Naming Your Inner Critic

Naming the Inner Critic - Morningstars ToastmastersIn Toastmasters, we are trained to be great listeners. But there is one voice that could use a bit of the silent treatment.

The Inner Critic.

The Inner Critic is the little voice in your head that casts doubt on your speaking ability. It is the voice that second guesses your word choices or phrases in a conversation. It is the voice that rushes in with “Why didn’t you . . . ” or “You should have . . . ” before the applause even dies down.

It focuses on your weaknesses without offering any props for what you do right.

The Inner Critic robs you of your confidence and leaves self-doubt in its place.

The Inner Critic comes from comments from others or ones we have said to ourselves that have been internalized unchecked. By unchecked, I mean we believe the harsh comments without evaluating their validity or truthfulness. It is persistent negative self-talk that spirals in our heads, keeping us stuck in our Toastmasters journeys.

Last week, one of our newest members, Lowery O., mentioned his Inner Critic in an Icebreaker speech. In fact, his Inner Critic had a name — Harold.

Well, that’s interesting. Naming the Inner Critic.

Does your Inner Critic have a name? No? Perhaps it should.

The best way to break through the cycle of negative self-talk is to confront the statements. Is this the time for critical thinking? Is there truth to what the Inner Critic is saying? If the answer to these questions is no — it is up to us to tell the Inner Critic to pull up a seat and wait.

Or, what I like to do, is send her to the corner until she feels she can join the party with a better attitude.

But the Inner Critic is a part of you. You are addressing yourself.

Naming the Inner Critic helps to separate yourself from the negative thoughts and hear them in a different tone. You would not allow someone else to squash your dreams — hearing your thoughts as if they are coming from a friend helps hear it in a different voice. A voice you can confront.

Evaluate the thoughts for truthfulness and whether this is the appropriate time. Then, confront the Critic.

“Harold, you are not helping in this situation. I will be okay. I will be able to cope with whatever happens.”

The key is to know when to challenge your Inner Critic and know that thoughts aren’t’ always true.

I’ve chosen a name for mine — Ethel. I think this may be the start of a whole new relationship . . . with myself.


A Lesson in Vocabulary

Up Your Speaking Vocabulary

Sometimes our greatest learning lessons come from those “snapchat” moments after the meeting.

It was during one of these moments that a green light went off in my head due to shared wisdom from fellow Toastmaster and DTM, Frank C.. The conversation started off on how one prepares for a speech — but turned into a lesson on vocabulary.

Vocabulary consists of the words we understand when we hear or read them (receptive vocabulary) and words we speak or write (expressive vocabulary).

According to Judy K. Montgomery’s book, The Bridge of Vocabulary:  Evidence Based Activities for Academic Success (NCS Pearson Inc, 2007),  there are four types of vocabulary: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Listening Vocabulary are the words we hear and comprehend. “By the time we reach adulthood, most of us will recognize and understand close to 50,000 words. (Stahl, 1999; Tompkins, 2005)”.

Reading Vocabulary is the second largest vocabulary if you are a reader and continue to grow your list.

The words we retrieve when typing or crafting our speech on paper is our Writing Vocabulary. It goes up with reading, but it’s biggest influence is our spelling ability.

Our Speaking Vocabulary is relatively limited. As adults, we use a mere 5,000 to 10,000 words to communicate vocally. We find it easier to communicate non-verbally and supplement interactions with facial expressions, intonation and hand gestures.

As Toastmasters, when we write our speeches and commit them to memory, we are actually mix and mingling our various vocabularies. We are attempting to use our greatest vocabs (reading and writing) as our speaking. This can create a bit of a challenge when trying to go off notes.

So how can we use our vocabularies to our best advantage? Here are a few tips:

  1. Memorize Ideas over Words
    Memorizing the key points or messages you wish to convey helps to prepare your speech. Fill in the gaps with the info you know using your speaking vocabulary.
  2. Enhance Your Speaking Vocab
    The Grammarian introduces a word of the day and highlights interesting usage throughout the meeting. This is not by accident. It is meant to “repeat” the words so that you get used to hearing them — and by osmosis, you will also use them.
  3. Take the Challenge Outside the Meeting
    Sign up for a word of the day email from Challenge yourself to use in conversations at least 7 times that day.

Understanding how we use words helps us to put our words to better use.

Have a phenomenal day!



The Tricks to Table Topics

Toastmasters Table Topics TricksTable Topics is a long-standing Toastmasters tradition intended to help members develop their ability to organize their thoughts quickly and respond to an impromptu question or topic.

