SDS 160: Up Your Presentation Skills with Toastmasters

SDS 160: Up Your Presentation Skills with Toastmasters

Presentation Skills for Data ScientistsWith over 352,000 members in 141 countries worldwide since 1924, Toastmasters International Organization is a force to be reckoned with! They’ve been empowering a lot of people to become more skillful in communication and leadership. Listen to today’s FiveMinuteFriday episode and learn as I share my first ever Toastmasters experience!

My few days in Bali, Indonesia have been very exciting and fun.  I can’t express enough how much I loved my stay in that co-working space. On the previous episode of the Super Data Science Podcast, I was lucky to talk to Mike Taveirne whom I met in Dojo Bali in Changgu, Bali. To pile more on my Bali escapades, on my first night there, I also attended a Toastmasters Event. It was my first time to attend this kind of meeting so I was very curious and looking forward to meeting people and what I could learn.

First off, let me just say that this won’t be very difficult like you thought it would be for newcomers, including me. Just remember what you could get from this kind of events. The Toastmasters meet has positive energy and is very effective for improving your public speaking skills.

So, what is happening during a Toastmasters Club meetup? The speakers who’ll step on the podium first are prepared with their speeches to be presented in a limited time. Then, some judges will give feedback about the coherence, word choice, delivery, etc. of the presentation. Watching them might calm your jittery nerves. And, after all these, you get to test your skills in public speaking! Everyone can participate and get on stage. Worry not if you’re not prepared, the facilitators will give you random topics you’ll have to discuss.

Standing in front of at least 20 people you have to inform, persuade, or entertain might be a lot for some people. You should know that it will be very beneficial for you and your career if you try going out of your comfort zone. Besides, the fifth step in the data science process is presenting and communicating the results. Toastmasters could help you in honing your presentation skills. There’s so much fun and learning you’re missing out on. Just remember not to get flustered with the criticisms and the idea of standing in front of people. Having effective communication skills will truly be advantageous for your career.

