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Improve your English: discourse markers and linking words (Soňa, Tutor company)

Giving a talk in another language has a lot of challenges. Not only do you have to generate ideas which you want to share, but it is also necessary to arrange them in a way they are comprehensible to the audience. A useful tool to make you sound clearer are discourse marker and linking words. These expressions show relationships between your ideas and your attitude to them.

Screenshot from 2017-04-28 12-51-37
Soňa from Tutor Language School always provides in-depth and professional tips for improvement of our language skills

One of the many categories are discourse markers which indicate the beginning of the talk, such as well, so, right, now, anyway or to begin with. They are typical in less formal situations and everyday conversation.

Another group shows the order of your ideas. Starting with first, for a start, to begin with, you may list additional points introducing them with phrases such as next, in addition, what´s more, further or on top of that. For your final point and the conclusion you may use finally, last of all, all in all and to sum up.

Further, speakers often need to show the cause and effect in their arguments and descriptions to provide justifications and explanations. This can be achieved with linking expressions, e.g. so, (in order) to, therefore, since and because, suitable phrases, e.g. as a result or the reason is, and verbs, e.g. lead to, cause or result in.

The last category I would like to mention are commenting adverbs which express the speakers´ attitude to what they say. These range from evaluating the content (basically, naturally, obviously, surprisingly), to describing probability (certainly, hopefully, no doubt) and a personal involvement (personally, if you ask me). Nevertheless, as commenting adverbs contain a subjective view, it is better to avoid them when an impersonal or factual style is required.

On the whole, discourse markers and linking words contribute to the clarity of your speech and they can also improve your style. They may help you avoid complicated constructions on the one hand and repetitive statements containing numerous instances of “and” and “so” on the other.

Proud partner of Brno Business Toastmasters - Tutor language school
Proud partner of Brno Business Toastmasters – Tutor language school

This article was created thanks to the cooperation with Tutor Language school – Branch Brno.


Pepe: How Toastmasters have changed my life

“Toastmasters have changed my life!”, could definitely be the slogan of Josef, a devoted member of Brno Business Toastmasters (BBTM).

Nowadays Josef is an experienced public speaker: not only can he deliver speeches fluently and persuasively, but he has been also pursuing his leadership career as PR manager, organizer of meeting and evaluator.

We asked Josef (AKA Pepe) to answer a few questions about his beginnings, fears at the beginning and experience he has gained along the way. Feel free to share this article in your social circle!

Can you please present yourself in a few sentences?

Currently, I’m a programmer, but I have studied both IT and law. I love to learn new things even out of school. Currently, I’m focusing on studying new languages, in particular Spanish.

Josef Hertl, Advanced Communicator Bronze (ACB)

How did you learn about Toastmasters? Why did you decide to join particularly Brno Business Toastmasters?

I encountered some courses on the topic of public speaking at the university and wanted to follow up on that. Then, at my first job, I encountered a colleague who invited me to visit a Toastmasters club. This brought me to a BBTM meeting.

How would you present Toastmasters to someone who has never heard of it?

I do that quite often. Usually it goes like: “It is a place where you can speak or present in front of an audience and get evaluations. It is quite professional and organized. Also, we’re totally not a cult.”

Do you remember your first speech, evaluation and table topics?

I do quite distinctly remember all three of them. My first speech was called “Cards of my life” and revolved around using few cards (ISIC, playing cards for marias, credit card) to introduce myself to the audience. First evaluation was for Simeon’s icebreaker, where he spoke about his personal growth. My first table topics speech was in an amazing session where we didn’t draw separate topics, but instead the speakers were telling a story that evolved on the go. It was the first time I got to use a prop that has become my trademark – a screwdriver. Also, it was absolutely horrible performance. I feel I’ve learned a lot since then.

Pepe even developed a special application for Table Topics 🙂

What are your strategies to cope with stress and nervousness before or during a speech?

