Sunday, 13 December 2009

Grow Through Speaking

"we shall fight on the beaches,

we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender"

Those were powerful words. Words spoken by Winston Churchill in 1940. Words that pulled a nation together.

The words themselves are important but if they had been delivered differently would they have been effective? Would they have been remembered?


Ghhh we shall UM fight on the beaches,
actually we shall fight on the landing grounds,
um um we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight you know in the hills;
and we shall I mean never surrender

It just doesn’t work, does it?

Being able to speak well is one of the most powerful life skills we can have.

Earlier this year I was at the elections for the new school governing body at King Edward VII school. A Mr Owusu was standing but he could not be at the meeting so he sent his 18 year old son to represent him. Owusu junior walked up to the lectern with confidence and clearly explained what his father could offer the school. He spoke well and with confidence. And he got his father elected.

Why? Because his speaking impressed us. Rightly or wrongly first impressions count and if you speak well the impression is that you are intelligent, capable, confident. And we assumed his father must be the same.

Speaking well opens doors of opportunity.

Where do we need to make good impressions ?- job interviews, dating, meeting new clients or the boss.

We all want something from our lives – it maybe money, position, good relationships, the opportunity to give. Certain skills and qualities make these easier to achieve. Apart from speaking what are some of the others?

Two big ones that come to mind are communication and confidence. Communication is not only speaking but listening as well.

We all feel quite confident about walking don’t we? Why? Because we know we have the skill to walk and because we have had positive experience of doing it. The same is true of gaining confidence in anything in life. Learn the basic skill and put it into practise. The more times it works the more confident you will feel.

Where do we learn these skills and gain this confidence? Well Owusu junior was in the school debating club and public speaking society . He was the deputy head boy of 2008 and he was the Mayor on the junior city council.

If we didn’t learn it at school what can we do?
We can join the local Toastmasters International club.

Toastmaster’s prepared speeches and table topics (impromptu speaking) are the debating society and public speaking club. Being on the committee is a chance to be the deputy head boy and being the area or divisional governor is being the junior mayor.

The TMI system has been designed to build the skills of communication and leadership and it gives people a safe space in which to practise so they have positive experiences and gain confidence. This then rubs off into other areas of their lives.

Many of us will rarely do prepared speaking in our daily lives but we all do much impromptu speaking. We introduce ourselves to people, we talk to clients, we talk to the manager or boss, we receive poor service from a company and we approach management to get it resolved or perhaps we get interviewed on the radio.

How do we develop impromptu speaking skills? Through prepared speaking. Think how say a tennis player becomes skilled at match play. They practise set shots over and over and then they practise them as a variety and then they use them as required in the game – spontaneously. The routine practise is used so that the skill is available for the spontaneous need.

The other half of TMI is leadership development.

In a business good leadership takes a company from good to great. But it is not only at work that we need leadership. Communities need leaders. Families need leaders. And we need to lead ourselves – organise ourselves, be punctual, take decisions, be accountable – so we can succeed for ourselves.

In Toastmasters this is learnt from the speaking projects and from the meeting roles.

When one puts leadership and communication together you can achieve most things.
You can inspire your team at work to put in a little more effort
you can help your teenager understand and enjoy their schoolwork
or you can persuade the bank to refund you the interest they over charged.

The TMI system is designed to give members the opportunity to develop these communication and leadership skills. But perhaps the greatest benefit of working the TMI system is the sense of achievement you feel for achieving your own personal goal. Whether that be to complete an Advanced Communicator gold or just to be able to stand up in front of people without your knees knocking. Or maybe it is to be the Club Secretary or the next District Governor.

So whether you want to inspire a nation or just your little girl; lead an army into battle or your team to an increased turnover; work the toastmaster system and it will work for you.

For information on your nearest club - phone or e-mail as per the moving banner at the top of this site

Circles of Influence and Concern

Whilst at high school both my children have been members of group accident insurance schemes. The insurance covers the medical bills in the case of injuries whilst involved in any school activities. My daughter is now going to Tshwane University (TUT) and they don’t seem to have one. I think it would be excellent for all the tertiary institutions to offer these schemes as one cannot join as an individual member. Am I likely to be able to organize this at TUT?

It is fairly unlikely. It is a large organization. Their processing of student applications is already backlogged. It is quite challenging to get to speak to real people. I and my daughter are unknown to them….

Contrast this with the my daughter’s school where I have enjoyed ready access to the principal of her school, the executive head and many other staff members. I am on a first name basis with all of them. And I know how the system works.

At the school my circle of influence was large but at the varsity it is tiny. In both places I am concerned for the education & well being of my daughter and the related costs so the circle of concern remains fairly constant in size.

Circle of concern

Circle of influence


When at the school the circle of concern is only a little larger than my influence. At TUT the gap is huge. This is where frustration comes in. In most circumstances our circle of concern is greater that our circle of influence. The bigger the gap, the greater the frustration. If you are high up in a company your influence is generally pretty high. The further down the ladder you are the less your influence. The larger the organization, the higher up you have to be to have influence.

When I worked at middle management level in a 50-employee IT company I could walk into any of the directors’ offices and be heard and often make an impact on their decisions. When I moved to the same level position at SARS with 13000+ employees I could access a few senior managers and one or two executive heads, at a push, with a formal appointment.

I often meet people who are struggling with this – “I want them to do this”, “They should do the following”, “No-one listens to me”.

We are trying to exert influence over others. As a parent of a newborn one has influence almost as great as one’s concern. As the child grows the circle of influence shrinks. But the concern remains almost as great. Our influence over other family, friends or acquaintances may be even less, depending on how much they trust and respect us. The only place where we truly have really great influence is over ourselves.

The concept of these two circles is a Stephen Covey one. Understanding it puts us in a position to do something about it. We can either grow our circle of influence, reduce our circle of concern or accept the gap with less emotion.

In some places we can grow our influence by getting more involved, better known, contributing more. At the school I had that big circle of influence because we’d been there for five years, attended many functions, volunteered to assist at school expos and contributed actively via the parents’ association for the last three years.

We can reduce some of our concern for others by reminding ourselves that they have their own path to walk, their own lessons to learn. My daughter is now 18. Most of what she experiences or gains from her varsity years has to now become her responsibility (even though we are paying for it J). She has to start flying a little way from the nest, strengthening her wings for future long distance flight.

Sometimes we can do nothing to shift the gap from either side. Then we either keep on fighting because we feel so strongly or we can relax, accept it as it is, and save our energies for another situation.

So the next time you find yourself frustrated trying to make something happen, look at your circle of concern, compare it to your circle of influence, see if you can do anything to adjust the gap. And if not, decide whether it is a battle worth fighting or not.