|“The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”
“There is no other way to guard yourself against flattery than by making men understand that telling you the truth will not offend you.”
– Niccolò Machiavelli
Designed to Deliver
The Pathways learning experience is steeped in top-line instructional design.
Education has always anchored the Toastmasters experience, ever since founder Ralph Smedley started his quest to help people speak up with confidence and skill. Over the past nearly 100 years, Toastmasters’ educational programs and materials have evolved and expanded, leading to its latest, most comprehensive program: the Pathways learning experience.
So it’s worth asking: When it comes to education and self-improvement, what is the best way to learn?
Instructional designers, the people who create educational programs, spend a lot of time studying that question. What they have found, say experts in the field, is that adults do best when they are in control of their learning. They thrive when they can tailor their education to their own needs and goals and can successfully apply their newfound knowledge beyond the classroom or club meeting.
Those ideas form the foundation of Pathways. The team that developed Toastmasters’ new education program drew on the most progressive concepts in instructional design. And members are benefiting from the results.
“My favorite part of the program has been the huge range of new, real-world, relevant projects available, which I’ve been able to integrate into my life and goals outside Toastmasters,” says Mark Snow, DTM, a member of three clubs in Queensland, Australia. Several projects, he adds, helped him a great deal in his career as a government financial analyst.
Julie Kertesz, DTM, of London, England, has been working in Pathways since it launched in 2017, and she praises its expansive offerings and customized nature. As she progressed in the program, she created storytelling events, blogged regularly and explored photography as a motivational strategy. Kertesz is 84 years old.
“In designing the learning experience, the Pathways development team used the most current research in adult learning.”
“I am completely energized by Pathways and the people I have met through or because of it,” she says.
Paths and Projects
The Pathways learning experience is available to all members. The online program features 11 specializedlearning paths, including Presentation Mastery, Dynamic Leadership, Visionary Communication and Engaging Humor. (Read about the new humor path here.) Although purchasing paths in print is an option, most members choose to work in Pathways online, gaining access to videos, interactive content and other tools and resources.
In designing the learning experience, the Pathways development team used the most current research in adult learning, says Sue Stanley, Toastmasters International’s senior instructional designer. Specifically, the program reflects the following key principles:
- To learn best, adults want to know why they need to learn something. What is the value to them?
- Internal motivation is the driving force to learn. Adult education needs to be self-directed.
- Hands-on, experiential learning is key, as is a focus on critical thinking.
- Adults want to apply what they learn—to do something tangible with their knowledge.
Pathways, which contains a mix of required and electiveprojects, offers a personalized style of learning. Participants can tailor their experience to their own goals. And working online offers flexibility: You can work on projects whenever and wherever you want.
Snow appreciates the modular structure and wide range of elective projects. “The program reminds me a lot of my university degrees and the multitude of subject options I was able to select from back then, depending on my learning and career goals,” he says. “I see that same flexibility in Pathways.”
Wherever possible, concrete experiences are built into the program to emphasize the learn-by-doing approach that has been fundamental to Toastmasters’ education programs over the years, says Stanley. For example, for the project “Managing a Difficult Audience” (in the Presentation Mastery path), members behave like difficult audience members so the person doing the project can practice handling that situation.
All new members work in Pathways as their education program. For all other members, however, there is a transition period during which they can work in either Pathways or Toastmasters’ traditional education program, or both. The transition period ends June 30, 2020.
Applying What You Learn
In each path, members advance through five levels, each one building on the skills learned in the previous path. In Level 4 and Level 5 projects, they apply new skills in tangible ways. For example, a project on event planning culminateswith planning a real event.
The relevance of the projects has resonated powerfullywith Snow, a Toastmaster since 2014. A project he completed on networking skills inspired him to attend a Professional Speakers Australia meeting, where “I made some really useful connections for my future professional speaking career,” Snow says. The project “Prepare to Speak Professionally” (available in all paths) provided Snow with the motivational boost he needed to write and deliver his first professional keynote on leadership development.
“I am completely energized by Pathways and the people I have met through or because of it.”
— Julie Kertesz, DTM
The Australian is so enthusiastic about Pathways that he became the first member to achieve a DTM in the program (that’s in addition to the DTM awards he earned in the traditional program). The requirements to earn the Pathways DTM include completing two learning paths, serving in various leadership roles, and completing the Distinguished Toastmaster project in which you demonstrate the skills and expertise you have gained in the program.
Challenges and Growth
Another important aspect of Pathways is its robust and challenging nature. Advancing through the five levels of a path, and achieving educational awards and goals along the way, is an exciting journey but also requires pushing yourself, say developers of the program. You can learn up to 300 unique competencies in Pathways.
