The Grammarian is meant to help all club members improve their grammar and vocabulary by introducing new words to meeting participants and monitor language and grammar usage.
In the Madrid Toastmasters Club, the tradition is to have the Grammarian give a “word of the day”, give a definition and a couple of examples hoping that speakers will use it during the meeting. Every time they do, they’ll get credit. On the other hand, every time they use a filler word, they will be charged €0.10. At the end of the meeting the Grammarian gives a report and collects the money which will be donated to Kiva.org.
Last time I attended a meeting, I decided to take on the Grammarian’s role, but I decided to stray away from my club’s tradition and add a little bit of spice.
Cause for Concern: Connectors are not filler words
In the last few meetings I have attended I noticed not only that the “filler versus word of the day” challenge had been mastered by most club members, but also that there was an alarming shortage in the use of connectors and that to me is a cause for concern.
Connectors are the words that build the skeleton of your speech, whether prepared or improvised. They are the linking words that show the relationship between two sentences or ideas. If you don’t have enough connectors, the audience cannot follow your line of thought and are left wondering what you really meant. Sometimes in the meetings I have noticed that the speakers avoid connectors such as so, like, or well because they are afraid of being marked down for fillers, which should not be the case if they are being used as connectors.
So let’s make a quick clarification: a filler is an utterance or word that adds no meaning. They mostly buy you time to think, but by repeating them you sometimes create repetitive patterns that irritate your listeners.
Connectors, on the other hand, are crucial. They tell your audience what you are thinking and allow them to follow you no matter where you go.
So, if you use “so” like I just did to mean “therefore” that is not a filler but a crucial connector.
Some commonly used connectors are: Because, however, if, or, so and, then, like.
After this lengthy explanation, I asked club members to give me some connectors of their own, and they came up with examples such as:
Since, despite, nevertheless, on the other hand, such as, whether, not only… but also, in spite of, consequently, etc.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it…
Since members and guests seemed interested on the issue at hand, I told them I was going to give them an extra challenge. In addition to the traditional credit versus debit of fillers and word of the day, I would give them extra credit if I heard a deliberate use of appropriate connectors. The challenge was accepted!
Besides my usual tasks, I wrote down every connector the speakers used and I gave them a brief result at the end. In my report I named one of our speakers the “Champion of Connectors” of the evening, and this was very positive for him because he was feeling quite discouraged after forgetting a chunk of his speech. He came to me to thank me for the comment, and later other members told me to it had been a positive experience for him and for them, because I had brought something new to their attention.
In reality, the good use of connectors is dealt with in Speech 2 of the Competent Communicator Manual. Moreover, it is a good way for non-native speakers to significantly improve their command of the language and the quality of their speech.
I encourage club members of the Madrid Toastmasters Club and beyond, to take advantage of this educational setting to really try to add value to the experience by finding new challenges to enhance the use of language during meetings. You will have fun and your fellow members will appreciate it.
Aline Casanova is a member of Madrid Toastmasters sin 2009. She is currently a freelance conference interpreter for the United Nations Office in Geneva, in addition to working as a specialized translator and public speaking coach.