Find a way to look forward to the speech. Prepare a small joke somewhere during the speech, a hidden remark, a funny gesture.. anything that works for you. Perhaps more important factor is preparation. I can’t stress this enough – if you want to have a great speech, it won’t go without a great amount of preparation, training and drilling. I have rather perfected the art of preparing a speech in a minimized amount of time, but sometimes this minimalistic preparation leads to feeling uneasy and unsure of myself.

What are 3 crucial factors for continuous progress of public speaker?

Determination, friendly environment and time.

You have been a member of BBTM for more than 2 years. What experience you have gained along the way?

I’ve clearly learned a lot about public speaking. However, I believe that far more important is the leadership part. Every role has taught me something, but each role is nothing when compared to Toastmaster. When I took upon that role for the first time, I discovered how tough it is to set up a meeting. On Saturday all roles were filled, including the minor ones. Then, on Sunday, people started rejecting the roles with various apologies. Until Tuesday morning I kept calling the member and I pretty much begged them to take the roles. In the end it worked out and the experience brought me a lot.

Yes, this was also Pepe
Pepe in one of his famous costumes

Members of Toastmasters clubs can also take officers roles e. g. as PR managers, education managers or membership managers. Which roles have you already had and what did you learn through this experience?

VPPR (managing club PR), where I realized it taught me a lot, but that the role was also highly time demanding.

Sergeant at Arms, which I’m currently doing, is better suited for me, as the time requirements outside of the meeting are minimal. Honestly, this isn’t a role where I could learn much, as it is more about the stuff that is repetitive and just needs to be done. It isn’t without its advantages, however, as it lets you carry around the banner, which looks incredibly cool.

Can you name some unique events or stories you have experienced thanks to being part of Toastmasters family?

Since I’m a rare breed of programmer, as I like speaking in public. That means I’ve represented our company on few prestigious events – Backendisti (a developer meetup) and Webexpo (a large developer and designed conference). There were a few conferences I’ve attended or helped organize. As for the stories it is largely related to people rather than to the Toastmasters family itself, but there were few parties or other events for sure.

Some people are scared of coming to meetings because they are not sure about language skills or are afraid of public speaking in general. What would you recommend to do in order to overcome the fear?

This is a tough one. I’ve spent my last two years trying to find the answer for this question, but it keeps eluding me. When I find it, I will let you know.

Humorous speech contest!

Brno Business Toastmasters organizes Humorous speech contest on 20th of September 2016. Have you never heard about it, but wish to compete? Here are some basic rules.


Your first question might be: How long should I speak on the stage? Humorous speeches, similarly to other projects from Competent Communicator, last for five to seven minutes. A contestant will be disqualified if the speech is less than four minutes 30 seconds or more than seven minutes 30 seconds.

Are you wondering, if there are some rules or restrictions when choosing the theme? Here are some tips!

The subject for the Humorous speech shall be selected by the contestant. The speaker shall avoid potentially objectionable language, anecdotes, and material. The speech must be thematic in nature (opening, body, and close), not a monologue (series of one-liners). In other words, try to avoid just telling jokes you heard somewhere.

Jaro Kováč, 2nd place in Humorous Speech Contest of District  D95

Use of props is more than recommended! 

Contestant who win at BBTM Club Contest Competition proceed to next rounds. At the end, they might compete even at competition organised globally! Do you think its impossible? Our member, Jaro Kováč, successfully represented our club at international level. He finished as second in the world (and it was really close!). Nothing is impossible.





Please take a look on Judges Guide and ballot to see, which criterias are the most crucial:



Good luck and see you on 20th of September!



The upcoming Humorous speech contest

The humorous speech contest is approaching fast! It will be held by Brno Business Toastmasters on 15th September (Tuesday, as usually). Let us start with a short teaster from the last year’s contest:


Some of us perhaps still remember the winning humorous speech of the last year given by Tomas. It was indeed very funny and also had shining success on higher competition levels.