A member of online and in-person clubs, Kertesz—who has a Ph.D. in chemistry—likes the rigor of the program. Like Snow, she has earned a DTM in Pathways. She says she has grown in many ways working in Pathways, noting, for example, how a project on negotiation skills helped her resolve a disagreement about a club issue with the vice president education. “Each project brings its own joy and learning,” she says, “and some came ‘home’ in my private life and helped me to look at the positive side of something I was just very upset about.”
Another aspect of Pathways is that speech evaluations are designed to be customized and more beneficial than was often the case in the traditional program. The expansive evaluation guidelines lead to specific and detailed feedback, and the standardized criteria help increase the consistency of evaluations for all members.
Snow and Kertesz say the instructional-design principles rooted in Pathways have produced an innovative and engaging learning experience. What stands out to Snow is “the enhanced focus on experiential learning and self-reflection.”
The new program, adds Kertesz, “gives us a wonderful occasion to grow.”
For more information, visit the Pathways webpage, which includes short videos that chronicle the history of the program, from its beginning to where we are today.
Paul Sterman is senior editor of Toastmaster magazine.
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How to Run a Club Speech Contest
What you need to know as a contest chair.
Your club president is looking for someone to run a speech contest. What are your thoughts? Oh, no. That sounds complicated. I wouldn’t know where to start. Sound familiar? As it turns out, running a club speech contest is not as demanding as it may seem. A brief review of the basics can help you feel confident volunteering for this project.
As the club contest chair, your first question is, Which Toastmasters speech contest am I running? Each one is unique, and the differences are outlined in the Speech Contest Rulebook (Item 1171). It lists rules and outlines procedures for the International, Evaluation, Humorous, Table Topics, Tall Tales and Video Speech contests. (Note: There is some flexibility at the club level.)
Once you have decided which contest you are holding, your first order of business is to recruit contestants. Although this may seem obvious, it is frequently the hardest task. This isn’t your job alone, however—club officers should be actively involved in recruiting members to compete. Make sure your club is promoting the contest weeks in advance to give participants a chance to prepare.
The rest of your responsibilities can be divided into two areas: personnel and supplies. Which roles do you need to fill? It depends on the contest and how many people will help. You make do with what you have.
You, or another member, must serve as the contest Toastmaster. The timer is also a critical role. Having two is best, but you need at least one. Ideally, you’ll have several vote counters, but if you are short-handed, again, make do with who you have. Two sergeants at arms are helpful when running Table Topics or Speech Evaluation contests, but you can get by with one.
“If no one is experienced, don’t worry, the Speech Contest Rulebook will walk you through it.”
If one of your club members is experienced with contests, assign that person the chief judge role. He or she will ensure that the rules are followed, the ballots are counted properly and the appropriate paperwork is submitted. If no one is experienced, don’t worry, the Speech Contest Rulebook will walk you through it.
You will also need additional judges. In some clubs, all members participate in the judging. Other clubs choose a select group of members for that purpose. That is your call, but make sure the chief judge trains any first-timers.
If you conduct a Speech Evaluation Contest, you will need one additional person: a test speaker for the contestants to evaluate. This should be someone they haven’t heard speak before. Ask your officers and senior club members for help.
Now, let’s consider the supplies you will need:
Forms: It is up to you or the chief judge to ensure that all documents are available, including enough ballot copies for all judges. You can download them from the Toastmasters website.
Table Topics Question: If you are running a Table Topics Contest, you or a key member of your club should create several questions. Having options will make it easier to select the one question you will use for the contest.
Speaking Order: Immediately preceding a speech contest, your contestants will draw for the speaking order. Many clubs use numbered slips of paper. Others use playing cards. Be sure that you or your contest Toastmaster has something available.
Those are the main supplies you’ll need, but depending on your club tradition, you may choose to order optional items—for example, trophies for winners or certificates of appreciation for either the contestants or all the participants. Go to the Toastmasters online shop and click on “Contests” to find awards, ribbons and anything else you may need.
Running a club speech contest may sound like a large project, but it doesn’t need to be. Break down your action points into component parts, recruit a team to help and get to work—one detail at a time. Before you know it, you will be ready to pick a winner.
Watch a tutorial to learn the fundamental principles of a Toastmasters Speech Contest.
Should You Enter Speech Contests?
Drop Those Crutches
Learn to let go of the ‘ahs,’ the ‘ums’ and other filler words.
A client I work with frequently is a very strong speaker—she’s confident, powerful and very aware of her message. Yet, even with all that ability, she makes one mistake consistently and is mostly unaware of it.
She begins nearly every sentence with the word “so.”
