Walt Grassl

Improve Your Speaking Skills: Maximizing the Speaking Club Experience

By Walt GrasslWalt Grassl

Bob, a junior executive, wants to be better positioned for promotion. He and his peers present status updates regularly to management. While better organized and more knowledgeable about his assignments than his peers, his fear of speaking makes him nervous and unable to recall facts and data he knows cold when talking to colleagues one-on-one.

He has joined a speaking club to improve his skills, based on a suggestion by his supportive colleague, Jane, who delivers presentations confidently. The people who listen to her can tell she knows the details of her projects. However, after being in the club for two months, Bob was still feeling like a fish out of water.

Most people join speaking clubs to improve their public speaking skills. Unfortunately, just joining does not guarantee success. You have to speak. You have to learn from others, practice what you learn and get feedback.

Since many people who join speaking clubs have stage fright, they are reluctant to speak. The same causes of stage fright (self-image problems, perfectionism, self-consciousness, fear of embarrassment, improper breathing or not being able to remember what you are going to say) make club members reluctant to speak. The speaking club provides a safe environment to face these fears, if you are active and take advantage of the opportunities.

Bob went to see Jane in her office, asking if she had any suggestions to maximize his experience in the club. Jane gave Bob kudos for joining the club and suggested he take the following five steps to maximize his success with the club:

1. Speak often: Many new club members won’t speak until they feel their speech is perfect, which, in their minds, it never will be. So, they only speak when pressured. They may feel they will forget part of their speech, which they might, but they have to speak in order to find out or to learn to overcome that problem. Not speaking does not help them improve.

Club members are in the clubs to learn. You make your mistakes in the club, learn from them and improve so that you don’t make those mistakes in the workplace. The more often you speak, the faster you learn.

2. Listen to your evaluations and the evaluations of others: Feedback to speakers is one of the most valuable parts of the speaking club experience. However, your mindset when being evaluated is a critical key to your success.

Evaluators will give you opportunities for improvement. Don’t be offended by the feedback. Listen with an open, receiving mind. Instead of thinking that you did something wrong, embrace the feedback and focus on improving, even a little bit, in that area the next time you speak. If you are given multiple things to correct, don’t try to fix everything at once. Slow, steady and continuous improvement is the goal, not an overnight miracle.

3. Compete in contests: Most speaking clubs hold speech contests. Compete in every one. Whether the type of speech plays to your strengths or not, enter the contest and do the best you can. The purpose is not to win the contest, but to give your best speech to date. You will practice a contest speech more than a weekly club meeting speech, because the stakes are higher. If you do this over and over, you will see yourself advancing further and further each contest cycle, increasing your confidence and getting the opportunity to speak before progressively larger audiences.

4. Speak at other clubs: It is likely that your area has more than one of the speaker clubs that you belong to. Or, if you travel to an area that has a club, ask if you can speak as a guest speaker. Many clubs welcome outside speakers. It gives their members a chance to hear fresh speakers and it gives you the opportunity to speak in front of new faces: Win-win.

5. Record yourself: When you are given feedback, you think you know what you are doing. When you hear or, better yet, see yourself, you experience what your audience does. Remember, the purpose of the recording is feedback, not an award. An inexpensive digital camera is enough to see yourself and learn. If video is not an option, an audio recording is the next best thing.

Do you see what your evaluator pointed out as an opportunity to improve? Do you see something else? After several months, compare recordings from then and now. Seeing your progress will help motivate you to continue.

Maximize your speaking club experience: When you join a speaking club, don’t expect to get better by showing up and watching others speak. Learn, practice and perform. You will see slow, steady growth, limited only by how often you can speak.

Bob spoke often: at his club, at other clubs and at speech contests. He listened intently to evaluations of his speeches and the speeches of others. He recorded every speech and could see areas to improve and, more importantly, he saw his own improvement, which helped his confidence.

Six months after their conversation where Jane made her suggestions, Jane had the opportunity to see Bob make a presentation to management. She noticed his more confident and polished presence. Bob’s ability to present his work in a good light and to confidently communicate, led to his promotion nine months later.

Walt Grassl conquered his crippling fear of public speaking at the age of 50, and through his Internet radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” he is determined to help others do the same. Walt’s accomplishments include success in Toastmasters International speech contests, performing standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. He is also the author of the book “Stand Up and Speak Up”. For more information on Walt Grassl, please visit

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