1) Own the Question
Whether it is in competition or during your regularly scheduled meeting, focus not on your thoughts but the question. Think, believe, that this question is YOUR QUESTION. The one specifically meant for you. This focuses your thoughts on what the speaker is saying . . . and not the panic-filled thoughts going through your head.

2) Breathe
Doing something that your body does naturally gives you time to calm your nerves and think about what it is you want to say. Also, taking a moment to ground yourself helps to ease the tension in your body and mind.

3) Go With First Instinct
Often times, our minds sift through a stack of ideas, vetoing this one or that as not being the ideal one. Go with the gut. Take the first thing that pops into your mind and run with it. There was a reason it jumped up and said, “Pick me.”

4) Pick Your Premise
This is when you seize your idea and make your statement. Form your opinion and share it with others. “My favourite holiday is . . . ” This gives your mini speech the beginning foundation and something to build upon.

5) Add Structure
Insert a structure into your speech that will help bridge the gaps between thoughts. Whether it is pros vs cons or three main points, this will help to elaborate your premise.

My favorite is the “Six Honest Serving Men” from Kipling’s poem:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

Answering the “What, Why, When, How, Where and Who” in my story help to trigger ideas of discussion that lead to a roughed out speech.

6) Share What You Know
Put a bit of you into each mini speech. Share your favourite quote, anecdote, view or experience. Pick something that helps to illustrate the topic and drive home your point.

7) Know When to Say When
Often times in Table Topics, we start off slow and then gather steam as our minds warm to the ideas running full speed through our heads. But knowing when to pull the brakes, summarize and take a seat helps to end your speech with punch.

Now is the time to put your Table Topics speaking to the test! Sign up to participate in the Sept. 21 club contest at Harmony Hall at 7am by logging onto Turbobase.


Writing to Be Funny Is No Laughing Matter

Tips to be a Confident SpeakerA couple of weeks ago, I signed up to participate in the “Fun, Focus & Festivals” workshop offered by our very own Johanna R. and the talented Susan Bertoia, speech and drama adjudicator from the Performing Arts Festival.

By signed up, I mean that I was going to deliver a humourous tale or speech.


Three days out, I was still waiting for my muse to strike gold. Turns out, crafting a speech to generate laughs is no laughing matter. It’s hard work.

Susan, during the workshop, asked the attending Toastmasters to describe a humourous speech. What was it?

I know what you are thinking and it was the answer we gave her — “Make people laugh.”

How does one do that? One-liners? Comedy routine? Both of which are not allowed in the upcoming humourous contest being held at Harmony Hall on Sept. 21.

I went home and did a bit of research to get to the heart of how to deliver a speech that tickles the audience’s funny bone.

I was a bit surprised at what I learned.

The Humourous Speech is “usually a serious speech with injected points of humour.” It is a personal story with a universal theme that everyone can relate to that is fused with humour.

Humour is a speech tool to help you communicate, to carry your message to the audience. It makes the heart of your message more memorable and effective. It creates a bond between you and the audience and can act as a transition during the emotional moments of your speech.

The Humourous Speech contest is a way for Toastmasters to practice including humour in their stories, which allows the audience to learn by demonstration.

Here are a few tips for preparing your next Humourous Speech:

Discovery in the Ordinary
There is material in our everyday lives. From vacations to interactions with our mothers in the grocery stores, there is funny fodder in everything we do.

Know Your End Goal
Our group had said “to be funny” but each of our stories had a different point, premise or idea that we left with the audience. Focus on what your story is trying to demonstrate or show. Know your end goal.

Share the Personal Dirt
Share your personal story. Sharing the awkward, vulnerable and not so great moments with your audience endears them to you. We all have moments we can relate to such as interactions with in-laws, the first time you dropped the f-bomb, etc. Share your experience.

Add the Sparkle
My husband says that every story I tell, there is 80% fact and 20% sparkle to it. Embellish a bit with exaggerated details. This takes the funny bits taken from reality and pushes them to the next level. Also, people like to focus on details and this gives them just a bit more to relish.

I’m still struggling with my speech — but I think it’s headed in a better direction now! At least now I know that the way to one’s funny bone is through your own heart. Who knew?

Ready to write a humourous speech — or at least a speech with a touch of humour? On September 21, our club will be holding the Humourous Speech and Table Topics contest at Harmony Hall at 7am. Sign up via Turbobase to be a contestant or in one of the roles!

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.


Lift Off – A Powerful Graduation Speech

I was in the 7th grade, when Ms. Parker told me,
“Donovan, we can put your excess energy to good use!”
And she introduced me to the sound of my own voice.
She gave me a stage. A platform.
She told me that our stories are ladders
That make it easier for us to touch the stars.
So climb and grab them.
Keep climbing. Grab them.
Spill your emotions in the big dipper and pour out your soul.
Light up the world with your luminous allure.

