Club Member Interview

PR Officer Deborah Goodman Interviews Bromley Speakers member, John Vickers

Hi John, thanks for giving this interview. It’s great to have you with us at Bromley Speakers Club. I’d like to kick this off by asking you what do you do for your job?

Hi Deborah. I head up the client services team of eight account managers at an online advertising network.

That sounds like a busy role. Were you a Toastmaster before you joined Bromley Speakers or is this the only club you have been a member of?

No, it’s not my first club actually. When I lived in Ealing, I tried Hammersmith Athenians and I attended Trojan Toastmasters in Ealing for a couple of months back in 2012, completing my first Ice Breaker. 

I liked that Ealing Trojans meetings were early in the week (I think they held their meetings every Monday) so by Tuesday I felt very productive. 

When I moved to Bromley I tried Bromley Speakers, but I was not in the right frame of mind at the time. It took me two more goes until it took hold at the end of 2016. Even then, I took a 9-month break from it. I saw how people had progressed when I came back, which really showed me how much I had missed by not attending. So now I make it a point to attend Toastmasters whenever I can, even if I do not feel like it.   

“I don’t think I have ever regretted attending a meeting, but I certainly have regretted avoiding one”

That’s interesting that you say that. Yes, we don’t realise how much we are missing out when we don’t attend the meetings. I’m so glad that you came back and that you are finding it beneficial. How long have you been at Bromley Speakers club now?

It’s been three and a half years, including the 9-month break.

That’s longer than me. I’ve been here about a year less than you. I know why I joined, but I’d like to hear why you wanted to join Toastmasters.

I have been in B2B (Business to Business) sales for most of my working life, which you would think meant I could speak to people. Unfortunately though, I am introverted and I have almost always had a phobia of public speaking, never liking the limelight. I was able to work well on a one-to-one basis, but put me in front of a group and I would crumble. 

As I grew professionally, I didn’t want a fear of public speaking to hold me back in my career. There was one time during my nine-month break when I was afraid to pick up the phone, which is not a good ‘feature’ for a sales person.

“So, rather than change careers, I decided to deal with it”

That’s brave of you. We often only seek help to improve ourselves when we feel that we can’t carry on the way things are. When it gets so bad that we HAVE to do something!

And so now you’ve been with us for over 3 years, can you tell me some of the things that you like or love about being in Toastmasters and in Bromley Speakers specifically?

Yes, of course. When I first started, I was a little suspicious, thinking Toastmasters was a multilevel marketing scheme! Over time, my barriers have broken down and now I feel different. I love the fact that everyone at Bromley Speakers (and Toastmasters) is looking to improve themselves, either with public speaking or leadership. Every single role in Bromley Speakers is taken up by volunteers – it’s a very positive environment to make friends. 

Thanks, I feel the same way about the friendship aspect at Bromley Speakers actually. People are so supportive and I get a real sense of genuine friendship with no competitiveness or unhealthy judgements in the club. I really miss the face-to-face meetings at the moment, although the online meetings are working really well.

There’s a busy schedule at Toastmasters meetings. What do you think about the format of the meetings?

I like the format of the meetings; having the speeches first, then the evaluations and lastly the Table Topics. I have attended other club meetings and the Table Topics session was at the beginning which meant some members left before the prepared speeches!

I’ve never heard of it being that way around before. What do you think about the Table Topics sessions?

When I first started, Table Topics terrified me, I barely made it to 30 seconds first of all.  Sitting in the audience, waiting to be called up to speak about a topic for 1-2 minutes felt like The Hunger Games. The sigh of relief by not being selected, it felt I could live for another day. I even started to take on meeting roles just so there was less chance of being picked for a topic! 

Then, over time, I realised this was holding me back and I worked out how to handle Table Topics, which is to ALWAYS put my name down.

By practicing each meeting, my impromptu speaking has improved considerably and I almost look forward to Table Topics now.

That is an incredible strategy, good for you! I think it’s very brave of you and I commend you for that.

In what other ways has Bromley Speakers helped you with your work and social life?

Bromley Speakers has given me a lot more confidence to speak in front of people, and also with leading my team. I even used some of the warm-ups from the club with my own team meetings. The impromptu storytelling (where everyone says a word to make a story) makes a regular showing.  During lockdown, I have three Zoom video calls a day with my team as well as weekly client calls.  The experience, advice and feedback I have received from Bromley Speakers has meant I’ve been more confident with the calls. Bromley Speakers recently organised two actors who presented a workshop which has helped me with video calls, and Dave Henson’s slide presentation course has helped with looking at presentations differently.

I do like it when we have a workshop, I learn so much more from them.

We’ve talked about the positive impact that Toastmasters has had on you but have you found any negative aspects to being in the club?

The one negative thing I have found from Toastmasters is that I notice when other people haven’t been trained in public speaking, especially with ‘ums and ahs’. I attend trade shows and exhibitions, where talks are given. I want to give out flyers for Toastmasters to help these extremely talented people improve their delivery! Toastmasters and Bromley Speakers has helped me become a more considered and thoughtful speaker.

