Morningstar Moments: Leveling Up Communication Skills in the Checkout Lane

Toastmasters Level Up Communication Skills Morningstars

For some, it is nailing the number 10 speech from the Competant Communicator. For others, it is taking the stage at the World Championship of Pubic Speaking. And many are just looking to further their day to day communication skills for workplace advancement.

When I first joined Morningstars Toastmasters, the VP of Membership asked me why I was joining. I didn’t have lofty aspirations. I didn’t see myself taking part in contests or holding workshops.

My goal or Toastmaster “why” was a simple one — connect with people.

Continue reading “Morningstar Moments: Leveling Up Communication Skills in the Checkout Lane”


Area 45 Director Visits Coastal Clubs

Contributed by Area 73 Director, Sheila Cameron

Toastmasters clubs on the Sunshine Coast had a real treat this week when Area 45 Director, Michael Gurney, made appearances at all four of our clubs! Michael currently lives in Prince Rupert. He was here visiting family and told us he has been coming to the Sunshine Coast for years, having grown up in nearby Burnaby.

At Sunshine club in Sechelt, our theme was Spring Into Action. Michael willingly volunteered to do the role of Table Topics Evaluator. He had some colourful speeches to evaluate, and he immediately demonstrated how to do so with skill and professionalism. His guest comments at the end of the evening offered an excellent suggestion for improvement in our printed agenda.

I was happy to see Michael first thing the next day at MorningSTARS. We had a full house and a packed agenda for the theme of Guilty Pleasures. Michael was able to relax, observe, and enjoy the meeting. On the way out the door he was all smiles. “Did you enjoy the meeting?” I asked. “Oh, yes,” he replied. “I feel like I found my people. Morning people!”

I invited Michael to two more meetings and sent him directions. We were in for a real surprise when he arrived at our new club, Coastmasters, and was prepared to deliver a speech! His speech was funny, heartfelt, delivered a message, included the word of the day, used natural gestures and body movement, and was an all-around great story. The evening’s theme was New Beginnings, and it was wonderful to have Michael share in the fun energy that this new club is bringing to the coast. During guest comments, Michael was asked to share about his home club’s agenda and protocols. He offered insights into how each club is unique. Our new club gained a few ideas, and Michael will tell his home club the benefits of a JokeMaster role.

Beach2To round out the week, Michael attended our Beachcombers Advanced club dinner meeting. With many empty roles on the agenda and a theme of Stepping Up, members showed their advanced skills by bravely accepting every challenge and carrying out the roles as if they had been preparing all week. As Michael’s last club visit this week, it seemed the perfect opportunity to invite him to be our General Evaluator. He obliged, and he offered us a good look at what our club does well and gave us a suggestion for improvement.

It has been an absolute delight hosting Michael on the Sunshine Coast this week. He even brought his mother along to a non-Toastmasters event, where I was able to complement him on his fine speaking skills. Michael’s mother can feel proud — Michael is both a gentleman and a gem. Thank you for your visit, Michael. We hope you will visit us again next year!

Importance of the Icebreaker

Toastmasters Storytelling“I can talk for hours about my job or when conducting a presentation at work, but I can’t hold a personal one-on-one conversation for two minutes.”

Do you or have you felt that way? Many of us are great communicators when we are not part of the speech, presentation or story. However, your personal stories may be the best connection to your audience.

Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.
– Dr. Howard Gardner, Harvard University

Talking about latest products, awards, achievements and advancements are impressive, but often they are cold hard facts. To connect with an audience, there needs to be a warm, soft story that talks to the heart of the audience.

According to an online article (, “When you tell a story during your presentation, you can potentially activate up to seven areas of your audience members’ brains, as compared to the two areas of the brain that you can awaken if you tell only facts and stats during your presentation.

The best stories to share are the personal ones. The ones based upon failures, fears, successes, learning lessons and struggles. Think makeover or transformation.

Icebreaker is a term which describes an activity that reduces tension and anxiety in a group while forging new bonds.

In Toastmasters, the Icebreaker is often seen as a way for new members to introduce themselves to the club. They are encouraged to talk about their life, job, hobbies, interests or how they found themselves at Toastmasters. It is presented to the new member as an “easy topic” for you are talking about something you know — yourself.

I, however, think the importance of the Icebreaker is more than an introduction to the club. It is an introduction on HOW to insert YOU into speeches. This is the most important baseline for all speeches, over hand gestures and vocal variety.

If you can get up there and speak from the heart, you win the hearts of your audience. Even if it is a business meeting on financial asset management.

What’s your thoughts on storytelling? How do you incorporate it into your speeches?

Additional Resources:




Toastmaster Tips: Replacing the "Um" & "Like" in Speeches

“She was like . . . And I was like . . . But we were all . . . Um . . . ” These were the highlights of an overhead conversation between two twenty-somethings on a bus. By the time we reached their stop, the amount of “ums” and “likes” each had uttered was staggering . . . triple digits.

Filler words. They are something I wouldn’t have noticed in other people’s speech prior to Toastmasters. The reason? I am a closet filler user.  Typically, it only comes out when I visit my mom and sister, but every once in a while my dependency on the useless words creep into my speeches.

