Speaking Circles International (R)

The Pleasure Principle

of Public Speaking


Toastmasters and Speaking Circles®

Two complementary but very different approaches to public speaking

by Carla Kimball, Certified Speaking Circles Facilitator

©2004 - 2007, Carla Kimball
All rights reserved.

My approach to public speaking blends together a comprehensive set of stress management tools with a specific public speaking methodology, developed by Lee Glickstein of Speaking Circles International, called Speaking Circles®. I've had a number of people attend my Speaking Circles who are also members of Toastmasters International (an international program of public speaking clubs). Because people often ask me what are the differences between the two, I decided to do a systematic analysis and comparison of the two these very different approaches to public speaking.

With this in mind, I consulted with a number of people who have experienced both modalities. I want to especially thank a colleague of mine, Carolyn Kingston, who has attended a number of Speaking Circles and holds the office of Sergeant at Arms with the Lexington Toastmasters Club. Carolyn is co-founder and co-director of Vocal Arts Collaborative, a non-profit organization dedicated to the exploration and development of the human voice as a means of expression and as a tool for building community. Her input and perspective on Toastmasters were invaluable in my preparation of this comparison.

What stands out most from my conversations is that, while Toastmaster and Speaking Circles are both highly disciplined with very specific formats and structures, what happens within each is very different. In Toastmasters, the purpose is to develop competence and professionalism. In Speaking Circles, we develop “public speaking from the inside out.” The primary purpose in Speaking Circles is to help people develop a sense of confidence, ease and presence; and a natural outcome of this is that we become more authentic and competent speakers. Below are some specific examples of how these two very distinct approaches accomplish their purpose.

Polish and Unpolishing
In Toastmasters you polish your skills as a speaker. In Speaking Circles you discover that the most compelling thing a speaker can do is to just be themselves and often this involves an unpolishing of patterns, habits, and performance techniques. You learn to be comfortable, relaxed and at ease just being yourself in front of a group.

Preparation: Being vs. Doing
In Toastmasters you get multiple opportunities to plan, organize, prepare and deliver talks with specific objectives. Guidelines are provided for each presentation to assist you in this process. In Speaking Circles there is no preparation. In fact, you get the most out of the experience if you resist the urge to plan and prepare. Instead, you learn to respond to the immediacy of what's happening in the moment. Silence is encouraged as you learn to “listen” to yourself and your audience. We begin to think of a speech as a conversation rather than a presentation.

Giving and Receiving
In Toastmasters you learn how to engage the audience through preparing, practicing and delivering effective, attention-getting speeches. In Speaking Circles you learn how to receive the audience; to connect and be with each person in the audience; to read and respond to what is happening in the room; and in the process, the audience becomes very engaged.

Flexibility and Balance
In Toastmasters you learn flexibility and gain the ability to think on your feet through an exercise called Table Topics – participants are chosen randomly to do an impromptu speech for 1-2 minutes on a given topic. In Speaking Circles flexibility and balance come from learning to trust yourself and to be comfortable being yourself in front of an audience. Speaking Circles cultivate letting go of the need for perfection, of doing it just right. The primary goal of a Speaking Circle is to cultivate a sense of safety so that you can experiment, play and try out new ways of being in front of an audience.

In Toastmasters you receive supportive feedback in the form of a speech evaluation - which includes what you did well and ways you can improve both on your presentation style and your material. In Speaking Circles the feedback does not relate to what you have to say but, instead, focuses on the essence of who you are. It is positive and emphasizes your strengths. The feedback serves to transform the very strong inner self-critic that is so quick to find fault into a gentle, loving appreciation of who we are and how we present.

In Toastmasters...
Club members take turns serving in roles such as Toastmaster, Speech Evaluator, General Evaluator, Table Topics Master, Grammarian, Timer, etc.

In Speaking Circles...
There's a trained facilitator to hold the space. Speaking turns are videotaped for viewing privately at home with very specific instructions on how to view yourself with compassion and no judgment. Participants get at least two opportunities to speak in front of the group at every meeting.

To learn more about Toastmasters you can visit their website at http://www.toastmasters.org.

RiverWays Enterprises offers a number of different public speaking programs that incorporate Speaking Circles as the an essential tool for becoming a more relaxed, confident and authentic speaker. Visit www.riverways.com to learn more about our programs and services.

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Carla Kimball, M.A., M.B.A. is a public speaking executive coach, workshop facilitator and president of RiverWays Enterprises. Over the past 18 years she has presented and coached on a diverse set of business, stress management and communication topics to thousands of business and service professionals. Client companies include leading financial management, health care, and accounting firms.

Carla offers a selection of regular public speaking and presentation skills programs and coaching services for individuals as well as for corporate groups. Carla works from inside-out and helps people become more confident speakers while establishing a strong relationship with their audience.

Carla is a prolific writer on public speaking topics and currently offers a 26 week subscription to The ABCs of Presence in Public Speaking Toolkit, a newsletter which presents one article a week organized alphabetically with a unique perspective on public speaking issues.

Carla is based in Cambridge, MA. For more information about her work, see www.riverways.com.




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