December 2015

Every year, we have four contests at Casterbridge Speakers: in the spring, we have the International Speakers contest (where an inspirational speaker can progress through the rounds as far as the worldwide Toastmasters convention) and the Evaluation contest (where a guest speaker is evaluated by several different people); and in the autumn, we have the Humorous Speakers and Table Topics contests.

These aren’t the only contests a Toastmasters club can run, though. The website also lists ‘Tall Tales’ as a possible category. As the last meeting in December is generally a good place to try something new, and as Christmas itself is full of far-fetched stories (seriously, who sends 40 gold rings?), we decided to run one of these at the end of 2015.

A tall tale — for the purposes of the contest, at least — is an exaggerated, usually humorous story, told as if it were true, a description that leaves an awful lot of wiggle-room, and which our contestants exploited fully.

First up was Bev Hepting, whose speech Never Be Awake When Santa Comes To Call explained the real story of Santa — that is to say, Santandino, a destroyer of worlds allowed out only once a year. Bev took the brave decision to accept the Anya Challenge in a contest and give a speech sitting down. Carefully crafted and strongly delivered, Bev’s speech put down an intimidating marker for those who followed.

She was followed by The One That Got Away by Andrew Knowles, who interpreted the thought process of a fish called Verity as it came to terms with a stupendous idea, following sidetrack after sidetrack, pursuing the meaning of words and quite closely mirroring my process when I have a good idea. Andrew’s passion for etymology and the structure of language shone through in a neatly-packaged speech with some great comic moments.

Dave Smith‘s speech, A Walk On The Wild Side followed a family trek on a day so windy one might get blown away. For me, one of Dave’s greatest strengths is his animated style, and his vocal variety added a great deal to his story.

Finally, Rosie Barfoot told a story of the grim industrial north, with fishermen on the canal watching a hat go back and forth. I don’t remember ever seeing a better speech than It’s In’t Hat (other opinions may, of course, differ); from the sheer poetry of Rosie’s language to the magnificent punchline, the room was hooked. What topped it all (for me) was that she managed to make the entire absurd situation completely believable — an absolute masterclass in storytelling.

The judges — who, in this case, were the whole of the room — voted that the top two were:

  1. Rosie Barfoot
  2. Bev Hepting

It’s harsh when you have more than one excellent speech in a contest, because they can’t all win (and if anyone ever mentions Star Wars to me again, I’ll tell you all about it). It’s also harsh when there’s no Area contest for winners to go on to: I’d have backed the winners to go all the way.


How to evaluate to motivate

Flex those BICEPS for FAB evaluations!

Rachel Knowles with flipchart giving evaluate to motivate educational slot

Rachel shares how to evaluate to motivate

“Do I look okay? I’ve got an important interview and I need to know if I look okay.”
“Do I look okay? I’m looking for some advice here. Is there anything I could do to present myself better?”
Eventually I got some feedback: “I love the hat!” “You might like to try a different t-shirt.” “Change your trousers!”
What I was looking for was an evaluation – an assessment – of my appearance.

At Toastmasters, we evaluate everything. When someone gives a speech, another Toastmaster evaluates their performance. We work hard to make sure that our evaluations motivate the speaker to improve, not to give up and go home in dismay.

Why do we evaluate?

Evaluation helps speakers to:

The benefits of evaluation for speakers

Benefits of evaluation for speakers

Evaluation helps evaluators to:

Benefits of evaluation for evaluators

Benefits of evaluation for evaluators

FAB evaluations

Good evaluations should be FAB:

F is for  Feedback

An evaluation gives the speaker the opportunity to receive an immediate reaction to their speech.

A is for Advice

A good evaluation should include suggestions about how we could do things better or different ideas that we could try.

B is for Build up

The best evaluations build up self-esteem by praising what was good and giving useful suggestions for improvement in a sensitive manner that encourages the person being evaluated to become a better speaker.

How can we evaluate more effectively?

I want to encourage you to flex your BICEPS – yes, another acronym to help us remember what makes a good evaluation.

B is for BE PREPARED. This means knowing which project the speaker is presenting and what their personal objectives are. To evaluate my outfit effectively, you needed to know what sort of interview I was going to and when.