The speech was about how he traveled to England for the first time. It focused on his preparation for before the flight and his troubles with suitcase weight. In a funny way he told us which issues he faced and how he managed to deal with them.

“My suitcase was 5 kilograms over the weight limit. For every kilo over the limit, they wanted me to pay extra 10 Euro. Imagine what I thought. My father’s wallet will cry!”


Do you have your ideas about how a humorous speech should look like? Do you have a great funny topic in mind? Would you like to participate in the contest? Go ahead and contact us on Facebook! (Please consider that only TM members can participate)

About Toastmasters for newcomers

Recently I have heard quite a lot of questions on what a new guest to our meeting should expect. Since the questions very often repeat, we decided to set up a short QA for guests:

Do I have to prepare something if I want to visit a Toastmasters meeting?
Definitely not! The meeting has many prepared roles, but they are all taken by our members. As a guest your role is to observer and enjoy the meeting 🙂

Will you want me to speak in front of an audience?
Just a little bit. There are two moments in the course of the meeting when we encourage the guests to speak. The first is the introduction, when both members and guests introduce themselves. All you are supposed to do is stand up and tell us your name and occupation. No need to go to the stage! The second time is at the end of the meeting, when we ask the guess for short feedback. You can tell us what you liked and especially what you would improve.
Moreover, almost every meeting has a part called Table topics. Those are short unprepared speeches, where you can participate even as a first time guest, if you want. Take a look at some of the topics here.

Is there something else I should do there?
No, just observe and enjoy.

What about the English? How good should my English be?
As we often say, Toastmasters are all about learning, and that includes improving English. We have few to none native speakers, so nobody of us speaks perfectly and the overall level of English varies rather widely. We even have a role called Grammarian that is dedicated to improving our English, as we often struggle with grammar. That said, in order to enjoy the meeting, you must be able to understand the language and to speak at least a little bit.
I very often encounter people, particularly from IT world, who have very good English, but are too shy to actually speak. If that is your case, believe that we have quite a few IT experts at the meetings and many of us had the same “shyness” issue. Many of us came to the Toastmasters with exactly to shake away that fear of speaking. Guess what – it worked 🙂

Do I have to pay to attend the meeting?
No. Attending the meeting is without any charge.

Should I wear formal clothes?
No. Even though we are Brno Business Toastmasters, we have no special dress-code for the meetings. It is most important that you feel comfortable and can enjoy the meeting.

Is every meeting the same? Does it matter to which meeting I come?
The meetings follow similar structure. For every meeting we have a detailed agenda with description of the roles and time constraints. You can take a look at such an agenda.

Meeting 179 – Business Meeting, Grammarian Edition

Grammarian edition? Don’t be afraid, this meeting report will not be all about grammar. However, as I was the grammarian there, I would like you to have a taste of the interesting job the grammarian does throughout the evening.

First and foremost, the meeting was business-themed. That was reflected in the very beginning, when our new president, Ioana, opened the meeting with a rather unusual question:

“Would you like to have a Toastmasters meeting in a park?”

This was both refreshingly different from the usual questions and directly related to the club business. More importantly, it actually gave us a lot of important ideas for the outside meeting. Some people said they absolutely loved the idea of meeting in a park and wanted to go for it. However, few of us suggested caution, mostly because of we are Brno Business Toastmasters and meeting outside does not feel strictly professional, but agreed to try to meet in a park at least once. While we haven’t made any final decision yet, the debate certainly gave us a big incentive to go ahead and plan such a meeting.

Then Alexy took over and led the meeting. Personally, I must say the meeting was incredible even from the grammar point of view, which is what I am going to focus on. The following lines will be written from the perspective of a grammarian.

What are the duties of the grammarian role? First, you should listen carefully, notice all grammar mistakes and make a report before the end of the meeting. In Brno Business Toastmasters we have merged grammarian with another role – the ah counter, meaning the grammarian also takes note of the fillers we keep using during the course of the meeting. Last but not least the grammarian counts how many times various people use the word of the day.

