During a 1996 speech on the Internet, then U.S. President Bill Clinton famously remarked, “When I took office, only high energy physicists had ever heard of … the Worldwide Web. … Now even my cat has its own page.” Yes, social media and social networking are omnipresent.
Today, the Internet is an indispensable feature in the lives of millions. Used wisely, it can enhance our public speaking skills and our Toastmasters experience.
At first blush, this might seem counterintuitive as public speaking takes place in front of people, not a screen. But there are numerous ways in which the Internet can help.
Breaking Down Borders
I am a member of the International Geneva Toastmasters in Switzerland. My District, No. 59, comprises clubs from 18 countries in Continental Europe. I have many Toastmasters friends whom I have met at District Conferences. As we live all over Europe, getting together for a regular cup of coffee is not feasible. Enter the Internet.
Tim May, a former engineer and chief scientist at Intel, once noted that national borders are not even speed bumps on the Internet. Through social networking, I stay in touch with my friends and exchange advice on different public speaking matters.
For example, through Google Documents – a platform that allows people to collaborate on a single document – I and other District 59 members were able to help the District’s 2009 International Speech Contest winner, Peter Zinn. When Peter worked on drafts of speeches in preparation for last year’s Inter-District contest at the Convention, we were able to give him feedback on those drafts.
You Too Can YouTube
To become a better public speaker, there is no substitute for practice. Nevertheless, watching videos of other speakers is a great way to pick up techniques and ideas.
In this regard, youtube.com is a goldmine. Search “Toastmasters” or “speech” and you will have enough viewing material for weeks. You can also post your own videos. I have put a few of my District Contest speeches on YouTube and have received great feedback. Another excellent site for speakers is TED.com where you can watch some of the most fascinating speeches on a variety of topics.
Of Links and Tweets
The Internet is very much a two-way street. People no longer go online just to get information; they want to contribute. Thus has the Internet become the biggest social networking forum on the planet. Two sites that I use regularly are LinkedIn and Twitter.
LinkedIn has hundreds of public speaking groups, including one run by Toastmasters International (with, at last count, just under 10,000 members). As a member, you can participate in online discussions about speaking issues, ask questions or seek advice, post notices of public speaking events, look for work or a speaking engagement, and much more.
With Twitter, you can follow (and be followed by) thousands of people around the world. Messages are exchanged in real time, 140-character bursts. You can group the people you follow any way you like. Thus, I have a group for people who “tweet” about public speaking. Through Twitter, I share and receive public speaking tips and links to interesting articles.
Blah, Blah, Blog
A year ago, I decided to try blogging and created Manner of Speaking as a blog devoted to public speaking issues. The experience has been rewarding. I have readers from around the world and feel that through my blog – which is a mix of serious and light articles on public speaking – I am able to give back something to others. My blog is linked to my LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook accounts so my posts appear there as well.
It has been said that a blog is like a shark – it has to keep moving or it will die. For those considering starting a blog (on whatever topic), you must be committed to (1) posting quality content that people will want to read and (2) posting regularly.
Pay it forward
I have two pieces of advice for anyone about to embark on a social networking foray of their own.
First, do not spread yourself thin. There are thousands of social networking sites and new ones appear every day. It is virtually – pun partially intended – impossible to join them all and maintain a meaningful presence. There are not enough hours in the day and who wants to be anchored to a computer? Be selective and focus on a few sites.
Second, pay it forward. There is nothing wrong with using the Internet to improve yourself, personally or professionally. But look for ways in which to help others by, for example, responding to questions that they post. What goes around comes around.
So there you have it. A few ideas on how social networking can enhance your Toastmasters experience. All this and much more is only a click away!
This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of Toastmaster Magazine.