It’s that time of year when celebrities start rocking the graduation stage, imparting their inspiring dose of wisdom on the departing class.

This year’s most inspiring graduation speech is a spoken word poem delivered by the dynamic Donovan Livingston at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education on May 25, 2016.

The North Carolina native student speaker graduated with a Masters in Education and used his five minutes to address issues black people face in the education system and how a teacher inspired him to find his voice, his story.

At the core, none of us were meant to be common.
We were born to be comets,
Darting across space and time —
Leaving our mark as we crash into everything.

The “powerful, heartfelt” (Harvard Graduate School of Education) speech was meant to illuminate the inequalities in education and how we “often laud education as this thing that is the great equalizer in our society, and it’s really not,” according to Livingston.

The powerhouse speech (poem) delivers a message to empower his fellow students with the thought that they are the key to changing the system.  He found a way to touch, connect and reach others via owning his own way.

He gave the audience something to work towards . . . and inspiration for all Toastmasters. Find your story. Your way of putting your energy to good use. Inspire others in your unique way.

Check out his speech below or read it in its entirety here:

Note: Thanks to Michael W. for bringing the video and the speech to my attention. Feel free to email Weegee blog ideas!

Be Their Guest: Visiting Other Toastmaster Clubs

From an article in the Toastmasters Magazine (October 2012):

“The farther along you travel in your Toastmasters journey, the more you realize how much you still can learn and do as a member. You become aware of a larger world. You meet other members, not only at Toastmasters functions but in other areas of your life through friendships, business contacts or social media connections. Through these contacts you discover how other clubs function and how they may differ from yours.”

When my husband and I booked our flights and hotel to Ireland in January, I decided to further my personal journey by finding a Toastmasters club in the area. Using the “Find a Club” link on, I located the Galway Toastmasters Club.

I emailed the organizers. Although the website said “guests always welcome,” I wasn’t sure if they were doing elections, breaking for summer or holding a special meeting to knock out club business.

Paul (club president) and Patrick responded warmly and invited me to join their club for the evening of May 25.

TIP: It’s always a good idea to contact them before hand and introduce yourself.

I was excited. An Irish Toastmasters meeting. It was my three loves in one room (the other being my husband who joined me).


We arrived early at the Menlo Park Hotel for the 8:30pm meeting to meet club members and introduce ourselves to the chair. However, my research began before than. I read their blogs and content on the website. I know who the officers were and who had recently been elected. I even knew about the most recent Icebreaker delivered entitled “It all started when the Berlin Wall came down.” We became buds on Facebook and Twitter.

TIP: As you would research and connect with your audience before a speech, learn about the club you are visiting. It jump starts the connection.

I have been a member of Morningstars for over a year. That means it has been 365 days or more since I had to drum up the courage to walk through the front door, say hello and introduce myself to a room full of public speakers.

The nerves that turned my stomach upside down and the anxiety that coursed through my body a year ago was absent. I apparently forgot to pack it.  Fear was replaced by . . . excitement?  Anticipation?

Sometimes it is when we step into a different club, different meeting that we learn how far we’ve come since that first day.


I learned quickly that visiting another club is like  doing your Icebreaker all over again. You shake hands and introduce yourself to people. You explain where you are from and why you are there. You sit through a meeting that resembles yours . . . but not.

And that is what makes it so valuable.

Members and visitors naturally tend to ask each other questions about their respective clubs. “How do you do Table Topics?” “What part of the meeting do you like the least?” “How long do your meetings last?” Many more questions can be asked. Ideas can be shared. Gained. Taken back.

The Galway Toastmasters have a well-run two-hour meeting that went by quickly. Table topics lasts for about 20 minutes with members given the option to answer a question after the first victim . . . I mean member answers. The four speeches I heard was given in order of their Toastmasters rank, the two CCs before the ACB and ACS.

An idea we gave them is the quizmaster role. They have had some discontent with the Aha-Counter and have been considering eliminating or finding something creative to do with it. Aha. Quizmaster.


The most important thing I learned is that visiting the flow of another club’s meeting (in a foreign country!) is a benefit that Toastmasters provides for its members. Its a chance to put your small talk to the test with people who are part of the same organization for the same reasons. It allows you to make new connections and see a different side of the organization — a broader picture of the Toastmasters experience.

Morningstars Toastmasters is my home club. It is where I get my bearings and work on my personal development as a leader and communicator. Visiting other clubs is how I put it to good use.

Thank you, Galway Toastmasters Club! It was a fantastic addition to our vacation. Have a great end of year bash next week — and I hope our paths cross in the future.





What's Your (Speech) Purpose?

