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Techniques on breathing, eye contact and filler words

Techniques on breathing, eye contact and filler words

Since joining toastmasters, I have learned a lot but here’s my first list of three basic areas on public speaking that I think will benefit every beginner:

1. Breathing

When you’re cast into the spotlight, especially for the first time, have you ever experience one of these?

  • Dry mouth
  • Sweaty palms
  • Shaky hands
  • Jittery knees

You may even find yourself also speaking too fast and before you know it, you’ve ran out of breath.

Don’t worry, these are simply signs of nervousness and they can get the better of us at times. The good news is that you can control these by doing just one thing: improve your breathing.

Pause and take a deep breath before you speak and you’ll find that you’ll command your voice better. This will give more power and presence to your opening sentence and you’ll have achieved your goal of having a captive audience.

2. Eye contact

Your body language is important to delivering a good presentation and eye contact is the first essential technique you need to master. It helps you to
  • Build a rapport with your audience
  • Keep their interest throughout your presentation 
  • Judge your audience’s feedback through their reactions
I was first taught in secondary school that as long as I lift my eyes up from my notes once in a while, that is good eye contact. Of course, we’re no longer students in English class so that just won’t cut it anymore.

So here’s two quick tips that I’ve learned to improve this technique:

  • Let your eyes wander around the room so that you are speaking to the whole room
  • Look at specific people so that you build a real connection

3. Fillers

As a native English speaker, I’m guilty of saying the following filler words a lot: um, ah, uh and like. Toastmasters is a great place for you to practice speaking with more purpose and here’s two ways you can limit this bad habit:
  • Get an Ah-Counter: Having someone who can note when you tend to fall foul. This will help you understand when and why you do it and come up with tactics to avoid it in the future. Our Grammarian at our Toastmasters often act as the Ah-counter at our meetings so you can always practice with us.
  • Pause for thought: One of the best practices I’ve seen from others is their use if pauses. Instead of being intimidated by breaks in their speeches, they used the silence to their advantage. So next time I feel the urge to use a filler word, I will instead embrace the pause.

To put these into practice, I recommend joining a public speaking club such as our Toastmasters group. You get the support in trying out these techniques and feedback to progress further.

What tricks do you use to master these three techniques? Are there other techniques people need to also learn? I’d love to hear from you.

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Wardrobe malfunction at Superbowl
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mol·li·fy \ˈmä-lə-ˌfī\

verb (mollifies, mollifying, mollified)

  1. to soothe; to gain the good will of [Synonyms: appease, pacify]
  2. to reduce the rigidity of something [Synonyms: soften]
  3. to moderate; to reduce in intensity [Synonyms: assuage, temper]



  1. To mollify the recent complaints from conservative parents, the school banned all female students from wearing miniskirts to school.
  2. Using fabric softener will mollify your laundry. No more stiff shirts!
  3. Despite calling it a ‘wardrobe malfunction,’ they weren’t able to mollify the negative public reaction and media coverage.



From Old French mollifier, via Late Latin, from Latin mollis soft + facere to make (Ref: Collins Online Dictionary)

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Everyone has their reasons for joining a Toastmasters Club, here’s my story.

I moved to France for the second, but indefinite, time for a new job. Before I realized it, I was with my line manager for my first annual review. I was pleased as peaches with the feedback but one thing took me aback. She suggested that I take some training to improve my presentation skills.

Me? But I’ve been doing presentations since high school and in my different jobs. I even delivered my first public speech in front of 100 members of the local Rotary Club when I was 17. It’s one of the basic job skills I thought I had mastered.

I took this feedback away and gave it more thought. I looked back at the first presentation I did in this new job. Sure enough, I remembered the heart palpitations and the nervous adrenalin while waiting for my turn to present. All previous speaking experience had dissipated.

It didn’t matter how many presentations I’ve done before, presenting for the first time in a new environment to people you know or strangers will always be daunting. She was right. I wasn’t the 100% confident public speaker that I could become.

I looked for some practical training in public speaking at a reasonable distance to my work or home. That’s when I discovered the Toastmasters Club at La Defense.

Since attending the sessions regularly, I found Toastmasters offers more than your average public speaking training for three reasons:

Firstly, they give you a wide-range of support in public speaking. As a Toastmasters member, you receive different handbooks that help you become a more confident speaker; from delivering business presentations to being the next all-time best comedian.

Secondly, you meet people from far and wide. It takes networking and socializing to a different level. Sharing a common goal makes us a tight-knit community. I find it incredible that through a speech from someone you’ve just met, you can still get to know them on an intimate level and be inspired by them. I’ve learned about others’ hopes and dreams, their fears and also what makes them tick. You’re not likely to find that in another club.

Finally, it lets you further develop your leadership skills. You could take up a Club Officer position or even help out at the club as a grammarian, table topics speaker or timer. These are little nuggets of opportunities that lets you practice your speaking skills outside of giving your speeches.

Toastmasters is not like any other public speaking club. Not only are they serious and professional in supporting you in improving your presentation skills, they also offer you personal development in other ways. I haven’t been a member for a year and I’m already learning lots. If you’re interested in joining our club or one closer to you, get in touch and we’ll point you in the right direction.

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