Why Do We Use Fillers?
Steven D. Cohen, an award-winning speaker who leads career and academic workshops on public speaking at Harvard Extension School, believes we have been conditioned to answer questions immediately from an early age. We feel the urge to speak when spoken to.

Filler words are commonly used when we begin talking and as a transition between ideas. According to Seth Godin, it’s our way to “keep making sounds in order to keep your turn as the speaker.” Or so that the other person won’t jump in the moment you pause. It’s a way of keeping the floor.

At least it explains why I use it comes out with gusto around my talkative family members.

How Do We Replace the “Um” and “Like”?
1) Remind yourself that the person you are talking to (or the audience) isn’t waiting to steal the microphone from you. You have the floor.
2) When practicing your speech, talk as slowly as you need to. When transitioning ideas or verbally considering your next word — PAUSE. THINK. PROCEED.
3) Eventually, your speech will get faster . . . minus the ums.

Note that we aren’t “replacing” the fillers with alternate words but adding silence to your dialogue or speech. Oddly the way to move your speech forward is by not saying a word.


Start Your New Year on a Positive Note: Win Jars

Happy New Year's 2016The year is winding to an end and many of us have started planning for 2016. We are evaluating our lives, dreams and agendas. We  are writing down goals, making resolutions and researching ways to take our dreams to the next level.

Goals are necessary. They help us to make decisions that enable our forward progress. Goals give us the finish line on a marathon to work towards.

While we are looking forward, focused on the big goal, it’s easy to overlook  the progress we have made when we have so far to go. It’s easy to look at the roadmap and only see the distance left and not the milestones we have passed. Continue reading “Start Your New Year on a Positive Note: Win Jars”

Speaking Outside the Club

Public Speaking OpportunitesMy mentor recently told me that I should extend my learning curve and seek opportunities to speak outside the club. Terrified. The suggestion absolutely terrified me to the core.

Every Morningstar Toastmaster has something in common: We all joined the self-development program to improve public speaking and communication skills. Some of us have careers or roles in the community where we can flex our new speaking skill set, such as client demos or meetings.

What about the rest of us? Are you using what you’ve learned outside the club environment?

How do you go about doing it? Schedule a weekly speech for the listening pleasure of my feline? Ask Mike to pull up a chair at the breakfast bar? As part of Christmas Eve festivities with my family in North Carolina?

There is a certain sense of security in creating speeches and delivering them in the warm, friendly environment of the weekly Toastmaster meetings. Familiar faces make it feel like giving a speech before family and friends. There’s a safety net in knowing that every single smiling face wants you to succeed.

Eventually, there comes a time when we all need to stretch our verbal skills and venture beyond the walls of Harmony Hall. To take that step onto the stage in the “real world.”

I recently had the opportunity to watch one of our Morningstars shine in such a scenario. Our own Ria Q. recently delivered a nine-minute speech as part of the PowHERTalks series in Sechelt. Ria and 16 other women took the stage to talk about their passions, transformations and goals. It was a moving experience. (Brief pause to congratulate Ria on her amazing speech! Mad props!)

So moving, in fact, I went home and applied for the next engagement in Vancouver. I filled out the online application . . . hit send. That’s when the anxiety set in. What would I talk about? Could I talk about something for nine minutes? In a room full of strangers?

Although my application wasn’t selected, I consider the fact that I applied a win. Applying to get up on the stage in front of strangers isn’t something I would have considered six months ago. The fact that I did, tells me that perhaps my mentor was right. Perhaps it is time I learn to fly outside the club.

If you are in a similiar situation, here are a few ways we can engage others outside of Harmony Hall, courtesy of

* Community groups (Rotary, Legion, schools) are often looking for speakers for special events.
* Conference organizers seek good speakers with excellent programs related to the theme
* Check event centers, the Coast Community Calendar and hotels to discover meetings where they may need a presenter, speaker or MC
* Create your own venue. Organize your own workshop, event. FUSE and the Arts Building are always looking for new classes, workshop opportunities to offer the community.

For more information, visit this article “Beyond the Club Experience” (on p. 22).

What I Learned By 'Winging' a 5-Minute Speech

“What I need is someone who will make me do what I can.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do What You Can“(One of our members) has to cancel his speech for tomorrow. Anyone got something ready to step in?”  The email was from our Toastmaster for the week, Michael W., as he scrambled to fill the meeting agenda the night before our 7am meeting.

Earlier that day, I had removed myself from the list of speakers scheduled for the Nov. 18th meeting for I didn’t have time to write, fine tune and rehearse a speech. I am a relative new member of Toastmasters who is still learning the fine art of verbal communication. My speeches up to this point have involved a lot of preparation for my five minutes in the spotlight.

However, I have wondered if my rehearsals and fine tuning of my words is actually taking away from my presence in the speeches. You know that point where you are able to express your thoughts, passions and heart that’s true to you. Am I over polishing my speeches?

