Original Link : http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20111108000657

Korea Toastmasters held their annual fall conference at Seoul Women’s Plaza on Saturday.

About 200 people attended the meeting, the second national conference of the year for the Korean branch of the international leadership and communication skills-building organization.

After the semi-annual business meeting in the morning, there were presentations on how to enhance one’s leadership, improve body language when speaking and be a better evaluator.

Keynote speaker Cathrin Hatcher talked about the importance of identifying your aims and sticking to them at all times.

Hatcher had earlier held a session on color and the psychological impact of what you wear on the people around you. For example, brown projects efficiency and reliability, but does not give off an impression of authority or tenderness. By contrast, green is good for calming a charged situation or breaking bad news, but not for asserting yourself.

Toastmasters has grown quickly in Korea in recent years. The first club here was set up in 1991, but 11 have been added this year and 17 more are expecting to be chartered soon. One of them is a Japanese-English bilingual club, which Toastmasters Korea’s chairperson Kevin Parent believes is the only bilingual club where both languages are foreign.

Although it’s common for Toastmasters to be in English, especially in Asia, Parent says the level of participation from expats here is unusual ― most clubs in the region are dominated by people from the same country, but in Korea about a third of members are expats, he says.

Fiona Haysom, Parent’s predecessor and a member of Busan Toastmasters, said many people joined to network, and that it was a good way of finding contacts and information when travelling to new places.

Later there was a “table topic” speech competition in which the subject was not revealed until immediately before each contestant spoke, and a evaluation competition, in which contestants aimed to give the best appraisal of an example speech.

The competitions are meant to appraise skills leant in the Toastmasters education program, which begins with ten basic steps that lead to approval as a “competent communicator.” Members then move on to more specialized programs, such as humorous or business presentations.

While the table topic is improvised, impromptu speeches are part of what Toastmasters teaches.

“There should be some sort of structure. Part of what you learn is how to structure your impromptu speeches. So you can think of a beginning a middle and an end to it,” says Parent. “Some people make it sound like they actually wrote it.

“It’s a skill that you develop, and it comes in handy in job interviews and things like that.”

The evaluations carried a lot of positive remarks, but were not short of criticism. Haysom said that newer members would be treated more gently. A distinguished Toastmaster ― the organization’s highest qualification ― Haysom said she was starting the program again from scratch, but expected to be scrutinized much more than when she did it the first time.

It might sound intimidating to have your presentation evaluated in front of an audience, even if an individual Toastmasters club has a much smaller audience. But Michael Jones, Toastmasters Korea’s public relations officer, says there is a positive atmosphere.

“They’re going to clap no matter what, they’re going to encourage you no matter what. It’s the most supportive environment possible,” he says. “No real world environment is going to clap you if you do a bad job.”

Parent agrees. He says Toastmasters is a great place to mess up, and gives good opportunities to practice leadership and speaking and get evaluated on it.

He explains that excessive criticism is very rare. While he hears every couple of years of someone giving upsetting remarks, such people soon leave because they don’t fit in.

But positive remarks are as much for the benefit of the audience as anything else.

“The good points don’t really need to be reinforced. People with good points, you just let them know what they are,” explains Parent.

“When you are evaluating someone, partly it’s to evaluate your speech, for example, but it’s also for everyone else ― what can we learn from what he did so well.”

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)

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