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This is FiveMinuteFriday, Episode number 160, Toastmasters.
Welcome back to the Super Data Science Podcast, ladies and gentlemen. Today I wanted to share an exciting and cool experience with you that I had. I would love for you to experience as well. I'm in Bali right now, and a couple of weeks ago, I was at the Dojo, which is a co-working space in Canggu. By the way, Dojo is my favorite co-working space in the world. I was very impressed by what it's like and how it feels inside, so if you're ever in Bali, check it out. The internet there is amazing. Super fast. Nevertheless, what this is all about is not just about the Dojo. It's about a random event that happened to me there.
When I was at the Dojo, literally the day I got there was a Tuesday. I saw an ad, an internal ad that they had or like an announcement that on that night, they had Toastmasters. I hadn't heard about Toastmasters before, that it's like an organization or events where people get together and practice their public speaking. I had never attended one, so I was very excited to try it out, and I signed up. It was so much fun. It was so cool.
What Toastmasters is all about is people get together, and there's facilitators of this. This is kind of like a workshop or mini event for 10, 20, maybe more people. In our case, it was about 20 people. There's a facilitator or a couple of facilitators that introduce the event, and then there's a few prepared speakers who've prepared beforehand. They go out. They have like go on stage or in front of the group. They have some time to speak, so there was three speakers in our case. They have about five minutes each to speak about a certain topic that they've prepared. Then there's evaluators, people in the audience who have been selected as judges, and they're evaluating their coherency of speech, the words that they use, how fast they're talking, how they're engaging the audience, how much time they're using, and things like that. Then they will give them feedback at the end. That's the first part, those talks.
Then we have the feedback for the talks. I think it was in that order. Then at the end, or after that half of the Toastmasters event, what you have is everybody in the audience gets a chance to ... Not everybody, but people who have either put their hand up or got in on the list beforehand, about five or seven people ... In our case it was seven people ... got a chance to actually get on stage and practice their public speaking. The difference here is that if you're in the audience and you didn't prepare in advance, you don't know what question you'll get. So the facilitator has a topic. In our case, the topic was spring, because spring is coming, and they're talking about different things.
Then as they explain, as they just have this little speech of their own, the facilitator, at certain points will be like, "Let's talk about positive energy." Then somebody from the list or somebody who puts their hand up gets on stage, and you have between one minute and two minutes to talk, to come up with a random talk to answer a question. The questions vary quite a lot. They're very interesting. For instance, the question I got was what if you could have a positive news channel? A lot of the news in the world right now is negative. What if you could have a news channel that is positive 24/7? What would you broadcast there? Bam. You have to go. You have to think of something on your feet, and you have to describe it and explain it in front of 20 people and just talk confidently. Make sure your speech is coherent, and so on.
Some other questions, some other examples, for instance. One lady got a question. They put her in a situation where she is adamant, she is convinced that you have to put the toilet paper on that toilet paper rack in the way that the toilet paper goes down away from the wall. So it's not kind of like you're not pulling it from underneath the toilet paper. It's coming ... The flap is coming over the top. You need to convince the audience that that's the right way to do it, rather than putting it the other way. It's a ridiculous argument, but she had to come up with just even absurd statements just to practice her public speaking and standing on her feet and delivering a speech. Even if it didn't make total sense, at least it delivered the point.
Then we've got, for instance, if you had a party to celebrate spring, who would you invite? Cupcakes versus muffins? Are cupcakes and muffins the same thing? Why is it better to see the glass half full rather than seeing it half empty? Those are just some examples of questions. Questions can vary. It can be absolutely random, but the point is to get out of your comfort zone. For me, I was sitting there. I was actually quite nervous. I was waiting for my turn, and then bam, I got called and had to get out there. As soon as you're out there, it's a bit different. You step over that threshold. Well, for me it was like that. It might be different for other people. In any case, it puts you out of your comfort zone and helps you practice public speaking.
The good thing about Toastmasters is it's not just a Bali thing or Canggu thing. They actually ... It's a club that's over 90 years old. They were established in 1924. They have 352,000 members worldwide. By the way, you don't have to be a member of Toastmasters. I didn't become a member of Toastmasters. I just attended that event, and nobody asked me to sign up for a membership. I'm not sure how it would be in other parts of the world, but in this case, I didn't have to become a member. They have 16,400 clubs in 141 countries. How crazy is that? The likelihood of there being a club in your country is very high, and the chance that it's in your city is also pretty high, especially if you're living in a big city or a city where ... Yeah. Basically, a big city or even a midsize city. There's probably a Toastmasters. So you can jump on their website, toastmasters.org, and they actually have a club locator app so you can just search for location. It will tell you what clubs are there.
I highly recommend, really highly recommend checking it out. We've talked a lot about meet ups and attending data science meet ups. Those are great to practice your data sense skills and meet people and network and so on and maybe even present. But you won't always have the chance to present at a data science meet up, because they don't have that many people presenting, usually. It's usually one or two, maybe three people at a time, and then more people in the audience, whereas Toastmasters is geared towards honing in your presentation skills.
We've talked about this many, many times, that presentation is the fifth step. Presentation of your results is the fifth step in the data science project life cycle. It is extremely important. In fact, those data scientists that are communicators, that are the bridge between the data and the decision makers, the business decision makers, those people who need to understand those insights, those are the most valued data scientists in business, in industry, and wherever you go. That's the most, probably the most valuable skill. So crunching numbers, creating visuals, running algorithms, that's very important, but being able to communicate your insights and present them and engage your audience, super important.
The thing is, whether you are confident in your presentation skills or not, Toastmasters is a great way to refine them, to learn something new, to practice, to get out of your comfort zone, to get out there and just to have fun. It was such a fun night. I had a great time being there, meeting people. Everybody is so friendly. That's the other thing you should ... Even though there are people who are judges for the first three presenters who prepared their speeches, in reality, nobody is judging anybody. They're just giving feedback. They're just helping people, each other, improve, and everybody is having a great time. So you won't feel judged. You won't feel that you are under the microscope or anything. Just go there and have a great time.
There you go. That's Toastmasters. Highly encouraged to check it out. There's probably one in your city. If not, then when you go traveling, maybe you can line that up for yourself to visit one of those, or when you're visiting your family and friends somewhere else. On that note, I hope you enjoyed today's podcast. I really hope you'll check out Toastmasters, and I'll see you next time. Until then, happy analyzing.

Kirill Eremenko
Kirill Eremenko

I’m a Data Scientist and Entrepreneur. I also teach Data Science Online and host the SDS podcast where I interview some of the most inspiring Data Scientists from all around the world. I am passionate about bringing Data Science and Analytics to the world!

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