Category Archives: Beyond the Club

Spicing Up The Grammarian’s Role

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.

The Tradition

Piggy BankIn 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

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.

International Speech Contest 2015

Last week, the International Speech Contest within the Toastmasters International Convention took place in Las Vegas. Although the full speeches that competed are not available yet, Toastmasters has released a short clip (3 minutes each) of the three first qualified speeches (remember these speeches normally last around 7 minutes). In spite of not having the full speeches to evaluate them properly, we can still learn a couple of things from these videos for our future speeches.

There is something all three speakers use in their speeches, and they are safe bets when preparing a speech: humor, personal stories and take-away messages. Humor is key to make people feel good while listening to your speech: if you make them laugh, they will like you. A lot has been written about storytelling (it is trendy nowadays), and when those stories are personal, the audience attention increases greatly. Take-away messages are key to reinforce the message you have been leading the audience to, and are a nice way to finish a speech.

The third place was for Manoj Vasudevan with a speech called “We Can Fix It“.

The title is extremely important here, as it is the motto of the speech, which seems to have been repeated many times during the speech. This makes the audience learn the key message and provides the speaker a tool to interact with them, even leaving the audience say the two last words in the speech. Another nice example is when he refers to Niha, a character of the second speaker, which shows empathy with both the previous speaker, and the audience, who is now friends with Niha.

The second place has been for Aditya Maheswaran, with his speech “Scratch“.

Aditya’s way to interact with the audience is the classical rhetorical question. He uses it at least twice during his speech. First time is when he starts his speech “Do you remember your first big gift to yourself?“, and in that moment the audience is remembering it and engaged with the speech. The second time he uses this resource is when he asks the audience “When did you scratch another person?“, which is probably a way to recover anyone who might not be with him at that point of the speech, while allowing him to insert a long pause, which also helps them breath before the end of the speech… and after the question, he connects again with the audience, by making a small joke to everyone in the room when talking about the Sergeant at Arms.

The winner is Mohammed Qahtani, with “The Power of Words“.

For me, his opening is just fantastic. He uses a simple prop (a cigarette) and does not say a word for too many seconds (considering he is in a public speaking contest). Instead, he communicates by staring the audience with his eyes extremely open. Then, starts providing a lot of facts about smoking, surprising everybody and confusing some others (I can imagine the doctors in the room shaking their heads), ending with a touch of humor “data which I just made up“. The rest of the (cut) speech does not inspire me a lot of comments, but I see he concludes the speech with the cigarette again. This is a very nice and simple way to provide structure to a speech: link the opening with the conclusion in such an evident way as possible.

What do you see in these speeches? Feel free to comment this post with your view.

PS: Remember that if you want to see other International Speech Contest Winners, you can check our section in this web.

Written by Nacho