5 years, 49 speeches, Club Vice President of Education (VPE) 2017-18, Club President 2018-19, Area 54 Director 2019-20, along with the following awards: Competent Communicator (CC), Competent Leader (CL), Advanced Communicator Bronze (ACB), Advanced Communicator Silver (ACS), Advanced Communicator Gold (ACG), Advanced Leader Bronze (ALB), Advanced Leader Silver (ALS), resulting in Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM), there is not much Chris Werner has not achieved at Toastmasters. And this is without mentioning the many other roles he has taken up and the amount of people in Dublin South Toastmasters who he has helped along the way.
Chris was awarded DTM in June this year. For anyone not familiar with Toastmasters, this represents the highest level of educational achievement in Toastmasters. A phenomenal achievement which takes incredible commitment and a fantastic work ethic.
We caught up with Chris to discuss his journey in Toastmasters. Below we discuss many topics including why he joined, first impressions and his routine for taking on speeches.
1. Why did you join Toastmasters?
I joined thanks to a friend of my mothers, who oddly enough still hasn’t joined a club herself! I was receiving some coaching from her on interview techniques, as I was midway through my second MSc at the time, and looking on the job market. She recommended Toastmasters to me, so I looked up Toastmasters in South Dublin… and the rest as they say is history. I had always enjoyed giving presentations in college, but they were few and far between and as a result, I would be imagining the ground swallowing me up whole when I said a single thing wrong. As a scientist, giving presentations at conferences etc. is common, but by reputation, most scientists are rubbish at presenting. So I wanted to change that mentality and not become a stereotype! I also felt that at that stage of my career, in my early 20s, was a great time to upskill in an area where many businesses are looking for people who can present and are comfortable in doing so. Being able to present effectively is such a key skill in our modern workplace, whether in person or online and many fail to grasp that the best way of doing it is with practice. Toastmasters I felt was a safe environment in which you can practice these skills, fine tune them, then implement them in real life
2. Did anything surprise you about Toastmasters when you first joined?
Standing up for the dry toast and raising of the imaginary glass at the start of a meeting. That’s what usually unnerves a lot of new guests out when they first come along to a meeting and I was no different. My original thoughts were, “What on Earth have I got myself into!? Is this some sort of cult?”. By the end of the meeting though, I had let that slide as I got the pleasant surprise of seeing the variety of abilities, some speakers being absolute naturals very early on in their journey, and others still working on their confidence despite having done 5+ speeches, and vice versa. I was buzzing after I gave my first table topic, and then first speech. It became a fix, something which I enjoyed, very quickly.
3. Tell me your journey to DTM
The first 4 years since joining in July 2015 saw me accumulate a CC, CL, ACB, and ALB, at which point I thought, “that’ll do me grand”. I finished my CC in April 2017, Cl the following month, ACB in April 2019 and ALB in March 2019. Following that I had thought of doing an ACS alongside Innovative Planning L1 for this year but the DTM opportunity, when it presented itself was a real carrot on the end of the string. If in early May 2019 you came to me regarding a DTM, I’d have laughed it off. By 4th June 2019, I’d decided to go through with it. My time being a regular member was gone! No competitions for the year as I had to put on the boss hat!
And the last year has been tough, basically cramming the previous four years into one. But despite the challenges I had ahead of me, and the challenges I would encounter during the 2019/20 year, the thing that kept motivating me was, “imagine if I hadn’t gone through with it… would I have regretted not doing it?” As I look back on it now, I am seriously glad that I did it. Was it hard, yes… if it were easy everyone would do it.
4. How many speeches have you done and was there a lot of work in it?
Oh yes, there was a lot of work. In total, I needed to give a minimum of 47 speeches, across educational, manual and leadership projects. Like I said previously, the 2019/20 season was tough, not only because of Covid, but because I had to finish an ACS, ACG, whilst fulfilling duties as Area Director, undertaking a High Performance Leadership Project, and mentor a new club (JTI in CityWest), all three of which being requirements of ALS. Knowing of the June 30th deadline, I crammed my speech schedule with 14 speeches between June and December of 19, so I could ‘relax’ for the next 6 months (in theory). There were times I had 2-3 speeches a week!
5. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of joining?
I can share a feeling from my first meeting, with that dry toast, I thought it was really odd, as many do. But stick with it. I was very nervous prior to joining, but instead of being intimidated by the speakers I heard, I took the optimistic approach. “I could sound like her, I could glide seamlessly across the stage like he can, I could make the audience feel inspired like they did.” The only thing that’s stopping you is doubt, Toastmasters helps remove the self-doubt and turn it into self-belief. When you develop that self-belief, the sky’s the limit.
6. What advice would you have for someone who has recently joined?
Get some roles under your belt. The poetmaster, grammarian and timer roles are great to start out on, particularly the former of the three. You get to read directly from a book in front of a crowd and that’s it. It’s a perfect way of stopping the uncertainty of the unknown.
7. What is the most important thing you have learned while at Toastmasters?
I can’t say just one, as both of these are equally important. The first is counter-intuitive, which is the value of saying nothing at all, i.e. the value of pausing. I learnt it in practice and from other members. Pausing creates tension…”what’s he going to say next?” It draws the audience in and gets them engaged with what you are saying. Secondly is a message. As a speaker, your job is to deliver a message to the audience, what is your message and how are you going to influence people with your message? Those would be the two main ones, but I still have a lot to learn even as a DTM!
8. Given the amount of speeches you have done, did you ever come across the problem of choosing a topic to speak about?
Oh definitely, some were easier than others however, especially when trying to tie it in to the objectives of your speech.
I remember the toughest speech I had to give was the Roast, i.e. take the mickey out of someone, or a group of people, and although I got through it I absolutely tanked it.
When thinking about a speech topic, go back to the basics and think to yourself… “What do I like/What am I interested in?” Then, what do you want to say to share your interest with others and more importantly, what is your message?
9. Do you have a particular routine you follow when writing and learning a speech?
As the speeches came more clumped together this year, any method I had went out the window, as there were times I had 2 speeches in as many days. When things were not as hectic and I had my idea, I would ask myself one question before committing to writing. “What is my message?”. When you give a speech you’re there to improve your confidence etc, but as you give more speeches the emphasis turns onto your audience. What do you want them to see, hear and feel from you. This ties back into one of the tips I got from Phillip Khan Panni, D71 International Speech Contest winner, where you reach the point of “arrival”. Once I have my message, the rest of the speech can be seen as a journey on how I get to that message.
When it came to learning it I’d read the first draft aloud a few times, and if it didn’t flow, I’d edit it again to make it more memorable for me, add in a few ‘power of threes’, stage positioning, vocal varieties etc. Once I was comfortable with how it sounded, I would cast aside the notes and give it about 5 test runs either the Sunday or Monday before, then two more on the night. It’ll always be different, and it’s how you adapt to it as a result which is important.
Chris is continuing his journey with Toastmasters and has signed up to Pathways which is the new education system. We look forward to seeing Chris break new ground and inspire more members during his Toastmasters journey.