I is for INTEREST. To receive your feedback in the right way, the speaker needs to know that you are genuinely interested in them and in helping them to improve. If I know you really care, then I can more readily accept your suggestions. Recommendations without interest come across as criticism. If I knew you wanted me to do well at my interview, then I would know that you would give me the best advice you could.

C is for CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY. Your evaluation is your opinion, so use phrases such as: “I really liked the way you…” and “I would have liked to see” and “I suggest that…” to own your evaluation. Try to avoid phrases like: “You didn’t…” and “You should have…” and that little word that has a habit of creeping into evaluations: “but”.
If you told me you didn’t like my hat, I might not take it very well. (Actually it’s not mine at all – I borrowed it!) However, if you told me that in your opinion I would look better without the hat, I would be more ready to accept your advice.

E is for EVALUATE THE SPEECH TO ENCOURAGE. Evaluate the speech, not the person. And don’t forget what you are trying to do – to give feedback that will encourage the speaker to improve. I needed you to evaluate the way I looked in terms of things I could change, not my height or the size of my nose!

P is for PROMOTE SELF-ESTEEM and always have a POSITIVE ENDING. Remember to praise the good things the speaker has done and always end on a positive note. Advice should always be mixed with praise. If you had simply told me that I looked awful, then I might have given up going to the interview altogether.

S is for SUGGESTIONS. An effective evaluation will have recommendations otherwise it will fail to stimulate the speaker to improve. Even if you feel there is no obvious need for improvement, suggest something different that the speaker could try. Clearly my outfit was perfect for the interview (!) but you could have suggested I try a different t-shirt or a pair of heels instead of my trainers.

When you next take on the role of evaluator, remember to flex your BICEPS:
Be prepared and be
Choose your words carefully
Evaluate the speech not the speaker
Promote self-esteem
Suggest some improvements

That way, it will be a FAB evaluation with effective Feedback and good Advice which Builds the speaker up and helps them to improve.

Choose your words carefully


Recent Questions From Ice-Breaker to Competition Rules

The strength of the club is being able to ask more experienced members how to solve problems or answer questions. The philosophy of Toastmasters is learning by doing and you can research the answers from a variety of resources.

Here are two recent questions from a new member wanting to do their first speech to an experienced member wanting to know more about competitions, who researched the answer for himself.

How do I sign up for my ice-breaker speech?

A: If you go to http://toastmasterclub.org/ and sign in, you should see “My participation” in the navigation bar. Hover over that and click “Sign up for meetings”. Below ‘Confirm attendance’ you should see a ‘Request speech’ button; click that and a new window should pop up.

Type in your title (TBC is fine if you don’t have one yet, you can come back in and change it later.)

Click ‘Select a workbook’ — if you can see ‘Competent Communicator’ in the workbook table, click it; if not, you may need to start a new workbook from the drop-down first: pick Competent Communicator. You should then see a menu of speeches; click on the radio-button next to ‘Ice-Breaker.’

Lastly, go to the ‘Preferred dates’ tab and select three possible dates, ideally ones for which the meeting isn’t full!

Click the save button in the top right corner, and you’re done.

Colin Beveridge, Vice President of Membership

What happens if a contestant is absent for the relevant competition briefing?

A.  If the primary contestant is absent for the relevant competition briefing, the alternate speaker (if present) is permitted to attend the briefing in place of the primary contestant.

The Competition Rules go on to say:

  1. If the primary contestant is not present when the person conducting the contest is introduced, the primary contestant is disqualified and the alternate officially becomes the contestant.
  2. Should the primary contestant arrive after the briefing but before the person conducting the contest is introduced, the primary contestant is permitted to compete, provided the primary contestant:
  3. a) Reports to the contest chair upon his/her arrival.
  4. b) Has all required paperwork in good order before the person conducting the contest is introduced to begin the contest.
  5. c) Waives the opportunity of a briefing.

Douglas Pigg, Treasurer



Tenacity In Action!

How do voluntary groups and organisations thrive and grow? One answer to this question is undoubtedly through the tenacity of their members.

Tenacity is one of Casterbridge Speakers Club’s values – “working determinedly to deliver agreed personal goals, club roles and the club’s success plan”. It was also the theme of  last night’s meeting and we experienced tenacity by the bucket load. We had new members speaking for the first time, and despite their nerves, receiving rapturous applause and heartfelt support. In fact, Siobhán Davis won best Table Topic speech.

