I’ve been a member of Brighton and Hove Speakers Club for several years and it’s helped me a great deal in overcoming nervousness when public speaking. I now attend partly to continue to improve but also to listen to many fascinating speeches.
Chatting in the bar afterwards is fun and a great way to pick up tips and share experiences. I’ve come to understand why others come to Toastmasters. Some to overcome fear of public speaking, some to develop leadership skills and, for a few, just because we all love to talk. It’s great to meet newcomers and encourage them. Just last week we were chatting to a visitor who said she had “something of a phobia of public speaking”. Immediately two of us chimed in: “You’ve come to the right place then”.
Last year I thought it would be interesting to interview members of the club and get their thoughts on why they come, what they’ve done so far and whether it’s working for them.
I have a little digital recorder and I set aside a month for the interviews and another month to create the podcast. However, more people volunteered to be interviewed than I’d anticipated and the editing took a lot longer than I had planned. I started in August and it was December by the time I’d finished.
I’ve never done anything like this before so I had to feel my way along. I wanted the interviews to be fairly free flowing but I worried there was a risk we’d run out of things to say. So I began by creating a list of subjects e.g. “About You”, “About the Club” etc. I then wrote a list of questions for each subject such as “How did you hear about Toastmasters?” and “Do you remember your first meeting?”. I loaded these on an ipad so that I could refer to them if conversation dried up. I then drew up a schedule for interviewing members. I tried to group people into pairs as I thought this would assist the flow of conversation and most interviews were performed in people’s homes, though a couple were conducted in pubs.
During August and September I interviewed 16 people and collected roughly 10 hours of audio. My original inspiration was a New York radio station/podcast creator named Radiolab. I loved their fast editing style and wanted to emulate this. I wanted to cut all my material up into small segments and then paste it back together to create an original narrative. I use software named Wavepad to cut the audio files up and Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software named Steinberg Sequel which allows various audio segments to be edited together.
I set to work slicing the audio up but this took hours and hours. I would attend Toastmasters meetings and be asked “How’s it going?”. “I’m getting there” I’d glumly reply. By October I had hundreds of audio files grouped by person and by subject. But then I stalled! How was I to turn this into something that anyone would want to listen to? I also had technical problems. The noise in the pubs clashed horribly with the relative silence of the recordings conducted in people’s homes. Also, I had not understood just how tricky recordings can be. A nasty hum sprang up in one recording which had not been apparent during the interview and after a bit of analysis I discovered this had been a truck parked outside with the engine running. I had tried to speak relatively little myself during the interviews, but inevitably some of my “yes, yes,…I see…..” remarks had overlapped with the speakers making the segment unusable.
I started to try and write out a structure but I was getting nowhere, so one day I just sat at my PC and started dropping my sound bites into Sequel. I started with the introductions. After half an hour I realised I was into my groove. This was the way to do it. Digital Audio software is amazing and allows home PC users fantastic creativity which would only be available to professional audio engineers in the days of analogue tapes. I moved on to the clips with people describing how they came to Toastmasters. If I was unsure of a bit I moved on and dropped in the next bits. After a while I was realising how one clip started with a person discussing one subject and ended on another subject and this could be my leaping off point for the next segment. This whole process took many hours but it was very enjoyable. After a few weeks I had something that I could see the shape of and in which I could take some pride.
The last phase was quality control – unfortunately this meant that some interviews were not included. This was mostly due to the background noise, which is a shame as some of the discussions about more advanced aspects of Toastmasters were left out. Though you never know…..there is potential for a follow up podcast.
So now you can listen to the results for yourself – the total duration is approximately 30 minutes, divided into 2 sections. I have tried to allow the speakers to tell their own stories, but I recognise many of my own experiences in the narrative that emerged – a story of fear of public speaking and of finding a friendly and welcoming bunch of people where I could practice, stumble, pick myself up and give it another go. The phrase “Feel the fear and do it anyway” was repeated by many members, who through the old adage of ‘practice, practice, practice’, eventually found that the pounding heart they were expecting; that cold sweat; that fear as their turn to speak came around…”Hey! It didn’t happen that time! My turn came and I just got up and did it!”