This meeting I decided to try a different approach, as our past VPE Mary suggested. Instead of just correcting the mistakes, I would try to make the role funny and try to take the meeting atmosphere up instead of down. For most roles this comes naturally, but for the grammarian… not so much. The role is, by definition, negative. Also, similar to the quizmaster, you can’t just make things up, you have to work with the resources the other members give you (in this case mistakes).

I needed special mistakes that would be both clear and fun to correct. So I listened.

Throughout the meeting it was rather hard to focus on the mistakes, because the speeches were very nice to listen to. The icebreaker, obviously well prepared, caught my attention and I caught no mistakes. But then, at the QA, there came a question from the audience: “How did you feel?” Martha replied: “When I came here, my heart was …” and she searched for the correct word and somebody suggested: “beating”. When I heard this, I almost jumped with joy.

When I came here, my heart was beating.” This I could work with. Basically, when you are nervous, your heart is pounding or racing. If your heart stops pounding, it is still beating (pounding just means it is beating more quickly and thus more loudly). If it ever stops beating, though, grammar usually is the least of your concerns.

The second speech was also amazing to listen to and I was totally convinced that there is no need for a TV at anybody’s home. Also we heard that “A dog got missed in a forest”, which would actually mean somebody took a shoot at a dog and missed. While that may definitely be true, the speaker probably wanted to say “a dog got lost in a forest”.

While we are talking about shooting, I must highlight the expression mentioned by our toastmaster of the evening, Alexy: “A ballot is stronger than a bullet”.

Table topics, while highly business-themed, were fun, too. Bogdan prepared two groups of papers – one listed company (TM International) departments and the other the speaker is applying for. The speaker’s goal was to persuade the audience (= TM board of directors) that he or she is the right candidate for the job. It was so much fun that I forgot to listen for mistakes.

Later, when I gave the grammar report, I limited the negative part and tried to focus primarily on the funny mistakes. I started with praising the good phrases, such as “You have the power”, “you can observe that “ and many more. Then I went into the negative – one particular mistake repeated multiple times – wrong usage of much and many and confusing the two. In retrospective, I should have ditched the negative part completely. It is obvious that the audience isn’t very interested in that. The funny mistakes, on the other hand, had much more success. Also I failed to meet the time regulations, but that only shows how much I was enjoying the role 🙂

Therefore, I believe that the best way to make the grammarian role more interesting while keeping it meaningful is to go with the funny mistakes. It is not easy, it is not simple, but at least in my opinion it does boost the meeting. Let us try that!

See you next meeting,

Josef Hertl, VP PR.

Meeting 178 – Unforgettable moments

Coincidence? Faith? I still cannot figure out but the meeting theme ‘Unforgettable moments’ was tailor-made especially for our Immediate Past President Jerome. We have to mention that we had the pleasure to see him as Toastmaster for the very last day of being president, on the very last day of the Toastmasters year 2014-2015.

Allow me to be subjective and say that the meeting was emotional and filled with a positive, ready-for-summer flavor. With Mary being Chairperson, asking us what’s one of the unforgettable moments of our lives and  continuing with Jerome and his calm and pleasant meeting facilitation, it was absolutely a blast!

Word of the day presented by Tomas was in fact an expression: ‘on the roll’. You cannot imagine how inspired Tomas is unless I tell you that to make us remember the expression, he brought a ‘toilet paper roll’. He made it memorable!

Just like the Timekeeper Libor who always surprises us! This time in his 4 minutes speeches he told us 3 jokes, he explained clearly the rules, he gave specific suggestions to speakers and… wait for it… He told us also a short story! That’s what I call great communication skills!