What's Your Speech Purpose?Rainbows. I thought i was writing a speech on rainbows. Their colours. The myths. The magic. The more I wrote about this wondrous painting done by Mother Nature, the less I felt it was about rainbows.

When planning a speech, it is important to be clear about what you want the audience to know, do or contemplate after hearing you. What is your purpose? Turns out, there are two kinds:

GENERAL PURPOSE is a broad intent and unusual falls into one of the four following categories:

  1. To Inform is primarily to convey new or existing information to the audience. This includes lectures, briefings and demonstrations.
  2. To Persuade is primarily to change the audience’s attitudes or behaviors or to convince the audience to accept or approve your point of view. Examples are sale presentations, campaign speeches and volunteer recruitment presentations.
  3. To Entertain is primarily to amuse or provide enjoyment for the audience. Humourous speeches and tall tales are examples.
  4. To Inspire is primarily to ask the audience to achieve noble goals, ideals or reach their highest potential. Their draw on emotions and sentiment, such as a commencement speech.

It is possible that your speech would fit neatly into all of these categories. But what is YOUR purpose. Know your purpose will help in crafting a strong speech.

The second kind is a SPECIFIC PURPOSE. This is a one-sentence statement about what you hope to achieve in your speech. It should meet the following three criteria:

  1. Worded from the audience’s viewpoint
  2. Specific
  3. Attainable

As you prepare your speech, make the purpose clear to the audience. Hand them the road map as to where you are going with your talk. Knowing your speech purposes and being able to effectively organize your speech to achieve the intended purpose provides big benefits to you and your audience.

Going back to the rainbows, it turns out that I was writing about rainbows. However, if I wanted to make a bigger impact, I needed to narrow my focus. Pick one thing that I wanted my audience to know after the meeting. Chose a purpose.

Back to writing.

*Adapted from the Competence Communication Manual’s Project 3: Get to the Point

10 Behaviours of an Effective Evaluator

Earlier this month, Morningstars Toastmasters were gifted a special workshop that focused on the art of evaluation. As we approach the International Speech and Evaluation Contest (March 23), I wanted to share some of the highlights from the workshop with you:

Why Do We Evaluate?
The purpose of evaluation is to help another person become a better speaker and leader.  Everyone has different reasons for wanting to learn to speak and lead more effectively. Perhaps you are shy. Maybe you are looking to further your personal interactions. Or it could be your dream to have that corner office one day. Whatever the reasons are, you want two things:

  1. You want to improve your speaking skills
  2. You want to know how to improve.

Cue evaluations.

Evaluations help to highlight the what we are doing right and areas where we can grow to take our speech to new heights. Evaluations are a source of information. The information gets processed by the speaker and we test our strengths again in the next speech. It is how we improve.

10 Behaviours of an Effective Evaluator (taken from the Success Communication Series Workbook):
1) Show that you care. Let the speaker know that your opinions are coming from a positive place meant to lift them.

2) Suit your evaluation to the speaker. Where in the Toastmasters program are they? How is their confidence level?Toastmasters Tips for Evaluation

3) Learn the speaker’s objectives. What is it they are working on? Working towards? Focus on their needs for growth and not just your preferences.

4) Listen actively. Nod. Smile. Make eye contact. This is hard for many of us are trying to scribble down notes, ideas and key take aways. It’s hard to capture all you want and hear the speech at the same time. However, the speaker needs to engage with us. Give them that opportunity.

5) Personalize your language.  Use their name and specifics from their speech. Don’t just give a report, flush it out with details from their speech.

6) Give positive reinforcement. What did they do right? What are their strengths? What “wowed” you?

7) Help the speaker become motivated. The easiest way to motivate is to fuel the speaker’s desire for improvement.

8) Evaluate the speech, not the speaker. Focus on how they delivered their speech and not what they were wearing or their political beliefs.

9) Nourish self-esteem. It’s how we feel about ourselves and it is vital to personal growth. Recognize their strengths in an authentic way. Give them opportunities to learn by explaining why each and every positive (and negative) point matters. This helps them learn. Learning helps us to understand.

10) Show the speaker how to improve. Go deep and wide. Think outside the box. To do this, you must get into the speaker’s head and task and out of your momentarily. We all notice the “uhs, ahhs and ums” but dig deeper to get to the true nuggets. It isn’t a matter of looking for what the speaker did wrong, but rather what they can do to take it up a notch. How they can make it more engaging.

Remember The Order: (i) Focus on WATCHING and LISTENING actively as the speech is being delivered, (ii) focus on THINKING when you are preparing your evaluation, (iii) focus on SPEAKING after you have processed your thoughts and come up with the top points you will cover in your evaluation.

Happy Evaluating!


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”