Feeling toasty

As a Trainee, we are encouraged to develop our skills in areas that we may be less confident in. For me, this is most definitely the world of presentations.

Recently, I visited the Saffron Walden Toastmasters group, designed for those that wish to practice and improve their presenting, communication and leadership skills (thank you to Charles Greensitt for supplying the photos).

Toastmasters SW 1

As a visitor to the group, I was able to experience presentations by people with very varied levels of experience in speaking. Some (below) regularly compete in regional finals…

Toastmasters SW 3

…and for others it was their very first time talking. Feedback is given to each speaker by an evaluator. Through listening to both the talks and especially the evaluation, I was able to gain pointers on good practice when talking to a group.

These included:

  • Moving and making full use of the stage.
  • Making good eye contact.
  • Using gestures and props to aid communication.
  • Interactive elements – e.g. the audience raising their hands to answer multiple choice questions about a subject they had just been listening to.
  • Structuring a talk – making sure that the beginning, middle and end tie together. The number three was mentioned as a golden ratio for structure.
  • Make it fun – both informing and entertaining.

I also learnt that however confident someone might be as a communicator, there is always room for improvement. With this in mind, I have been working to increase my experience of talking and presenting to groups. 

One way has been through the school visits to Colchester Castle, which support classroom learning. Recently, I have been able to gain confidence presenting by taking groups around on our Castles tour. This involves wearing costume and getting the children (and sometimes willing adults) to dress up as knights, in order to learn about day to day life during Norman times and defence of a castle.

Below is a piece of graffiti that can be seen on the tour. It was carved into the walls of the spiral staircase to ward off witches.

Esme tour 3

From the beginning of the traineeship, I found the idea of leading tours daunting, so I decided to focus on our Castle-themed one to begin with, as it is for younger children.

I often find it difficult to absorb information, especially in script form, as I learn best either visually or by physically doing something. I began by watching fellow colleagues lead tours and was able to pick up tips on what to ask the children and how to capture their imagination, all while moving the group around within a set timeframe.

My colleagues were patient and supportive, helping me to learn the script and practice taking tours under supervision. I am now able to support the schools programme at the Castle, which I am very happy about – it’s a lot of fun! … Here I am, preparing to fire a bow and arrow at the evil knights attacking the Castle.

Esme tour 1

Yesterday, I gave a short presentation on metal alloys at our morning staff meeting (see the photo at the top of this post). It was to gain experience of talking in front of larger groups. I tried to present information that could help with our understanding of metal collections and their alloys when talking to the general public.


It was reasonably successful and I put into practice some of what I had learnt from both the Toastmasters group and leading tours, using props to illustrate metal atoms in the form of chocolate. If in doubt – chocolate saves the day!

Signing off,


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