I seem to be doing a lot of travelling these days, which has caused me to miss out on many toastmaster events in my home town of Leamington Spa (actually its Royal Leamington Spa, but that would make me look like some kind of toffee nosed, plum-in-the-mouth speaking posho-person wouldn’t it? Well I’m nothing like that… but Royal it is, a great wonderful town always worth a visit!)

Anyway back to the point. While in Swindon, I thought it would be nice to visit one of the local speaking clubs. This is where I came across Swindon Speakers. They are a member of the Association Of Speakers Clubs (ASC), a British based speaking club that split away from Toastmaster many yonks ago. Being a Toastmaster (an American based organisation), I wasn’t sure how I would be treated. I had fears of causing shock, horror and panic when they found me in their meeting room and decided to be ready to run for my life in fear to the nearest safe place; over- exaggeration I know, but I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

It turns out these ASC bunch are a pretty fantastic bunch. Just like us Toastmasters crowd.

They were eager to greet me and find out what this mid-lander ‘Toastmaster’ from the far flung town of Leamington Spa was doing here. I was invited to join their meeting as a guest and listen in. One of the interesting things I noticed was that there seemed to be a lot of ‘Johns’ there. I think there was at least four… maybe five? Everyone I seem to turn to was a John. When I spoke to some of the kind ladies, I was expecting them to declare themselves with the same name. But thankfully, this was not the case.

Once we settled down after our pre-meeting chit-chat, the evening began with the announcement of five speeches by some of the more experienced people in the club. In summary, they were all fantastic.

There was John Needle (Yup! One of the Johns!) who did a really heart-warming talk on Richmond Park; a lovely mixture of imagery, history and his years spent there playing as a young boy. It was excellently structured and beautifully delivered. It is safe to say, I was inspired to visit Richmond Park, and to walk in the footsteps of years passed. And maybe re-imagine the images that he so eloquently shared.

Next up was Nigel who did a fascinating talk on the subject of Yawning. It was packed with interesting theories about yawning and its purpose (if there is one). Apparently yawns are highly contagious, so at the end of the talk he tried to get us all going with his own yawn. I’m not sure if anyone else did, but I held mine in!

Then there was the talk by John McGhee (what another John?!!) Who did a really interesting speech titled “The Understated Guinea Pig”. A unique subject to bring to a club, but a very interesting one. The facts and information were interwoven with an unusual perspective and fine descriptions that again kept me and the fellow listeners engaged.

Wendy did a speech on a very relevant subject for us budding speakers – “Voice control”. There were some handy tips and a number of interesting points about how to develop our speaking skills further.

Finally we had our last speaker of the night, Chris Farnsworth. Chris delivered a relaxed and funny pitch on his business (Raising the Baa), and his up and coming book (Sheep Shepherd Dog: Building the most magnificent team around you). I was totally thrilled by his business. His unique angle  is a fantastic and powerful perspective on uncovering the elements of teamwork and how it can be developed… using Sheep! (Baa). Yes, you heard that right! Sheep! I encourage you to visit his website Raising The Baa website to find out more. Here is a short extract from the site that will give you a flavour of his approach:-

  • Trend-follower or trend-setter?
  • Think outside the pen?
  • Give clear signals to those you lead?
  • Commit to your goals whatever it takes?
  • One step ahead?
  • Loyal, faithful and co-operative?
  • See the big picture as well as the detail?
  • Resilient as a team-player?
  • Find out for yourself on one of our Raising The Baa

In fact his pitch on his new book was so compelling, I swear I would have bought one there and then. I’m really looking forward to reading it, as many of his concepts and points to his business correlate well with my own ideas and passions around how people can work better together.

All five speeches were fantastic. I really take my hat off to every one of them.

I managed to get some talk time in as well during the ‘topics’ section of the night, where anyone who hasn’t spoken is able to get a chance to speak. This part of the evening which is very similar, if not the same, as the Toastmasters Table Topics, is a challenging and fun part of the evening. Participants are asked to come up and speak on a subject that they are informed of as they get up. As there is no time to prepare, there is no time to worry either. You just have to get up and start talking, and hopefully keep going until your time is up (2-3 minutes). On this night it was the honour of Banaj Roy to set the subjects, and good ones they were too. We were given an accusing type question for which one would make our excuses. Or put a story around it. All the speakers that stepped up did brilliantly and were very funny. The line that I received was “Where have you been!?”. I won’t mention details of the story I came up with. Mainly because it was a little personal… and there may be members of my family reading who will raise a frown or two. Gulp! My effort seemed to bubble up a few chortles here and there, so I guess I didn’t do too badly :-)

All in all it was a great evening. It just shows that getting out of one’s comfort zone, and doing something different can turn out to have very pleasant results. I thoroughly enjoyed the night at Swindon Speakers. I did it despite the fact I was tired, and hungry. Give this man medal! What a hero! In fact I even got to join the whole club (or at least the physically present members) in a new photo shoot of the club. This is the picture you can see above.  So this Toastmaster interloper even managed to worm his way onto the front page of their website. What will my fellow toastmasters say??? Another gulp!

Yes I can quite honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and was glad to visit. Speaking clubs (ASC or Toastmasters) are excellent places to develop your communications and leadership skills. People get to get up help organise and speak in a safe supportive environment. You are just asked to give it a go and learn. I encourage you to join one and stretch the envelope of who you are in a fun way, surrounded by the kindness and support of good people.

Here’s to you Swindon Speakers, I look forward to gathering with you again soon.
(I raise my cup of green tea).

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