We had two speakers: Stan with Project 5 – Your body speaks and Josef with Project 9 – Persuade with power. Stan found his speech last meeting during the table topics when he picked 2 words: alone and penguins. He decided to have a real speech called ‘Alone with penguins‘ to present us interesting facts about penguins: how they walk (with examples), how dedicated parents they are and that their team work is beyond limits. Josef told us a story from Czech history with the title ‘Brave and still defending‘. He was so convincing in proving that Czech people are brave and they did supreme sacrifices such as giving up their lives to protect their friends and furthermore to protect the nation.

What do you think it happened for table topics? As Zuzana wanted to challenge Jerome,  he was also Table Topics Master! We definitely need to put on the list with ‘Great ideas for table topics’ his challenge: he gave us a book title and asked each speaker to tell how that booked inspired him/her and why. Surprise or not, we had a guest who won the Table Topics competition so be sure the topics were fun and exciting!

Wondering who were all the winners? Best Speaker – Stan, Best Evaluator – Bogdan and Best Table Topics Speaker – Constantine.

The meeting ended with another emotional moment where our Immediate-Past to be Club President handed over the new presidency symbol called ‘Brno Business Toastmasters on a roll‘ to the new president. I have to admit that I still feel the emotions of that!

The new Club handover symbol

Although it’s holidays time, remember: Brno Business Toastmasters will be on the roll for the entire summer to make your Tuesdays more exciting and fun!

See you next meeting,

Ioana Pop, last time as VP PR


Meeting 175 – Know when to say NO

Another great meeting, this time with the theme ‘Know when to say No’. From the very beginning we found out that especially ladies have difficulties to say ‘no’ even when they would like to say it but in the end it’s our own decision on how we respond to a challenge.

With a lower attendance we learned from Mary that we need to ‘Keep calm and be polyglot!’. Her project was to convince us about the benefits of knowing multiple languages and the fact that to learn a new one can be done in less than 6 months given you have the motivation and a good technique.

Tomas presented us the Advanced Communication Manuals and the 210 combitations of these manuals. It was a very useful session with details on each and every manual with a categorization and tips on why/how they are useful.

For table topics Hristo surprised us with a different approach than the one we are used to. He explained that there are powerful words that help us convey a message and using a top of the most used words combination he asked us to do impromptu speeches!

As a bonus for those who are still wondering why saying no gets you ahead here is a great article from Fortune magazine:

See you for the next meeting!

Ioana Pop, VP PR

Meeting 173 – Club Officers Elections

Yesterday we had our Club Officer Elections and we must say that our president managed to make us nostalgic about the Toastmaster year 2014/2015 which went surprisingly fast!

It was the meeting of retrospections with emphasis on the activities done by Club Officers however we didn’t give up on our core meeting roles: speakers and evaluators. For the curious ones, here is what actually happened during the meeting:

We had two prepared speeches: Simeon with Project 2 from Competent Communication manual talking about his current passion – teaching to share the knowledge accumulated as professional. A subject close to his heart he said as he is providing courses to his IBM colleagues regularly (up to 25% of his time!). Then we had Anna with Advanced Manual – Speaking to inform project and she told us the secrets of what to do and how to do when your luggage gets lost while travelling by plane. Things to keep in mind: don’t panic, don’t leave the airport without a reference number once you reported the luggage loss, get a phone number where to ask for information about its status and ask about the compensation package!

The prepared speeches were evaluated by Josef and Martin and they both gave pertinent suggestions and praised the good preparation of the speakers!

The second part of the meeting was dedicated to Elections: Mary, the Toastmaster of the meeting had a presentation about each and every officer role for everyone to know what these roles imply and require. Then Simeon held an absolutely amazing press conference with our current president Jerome. There were so many questions asked and we found important information about the club activity during this year! The officers team was successful as we had monthly meetings without exception, everyone was involved in raising the meetings content quality and we supported each other as friends and colleagues!

Obviously the last part was the highest-pressure one. For each officer role the candidates had to come on stage and tell in 1-2 sentences why they want to become club officers, what is their motivation for it. We are pleased to announce that all the officers have been elected by 100% votes ‘FOR’ from the present active members.

