Last year I had the honor to give a Talk at the hugely attended Inbound15 Conference in Boston.
My session was during the first morning, so I had the following three days to network and enjoy some fantastic presentations.
And That’s When It Happened
That’s when I said to one of my Toastmasters tribe, “Hey, sometimes we just gotta’ chill!”
It was the last day of the conference and one speaker had just finished a really insightful Talk. Her content was cutting-edge, and she was passionate about her subject. I held on to every word, although occasionally I was thinking about how I could apply some of the wisdom to my business or to that of my clients’. I was fully engaged.
As soon as the speaker finished, I hurried up to the stage. I wanted to learn more about one aspect of her Talk and, I’m not ashamed to admit, I was also here to network.
I was third in line.
When the guy ahead of me approached the speaker, the first words out of his mouth rang so familiar to me: “I’d like to provide you a quick evaluation of your speech.”
“Speech?” I thought to myself. “Evaluation?”
He went right ahead with his, um, evaluation. “Your speech was good, but I think it could have been great. You made eye contact with just a few people in the room. Much of the time you were stationary on the left of the screen. You could have used the entire stage.”
The speaker was taken aback. “OK, thanks for the feedback,” she said. “I appreciate it,” and, in an obvious brush-off, looked at me next in line.
The zealous evaluator would not let his point go unfinished.
“We actually call it an evaluation in Toastmasters,” he said. “I also think you could have…”
“Not now, thanks,” she said in a go-jump-in-a-lake tone. “Catch up with me later maybe.”
I was flabbergast!
I also have to admit, if just for one moment, I was embarrassed to be a Toastmaster.
That was not how I had originally learned of Toastmasters. If it had been, I’m not so embarrassed to say I probably would not have joined.
So, Fellow Toastmasters and co-members of my tribe…
Sometimes we just gotta’ chill!
Sure, as Toastmasters, we are more acutely aware of presentation skills than most people at conferences.
Sure, some of us are public speaking experts… but we are not the experts.
Our views on other speakers are just that: views! They’re subjective.
A good Toastmasters speech evaluation is subjective. Most of us know how to remove omnipotent tones of, “You didn’t…” or, “You should have…” and instead say, “I felt…” and, “If it were me…” and keep the speaker emotionally open to our evaluation.
But even that is within the context of a Toastmasters meeting.
Here’s the bigger point. Timing is everything.
Not Every Venue Is A Toastmasters Venue
And not every moment is a Toastmasters moment.
The best man who just gave a speech at a wedding reception? No matter how well — or how poorly — he did, he deserves a pat on the back and a reassuring smile. He probably needs it.
One thing he doesn’t need is unsolicited advice on vocal variety and use of pauses, at least not the moment he sits down and takes a big swig of champagne!
The conference speaker who just said something cutting-edge? She should be ready for a respectful debate on her key message.
But she should not have to endure a self-important I’m-only-trying-to-help speech evaluation. She probably also needs a nice smile, a handshake and, “Great presentation!”
If you can’t provide that before discussing the content of her speech, then, with all respect, move on.
This is the wrong moment for your analysis of presentation structure. It won’t help you in your networking. It won’t help you in building rapport with anyone who hears you.
And It Won’t Help Us Promote Toastmasters!
Don’t get me wrong. I love Toastmasters. I love my tribe!
I passionately believe that Toastmasters is immensely valuable to speakers of all levels.
And one valuable aspect of Toastmasters is how to be a good audience member.
You know those could-be-awkward moments that we, as members of the audience, make less awkward.
You know that moment at a school concert, when the principal opens with a few nice words and then starts to walk off stage. We sense the uncertainty of the audience, and we save the day by being the first one to clap… and a split-second later everyone starts clapping.
Awkward moment saved!
We’re Toastmasters. We clap with confidence, as bizarre as that might sound to non-Toastmasters reading this.
You also know that moment when the audience member next to us is chatting with his friend. We’re Toastmasters. We smile and whisper, “Sorry, I can’t hear the speaker.” We absolutely could hear her, but we did what was right. We handled it well.
We’re Toastmasters. We’re cool.
Why Not Tailor Our Participation As Audience Members?
Toastmasters teaches us to tailor our messages for our audience.
So why not tailor our audience participation?
Engaging a speaker after her conference Talk is probably best if you focus on the content, as it’s relevant to the conference or even your business.
Engaging a cousin after his speech at a wedding is probably best if it’s about the emotion, as it’s relevant to the bride or groom.
Sometimes that person might ask us for our feedback, but even then it’s best to let him have his moment of glory… and relief.
Sometimes we just gotta’ provide the feedback later. Sometimes we just gotta’ pass on providing it entirely.
Sometimes, we just gotta’ chill.
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I help sales teams improve their performance by putting the “love” into the sales process, and I help presenters kick ass on stage.
I also help marketing teams with their brand storytelling. The brand is not the hero, the customer is. The brand is the mentor.
Let’s talk about love, sales performance and storytelling for business. Contact me here or sign up for my blog posts below. I also love the telephone. (And, if you’re in sales, the telephone is your friend!)
So feel free to call me at +41 76 43 43 043.