We had members stepping proficiently into roles to cover for last minute sickness absence. Rachel Knowles delivered an inspirational education slot, by  In true tenacious fashion; having accessed the network’s training resources, she added her very own spin on it with humour and relevance. This led to her being presented with the evening’s Golden Nugget award.

Casterbridge Speakers Club is affiliated to Toastmasters International. We learn to be better leaders and communicators by practice and feedback. Evaluation is a key element of the process, and unlike many evaluations in the workplace, it is never judgemental. People are given suggestions about how they can improve their speech or performance in a role. Andrew Knowles gave Christine Wallach a great piece of advice about how she might increase the impact of her speech’s opening and ending by tying the two together. We all learned from his neat and thoughtful suggestion. Rosie Barfoot learnt that she could increase her impact on the audience by avoiding the pull to lean on the lectern. Of course I continue to learn that my ‘umms and errs’ in certain situations run wild and need to be better managed!!

Toastmasters is a journey of education and development. At Casterbridge Speakers, we are seeing individuals and the club go from strength to strength. The tenacity and commitment of our individual members is at the heart of that growth and our success. And it helps that we have a lot of fun doing it!

Caroline Brewer

General Evaluator 21/10/15


Try This – Presenting with Fun

It may come as a surprise to you that presenting a speech can be fun. Yet that was the message at a recent free workshop delivered by two members of Casterbridge Speakers for Try This Dorchester. Rosie Barfoot, President, and Beverly Hepting, Vice President of PR, explained how the thought of public speaking fills many people with fear or dread, but that it doesn’t have to be like that. The workshop allowed participants to actually practice and have some fun. There is no better way to learn presentation skills than by doing and getting constructive feedback.

What participants wanted to learn

  • Finding the fun in presenting
  • Some useful tips to improve their presentations
  • How to improve voice projection
  • Avoiding looking nervous

Finding the fun

We are what we think. If you are telling yourself that ‘you hate presentations’ or ‘you’re a nervous wreck when you present’, guess what you get. The beliefs that we carry will influence our performance. The key is to change your mindset. The first part of the word confidence is ‘con’, so con your brain into believing you love giving presentation. Then fake it ‘til you make it.




  • Preparation – do your research of what your audience wants to hear and what you need to say to deliver that.
  • Purpose – have a clear purpose to inform, inspire, entertain, or whatever
  • Practice – practice, practice, and polish
  • Passion – if you are not passionate about your topic, why should they be?
  • Perform – be larger than life whilst still being real
  • Project – use your voice so people can hear you.

How to improve voice projection

The key to good voice projection is breathing. It pays to breathe! Unfortunately when we are nervous, we tend to breathe shallowly in our upper chest. This can prevent good projection. As your confidence grows, so can your voice.

It is also about visualising throwing your voice to the furthest member of the audience. I recommend getting a voice coach to help you, if this is a problem for you.


How to avoid looking nervous

If you can keep good confident eye contact with members of your audience, you will look less nervous, despite what might be going on for you internally. Keep focused on them.

Focus and build on the qualities you do have as a speaker and be confident.



Some Do’s and Don’ts of Presenting

From feedback they had on the workshop, participants created a list of do’s & don’ts.


  • Listen to what your audience wants to hear
  • Have a clear brief with timings
  • Do your research – get the information
  • Set the scene and expectations
  • Bring humour into what you say and do
  • Use words to create a picture
  • Have a steady pace – vary your speed and use pauses for impact
  • Be grounded with a good stance
  • Have good eye contact with the whole audience – involve them
  • Smile and use appropriate facial expressions
  • Use vocal variety to add emphasis and drama
  • Use meaningful hand and body gestures to express meaning
  • Have the knowledge of the subject
  • Be credible and confident
  • Be courageous enough not to use notes
  • Tell a story or take your audience on a journey
  • End with a bang and not a whimper


  • Tell (talk at) or patronise
  • Miss people out with eye contact
  • Speak too quietly
  • Turn away from the audience when speaking
  • Speak too quickly
  • Go into your head for ideas and disengage from the audience
  • Apologise for forgetting to say something or for not being very good at public speaking
  • Sway from side to side
  • Have distracting hand gestures

Whatever your reason for presenting a speech, whether for work, pleasure or an important occasion, you can make it fun, if you choose to.