Here are our new officers:

President:  Ioana Florentina Pop

Vice President Education: Pavlina Marsalova & Simeon Iskidzhiski

Vice President Membership: Jana Weinlichova & Jan Grund

Vice President Public Relations: Josef Hertl

Treasurer and Secretary: Martin Plsek

Sergeant at Arms: Eva Vodickova

Big congratulations to our new crew that will start its activity on 1st of July and good luck in the new roles!

Ioana Pop, VP PR


Meeting 170 – Rituals

Do you wonder how the last meeting was? If you missed it here is a short overview:

Meeting theme was Rituals and we found out that everyone has rituals from ‘a very good cup of coffee every morning’ to starting their daily work in a specific manner. Toastmasters too have rituals and if we think about it the entire meeting is a list of rituals very well linked together.

We had one prepared speech presented by Jan RejchrtProject 3 from Competent Communication Manual called Beekeeping and money. Jan proved that he knows a lot about apiculture: his father is a beekeeper and his university degree was about beekeeping and the benefits it brings. According to his research the benefit that the beekeeper obtains is only a small part of the huge impact that bees have on the agriculture. The bees are the only ones that pollinate flowers, vegetables and trees so we should be really mindful and use more honey to support the natural process and the earth.

And as Jan says ’Many people like honey but everyone likes … money! ‘ so we might consider beekeeping as a really profitable business!

Those who missed the District Conference in Bratislava last month had the chance to see a great workshop held by Michal Holub on Toastmasters lessons from real life. His life completely changed after joining Toastmasters and started to apply the lessons learned in the real life such as leadership skills, presentation skills, and the idea of having a manual to follow for sales, prepared and impromptu speeches. He moved from a developer up to International Sales Director and he strongly believes that there are many similarities between the real life situations and the toastmasters meetings whereas you need leaders in both; you need to be a very good communicator. The difference is clearly a skill builder: if in real life everything is serious and your job might depend on it, in Toastmasters you have the freedom to play, to forget about limits and not be afraid of others opinion or the feedback you might receive. A very inspiring workshop!

Elections are coming (in 3 weeks) and to make sure that everyone knows well what are the roles and responsibilities of Club Officers we had a presentation about them instead of the Table Topics Session. To sum up each role, the current officers told us the following:

President – Jerome: The President is the one who directs the club in meeting the members’ needs for educational growth and leadership, establishes long-term and short-term goals for the club and he is Club’s representative on Area and District Councils.

Vice President Education – Marie: plans, organizes, and implements the meetings to fit the chosen speeches, educational modules, and related events to the members’ needs. When members complete a speech or a major achievement, it is the VPE who initials the manuals or contacts Toastmasters to ensure proper recognition.

Vice President Membership – Zuzana and Tomas: plans, organizes, and implements a continuous marketing effort to ensure that club membership remains above charter strength (20 members). This is done both by retaining current member, with the VPE, and by gathering new members, with the VPPR.

Vice President Public Relations – Ioana: plans, organizes, and implements programs to maintain the positive image of the club and Toastmasters for all guests, members, and the general public. Main activities include publicity campaigns, website maintenance, social media representation (Twiter, Linkedin, Facebook) and club newsletters.

Treasurer and Secretary – Martin: cares for the club’s records, including by-laws and constitution, new member applications, supply orders, officers’ lists, and past club records fall to the Secretary for execution. The Secretary also records and reads the meeting minutes, for meetings of the club and of the Executive team. As treasurer he is responsible for Club financial policies, procedures and controls. The role involves the club’s finances, including dues collection and materials purchasing.

Sergeant at Arms – Eva: arranges setup for all meetings, sets out and cares for the club’s materials and supplies, Club property, including banner, nametags, and supplies, and greets members and especially guests

Next meeting we will be talking about Gadgets, don’t miss meeting 171!

Ioana Pop, VP PR