People First HR Services

Give a toast to the masters who help you speak your mind

Colleen Coates


You can spot them everywhere. They are the ones who know when it’s appropriate to clap (and when you should not), how to introduce speakers with enthusiasm and grace, how to introduce themselves and start up a conversation with someone they just met, and know the difference between a podium and a lectern.

While this may not seem important, little differences can make you stand out in a crowd (and not look foolish). It’s the little aspects of what makes us who we are that can help launch your career; have others see you in a professional light; help you win that job interview; aid you in the successful delivery of a speech at your friend’s wedding; or make you the envy of others as you give a toast at your grandparent’s anniversary celebration that brings tears to their eyes.

Like it or not, everywhere you go in life you will be faced with having to speak in public. Wouldn’t it be great not to fear this event, and better yet, astonish them with your thoughtful and well-spoken words. Speaking with confidence and ease can be a party-saving (or career saving) skill that can be mastered with practice, and the guidance of those who know how to do it well.

So who are these people that seem to know what to do, when to do it and how to act when communicating with others? Most likely they are people who have at some point in their life taken a communications course.

One that I have found to be very effective and all encompassing (and I highly recommend) is through Toastmasters International. Now before you stop reading and think this is all about public speaking, it’s not. Toastmasters offers so much more than many people realize. Their program can provide you with all the foundational skills you need to be successful in everything from learning Robert’s Rules of Order on how to appropriately and effectively conduct meetings to delivering presentations professionally and with ease.

Toastmasters offers many practical hints and tips for effective communication. These next few will help you the next time you find yourself having to speak to a room full of people in any situation.

Know your material. Pick something that you are interested in and know lots about. Use humour, personal stories and speak in a conversational manner.

Practise. A lot. Rehearse using your notes and without if you feel brave. Try to get someone to listen to you practise and give you some productive feedback (now is not the time for someone to just say, “You did great,” and not help you to improve).

Know the audience. Get to know the people in the room before you need to speak. This way you feel you have more friendly faces in the room and it’s easier to talk to friends than strangers.

Know the room. Arrive early, check out all the equipment you will be using.

Relax. Greet the audience, then pause and count to three before you begin speaking. Pause regularly to breathe and help relax any tension.

Visualize yourself delivering the speech. Imagine yourself delivering a successful speech and people clapping. This will help boost your confidence.

Know that people want you to succeed. Most people will be rooting for you as they want to be entertained and stimulated.

Don’t apologize. Don’t say you are sorry if you make a mistake during your speech or forget something. The audience most likely won’t even notice.

Concentrate on the message. Try to forget your anxieties by focusing on the message you want to deliver.

Gain experience. Experience is the key to effective public speaking. A Toastmasters Club can provide the experience you need in a friendly and safe atmosphere.

Watch others. Learn from those who speak well in public. This could be a professional speaker you see at a presentation, or a radio announcer, someone in politics or maybe someone in a leadership role in your organization.

Through my career, I was fortunate to have chartered the opening of two corporate Toastmaster Clubs and attained what is called a CTM (Competent Toastmaster) designation. It was a fantastic experience and many thanks go to Toastmasters, the great people who participated in the clubs and those who helped mentor me and others to learn, grow and develop our communication and leadership skills.

So why not make it one of your New Year’s resolutions to check out a local Toastmasters Club. Visit to find a club near you.


Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at




Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 7, 2012 H2