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The keys to public speaking: frankness and honesty

Bermuda Toastmasters area director Nkenge Warren-Swan (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy

Nkenge Warren-Swan loved her students but just the thought of talking to their parents terrified her.

Her fear showed at every parent teacher night where her strategy was to just “get through it”.

“I spoke with a lot of long pauses,” Ms Warren-Swan said. “I used a lot of ums and ahs. One year the school asked me to speak at a Mother’s Day function. My eyes bulged. I did not walk away from the challenge, but I knew I really needed to improve my public speaking.”

She finally got help from the Bermuda Toastmasters Club, part of a worldwide organisation that improves public speaking and leadership skills.

On the Rock, the group she joined, was a little less formal than the original toastmasters club here. She especially liked that all the 20 members were new, and nervous.

“We all had our own insecurities,” Ms Warren-Swan said. “There was one guy, the minute he got up you could see the perspiration rings on his shirt. With some people the nervousness wasn’t so visible, but it was there. The self-doubt was high.”

The facilitators were a couple – Ginny and Mel Ferson.

“I did not actually know that she was the Deputy Governor of Bermuda, and he was the director of the BUEI, until an article came out about Toastmasters in The Royal Gazette,” Ms Warren-Swan said. “We worked with these two for four months before finding that out. We were all shocked. Who would have thought? They were so humble and warm. There was nothing pompous about them. It was an amazing experience.”

Until 2018, participants were set various tasks which helped them progress through the programme.

“It built you up one project at the time,” Ms Warren-Swan said. “At the end of that project I got a competent communicator award.”

It took her four years to reach the highest level and earn the title of Distinguished Toastmaster

“I felt okay about getting there,” she said. “My club members made more of a fuss about it than I did. That was a great experience.”

The system was revamped three years ago to include different pathways such as leadership or humour. Around that time Ms Warren-Swan began attending meetings with the original Bermuda Toastmasters Club.

She is now the vice-president of education and the area director. She is particularly pleased that the organisation is now part of the Caribbean district.

The new role allows her to take part in meetings all over the world and she has been made an honorary member of clubs in Kenya, and in Bangladesh. She loves seeing how different clubs operate.

Ms Warren-Swan, who retired from teaching in March, never envisioned reaching such a high level of leadership.

“I am no longer in the classroom,” she said. “It gives me more flexibility as to how I approach as area director.

“But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would go this far. I only joined for self-development.”

A few years ago Ms Warren-Swan created the Gavaliers, a club for students ages 11 to 17.

“It is fulfilling to see even the young people come in one way and leave so differently,” she said. “We had one young man come in. He seemed shy. He worked with me for a year or so. He is a deputy head boy at his school now.”

Because of the pandemic, Bermuda Toastmasters and its affiliates meet online. Ms Warren-Swan has found this has had some pluses and minuses. On the downside, any big dramatic gestures you make in a speech are generally lost in a virtual presentation.

But for newcomers, who are shy like she was, having to speak in front of other members can be less intimidating.

Participation in the Gavaliers is free. Adults pay $137 to join Toastmasters clubs. For more information about Bermuda Toastmasters: bermudatm@gmail.com or look for @Bermudatoastmasters on Facebook. For information about On the Rock: 516-6910; ontherocktm@gmail.com; naws98@gmail.com

Nkenge Warren-Swan’s tips for improving public speaking

1. Get a good night’s sleep.

2. Practice, practice, practice.

3. Bring your truth to it. Speak very frankly and honestly. If you forget an idea, pause and regroup.

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Published September 07, 2021 at 8:10 am (Updated September 13, 2021 at 9:41 am)

The keys to public speaking: frankness and honesty

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