“So, I thought we’d start by … ”
“So, I’d like to thank … ”
“So, my answer to that is … ”
“So” is her “crutch word,” a term we Toastmasters are very familiar with. In every meeting, the Ah-Counter is tasked with identifying, and delivering a report on, “overusedwords or filler sounds used as a crutch by anyone who speaks during the meeting.”
These include words such as “and,” “well,” “but,” “so” and “you know,” but also mere sounds like “ah,” “um” and “er.” Sometimes they include words such as “literally,” “actually” and “basically.” Whatever form they take, crutch words typically have two attributes: 1) overuse, and 2) meaninglessness.
Crutch words are never necessary and may even get in the way of you making your point.
Why Do We Use Crutch Words?
Theories abound about why people use crutch words. In an article for The Atlantic, Jen Doll suggested we use them to “give us time to think, to accentuate our meaning (even when we do so mistakenly), or just because these are the words that have somehow lodged in our brains and come out on our tongues.”
In a widely-shared Harvard Business Review article, Noah Zandan suggests that filler words come in handy when a speaker is “nervous, distracted or at a loss for what comes next … These may give us a moment to collect our thoughts before we press on.”
I personally believe words such as “um” and “ah” emerge when our brain anticipates a void or an uncertain moment in our presentation and basically freaks out, quickly plugging the hole with a pointless sound.
It takes a lot of confidence to start a speech with a strong first word, so speakers sometimes start with “so” or “OK” as a way of easing into a talk, which may seem less intimidating.
In both cases—and regardless of the cause—the “fix” is unacceptable. Any part of your speech that doesn’t support your point will take away from it, even if in little pieces. And you always want to make sense, never nonsense.
How to Overcome Crutch Words
If you don’t have an Ah-Counter handy, many digital apps now exist to help you discover and count your crutch words (the LikeSo app is one example). But simply knowing and counting your crutches may not be enough. For many, using filler words is so routine and reflexive that asking them to stop saying “ah” or “um” by counting them is like asking someone to control his sneezing by having him count his sneezes.
The trick to controlling this habit is substituting another behavior in its place, or at least adopting tactics that reduce its frequency. In my experience, these four strategies can help.
1. Embrace the Pause
Most public-speaking experts agree that the best replacement for a crutch word is a deliberate pause. Whereas filler words create distraction, pauses have multiple benefits: They create suspense, slow down fast talkers, demonstrate confidence, draw audience attention and give speakers the time they need to communicate with precision.
Knowing these benefits, speakers should deliberately pause when they feel a crutch word coming on. It may feel awkward at first, but with practice, you will soon be pausing instead of using crutch words, and there’s no penalty for pausing. Audiences rarely say, “That was a good presentation, but she paused too much.” Like your sophomore year of high school, pauses are so uneventfulthat they are quickly forgotten.
2. Slow Down
Speakers often use filler words because their mouths are outpacing their minds. Words are coming out erratically and nonsensically before the brain has a chance to organize them into points. But when speakers slow down, they have much more time to plan out the precise phrases they want to use and will not need nonsensical fillers to connect random and pre-baked thoughts.
If you have trouble slowing down naturally, insert more deliberate pauses and raise your volume; both are countermeasures to fast talking. As a naturally fast talkermyself, it’s useless to tell myself, Go slower! But raising my volume and adding more pauses are much more actionableand effective.
3. Know Your Point
When speakers don’t have clear points, they’re inclined to ramble. Crutch words are then generated to connect these rambling sentences and ideas (“and, um … so … ”). But if speakers prepare their points in advance and know them well, they’re able to start them efficiently and wrap up once they’ve successfully delivered them, making rambling and desperate connections less necessary. After all, if you start talking before you know what you want to say, you’re bound to say something pointless.
When you’re nervous and anxious, saying anything—even a crutch word—may feel more comfortable than saying nothing. Practicing mitigates that anxiety by making the speaker more familiar with the material. A comfortable and confident speaker has more control, enabling her to embrace pauses and deftly avoid the “ums” and “ahs.” Practice may not always make perfect, but it can give you the confidence to make good public-speaking decisions.
Crutch words are not an indication of your experience or ability. Some executives use crutch words all the time, while some interns never do. But if you know what your problem words are and learn to control them, you’ll be a clearer and more efficient point-maker, and that’s always a goal worth aiming for.
Are you looking for a way to keep track of ‘ahs’ and ‘ums’ at your next Toastmasters meeting? Learn about the Toastmasters mobile app for Ah-Counters in this video:
Joel Schwartzberg, CC, CL is the senior director of strategic and executive communications for a major national nonprofit in New York City, a presentations coach and author of Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter.
Like, Um, How Do I Stop, Ya Know, Using Um and Ah?