That could be considered a positive though because it means that you are much more aware of your own ‘ums and ahs’. But it must be a bit grating when you are more aware when others do it! You could be focusing more on the ‘ums and ahs’ than the talks! Maybe we should get T-Shirts made with ‘Join Toastmasters and become a better communicator, ask me for details’ on them!

Being a member of Toastmasters often helps people with their personal relationships. Have you seen any benefits in this area at all?

I’d like to think my relationship with my family has also improved by me attending Bromley Speakers. I hopefully take ‘feedback’ better from my wife, and I try to be more considerate when giving advice to my son. Explaining to him about how I have felt when giving speeches has helped him manage his own stage fright!

That is just priceless, I love that. By taking on the role of evaluator, we really improve our listening skills and people usually listen more to their loved ones, sometimes without even realising they are doing it. It seems that you have a very good awareness of your communication skills.

An important part of the meetings is the feedback. What do you learn from the feedback, do you find it helpful?

When I first started Toastmasters, I found the feedback to be quite tough to take onboard – not really understanding that Toastmasters is a ‘safe space’ to fail – and by failing in Toastmasters, it makes me stronger outside of it. 

The thing everyone needs to remember with Toastmasters, is that everyone is learning, including the evaluators. Just because one person picks up on an aspect of your speech, it doesn’t mean that others see the same thing.  It also helped me to have my mentor, Susan Rayner, giving me another point of view. 

With regards to receiving evaluations, I have asked myself this question: ‘how did I feel when someone said X to me? Could I word it better?’. This has helped me soften my feedback as sometimes I feel that it can be quite direct.

I totally agree John. Feedback is given from people’s own perspective and level of knowledge and we can take on board what we think is valuable to us and helpful. Every bit of feedback is given as helpful advice and its purpose is to help us to grow, to become better speakers and better leaders. It wouldn’t be helpful to us not to receive honest feedback and that’s the whole point of it all. But no-one likes to be told that they could have done better, even if they know it.

At Toastmasters, taking on board feedback is another learning for us. To actually listen to it, think about it and apply what we feel is helpful is very valuable. It’s a skill that a lot of people outside of Toastmasters would benefit from in general life I think.

Bearing this in mind, would you say that you find the club welcoming, friendly, supportive and helpful?

YES! Everyone is so welcoming and friendly; there is a great supportive atmosphere where everyone has come to learn and give their time.  

I can see that Bromley Speakers is extremely beneficial to your life, and it is also fun and friendly. What else do you do for fun?

Pre- or during-lockdown? Pre-lockdown, I enjoyed spending time at the gym, relaxing for hours on end in the sauna or swimming with my 7-year-old son.  Now, it’s lots of sci-fi reading, online learning (such as LinkedIn learning or TED talks), podcasts, walking the dog or trying to do some exercise. I have started to learn the electric guitar but I think that’ll be something for the long haul as I am not naturally musical.

I think we are all missing a lot of what we used to love. It sounds like you are very resourceful and utilising your time well.

A year ago you took on a committee role and the club is grateful to you for that. The club would not exist if it were not for the committee so it’s important that we have people volunteer to help run the club. You have just signed up for a second year on the committee. How have you found the experience and what has been your role this past year?

I have been on the committee for 2019-2020, being the Club Secretary and VP Mentoring. The Club Secretary helps to manage the admin of the club, keeping records up to date in Easyspeak and taking meeting minutes. The VP Mentoring role helps with matching mentees and mentors for the club.  It’s been a ‘year of two halves’. I was initially taken aback with how much happens behind the scenes; the hard work the committee puts in for the running of the club, the competitions and also the club officer training.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic happened in the UK. The committee changed to cope with this – initially from discussions about whether we should continue to shake hands in face-to-face meetings, through to online Zoom meetings, supporting members during this time and working out how to ensure the club continues to meet. My role has been small but I have been incredibly impressed with how the committee pivoted, and we have even seen attendance increase during this time! I am looking forward to taking on the larger role of VP Membership next year.

You’ve done a great job John, with TWO roles! Have you been on any other committees in the past for anything else?

No, this year is the first time I have been on a committee.

That’s great, thank you for helping the club in this way John.  Is there any advice you would give to other members or anyone thinking of joining Toastmasters?

If you are struggling, please get a mentor. A mentor can help with everything from just one speech to the whole of your Toastmasters journey. My mentor, Susan Rayner, has been very supportive and I have found it incredibly helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off, as well as give me feedback. 

Also, take up as many leadership roles as you can. I created a to-do list of all the roles I wanted to complete, ticking them off each time. I knew I had cracked it when I was Contest Chair for the International Speech Contest in 2019 – it might not have been my best performance, but I learnt so much from the experience, including how understanding other members are when things go wrong!

That is great advice and I hope that the people reading this will take it on board. Thank you and well done for taking on the role of Contest Chair. I think that this has been an incredible year for you at Bromley Speakers!  Do you have any final words for us John?

The initial clubs I tried were a little too early on my path to Toastmasters. My heart will always be at Bromley Speakers. Completing an Ice Breaker is one thing, but getting truly involved with Toastmasters with leadership roles is very different.

I always learn much more about my fellow members through conducting these interviews. Thank you so much for your time, honesty and openness John. I wish you the very best for another great year at the club and on the committee.

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