Overnight, I mulled over the idea of winging a speech. No writing. No rehearsals. No fine tuning. Just taking the lectern and going hog wild? Do I have what it takes? I wasn’t sure. But I decided there was one way to find out.

I woke up the next morning and wrote Michael that if he needed someone “to do a speech, I can probably wing something.”

To be fair, I wasn’t starting with a completely blank slate. I had a few ideas sitting on the back burner for my next speech. You know, the one I canceled due to lack of time to write.

I picked one that I felt I knew the most about: beer basics. Using the knowledge from my homebrewing days with friends in Portland, I spent a few minutes writing down anchor points (4 ingredients, 2 types and 1 process). Then, I left the rest up to chance. No rehearsals. No fine tuning. Winging it.

Was it perfect? No. Did I fail miserably? No. In fact, the end result was no different than the ones I have previously given.  In fact, I received some feedback that it was a bit more “authentic.”  Sure, I have a few challenges to work on — but it was issues that would have surfaced even if I was well rehearsed (like pausing).

What was different, and what I didn’t anticipate, was how I would feel after my five minute impromptu speech. With the excellent tools, resources and experience in the few speeches I have done, Toastmasters has given me the confidence to “stand and deliver” a speech with little or no prep. There’s no feeling like returning to your seat and knowing that you just hit a milestone in personal development. That you are on the right track. That you do have what it takes.

Winging it showed me what I can do. And honestly,  I think everyone needs that view.

Thank you Toastmasters and Michael W. for giving me a chance to “do what I can.”

How to Succeed in Toastmasters

Do the Toastmasters ProgramNovember, to me, is translated into NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a fun, seat-of-your-pants writing approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59pm on November 30. is there to help you every step of the way with encouragement, forums and even resources to kick start your creative juices every day.

It is the perfect personal challenge for writers and those aspiring to write their first novel to get their words onto the page. It can be a powerful tool for kick starting a writing career or even just developing the habit of writing.

It works if you do the program.

I feel the same is true for Toastmasters.

In an article on, “Toastmasters has the tools to begin to make the lasting shift that so many who are struggling with communication and leadership issues have longed for…but it doesn’t happen by SITTING in a meeting. It happens when you DO THE PROGRAM.”

Toastmasters program includes a series of projects laid out in two manuals — the Competent Leadership and Competent Communication. The projects help to give members skills and confidence in leadership and every day communication. But its not enough to just go to a meeting.

The beauty of the organization comes from the one-on-one interactions with the members and the sharing of knowledge that occurs during the weekly meetings. Don’t just attend the meetings. Share your experience, knowledge and skills by signing up for meeting roles. Participant in each meeting.

It works if you do the program.

Note: Special thanks to Sandy W. for suggesting the article as a possible blog posting.

Give the Best Speech YOU (and only YOU) Can Give

Seattle Seahawks defensive back Dion Bailey (37) looks up from the field with his helmet off during a preseason NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Friday, August 21, 2015 in Kansas City. The Chiefs won the game 14-13. (Paul Jasienski via AP)
(Paul Jasienski via AP, courtesy

This past weekend was the kickoff for the NFL season . . . and a dream come true for one undrafted player. His story offers a lesson to Toastmasters, seasoned and just starting.

Within the Seattle Seahawk’s organization there is a powerful group of defensive players nicknamed the LEGION OF BOOM. The current LOB (as they are lovingly called) members are cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Cary Williams and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas III.

However, a week before their first game, safety Kam Chancellor failed to report in due to a hold out over contract negotiations.

“He’s not here right now, so he’s not playing,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said when asked about Chancellor, according to an article on “That’s it.”

And that is when the stars aligned for one lucky former USC student.

Safety Dion Bailey went undrafted in 2014 (wasn’t selected by one of the teams during the big draft event) and spent most of last season filling out the Seattle practice squad. Now, his NFL debut is to replace one of the top, if not the best, safeties in the league.

No pressure.

Nerves? First game jitters? Worried about filling another person’s shoes? The positive young athlete spoke volumes about his mindset going into the game with this one comment:

“For the first time in my life going into a big game, I don’t feel any pressure,” he said. “I’m not here to fill Kam’s shoes, I’m here to be the best Dion Bailey I can, and the best Dion Bailey has done me well so far for the first 23 years of my life, so I like my chances on Sunday.” (Courtesy:

We’ve all been in a position where we are trying to fill someone’s position, shoes. Where we feel, in the least, we need to match their strengths, at the expense of overlooking what we do best.

When others deliver their speech at a Toastmasters meeting, it is easy for us to wonder how we can be polished, enunciate or create emotion like the person at the lectern. How we can adapt our style to take on the strengths of another.

The takeaway lesson here is that no matter which speech you are on or what manual you have reached, the goal is for you to be the best YOU can be. Give the speech you were meant to give. Utilize your unique talents, delivery, style to be the best YOU that you can be.

Sure, look for ways to develop your ability . . . but don’t overlook what you do best. Your strengths.

Your authentic voice will speak volumes to the audience.


— Contributed by Weegee Sachtjen

Resources & Courtesies: