Finding Your Path with Pathways

Take the Nike approach: and “just do it.”

Are you ready for the future of Toastmasters? Have you found your first Path in Pathways? If not, why not! But if you have already found yours, let’s make Pathways the way of the future for all Toastmasters.

Five years ago, when I was a Pathways Ambassador for District 4, I realized getting seasoned Toastmasters on board with Pathways might be a challenge. However, after looking at the critical points of the program, I decided to take the Nike approach: and “just do it.”

As a Toastmaster who had already completed multiple DTM’s by following the Communication and Leadership requirements, I, too, was a bit hesitant. But after doing my first Path, I was hooked. And to date, I have completed two Pathways DTM’s and six Paths. I am also committed to the success of our new program and Toastmasters.

One of my primary beliefs is we must always take a step back before moving forward. And I applied that same principle to how I approached Pathways and the challenge it presented. Many years ago, World Champions speaker Lance Miller encouraged me to complete one CC – Competent Communicator and at least one AC – Advanced Communicator annually.

To this day, I still have all my old completed CC and AC manuals. Before starting a new Pathways project, I often look at the feedback received from my evaluators. It was fun to look back at those completed projects. They all took me back to a time and place. It was also quite revealing to observe my progress since I began my Toastmaster’s journey.

After reviewing the new offerings in Pathways, I immediately saw getting started was a problem for some members. Although they were computer literate, there was still a resistance to change with the changes. They were also slow to look at the wealth of resources available at the TI -Toastmasters International and Districts Websites.

Today, one of the best overviews of the program is to log in to your Toastmasters Profile, select the “Choose a Path,” and watch an introductory video available at: bit.ly/TI_PathSelection. Once you have decided on a Path, you will discover the next important step is to become familiar with Base Camp.

Having everything needed for your projects in one place, Base Camp is convenient. I no longer had to resort to my stack of old manuals to review my feedback over the years. They are now in a directory and files at my fingertips which saves lots of time and space.

Today, Pathways allows users more flexibility to view the five levels before starting the projects. Many new and long-time members have found redundancies to be a problem. Doing an icebreaker to begin each new Path is an annoyance for some members. However, being accustomed to doing a CC each new year, repeating icebreakers has not been a problem.

I just got creative. It can be fun when you reminisce about your first times. You can give speeches about your first visit to a concert, another country, your first love, or even your first day at school or college. Do you remember those first times? We all have had so many first times in our lifetime, and I believe it will take a lifetime of icebreakers to deliver them all.

The problems many have observed with the program are fixable. The number of projects repeated in a Path already completed is a significant drawback for members. But, again, my approach is – “it was what it was, it is what it is, and only when we provide our feedback will it become what it should be.” That’s why it is essential for Toastmasters who have done the traditional programs to voice their opinions.

When you do the program, you can provide helpful feedback. If every new journey begins with a single step, what gets us to our destination may change as our journey continues. Pathways is just the vehicle. But it is when we jump on board to become familiar with all the bells and whistles, we will know the type of vehicle Pathways is and what we would like it to be.

Like any new program, we expect Pathways to keep evolving. When I joined Toastmasters in the nineties, Toastmasters of the sixties, seventies, and eighties inspired me tremendously. I will never forget meeting one female member Dr. Smedley mentored when she joined the Navy at age eighteen. She spoke passionately about attending meetings on Base before the nineteen sixties when Toastmasters did not allow females to become members.

The challenges we face today are screaming for better communicators and better leaders. Are you ready to answer the call? Pathways offer many new opportunities to express our vision for a new tomorrow. The program is more balanced between the Leadership and Communication Paths. Members now have a list of projects in each Path with Core Competencies, ranging from writing a compelling blog, creating a podcast to improving your social media presence.

If you are one of those members who took a step back because of the changes from the traditional program, the time is now to step forward. With the virtual and hybrid opportunities available, now is the time to jump back into the program locally and internationally. You can attend meetings any day, any time, and in any language in any part of the world.

Now is the time for all members to start sharing one of the best-kept secrets and valued ROI – Return on Investment, with the rest of the world. Our program has successfully moved from traditional; manuals only to virtual platforms. Although it is still in its infancy, the future is bright.  The time is now to share what is perhaps the best-kept secret in the world today. It is time to start asking your friends, family, and colleagues, are you ready for the future of Toastmasters?

Do You Evaluate to Motivate

Let the speaker determine if your feedback is a criticism, coaching, cheerleading, or evaluating.

At a recent table topics session, I was asked the following question, if you had the choice, who would you rather receive feedback from, a Critic, Coach, Cheerleader, or Evaluator, and why. My response was, while feedback from all the above chosen or qualified to be so-called, I would choose the evaluator. We evaluate in some manner every day of our lives.

We listen and observe others and offer our opinions even when we are not invited to do so. If there is one thing everyone has, is an opinion even when we are not qualified. But that is precisely what an Evaluator is, someone’s personal opinion, and that is how I believe it should be received.

Evaluators are expected to provide direct feedback and follow-up on what they saw, heard, and felt. In addition, they are expected to offer specific improvements, reinforce the speaker’s strengths, and support building and maintaining the speaker’s healthy self-esteem. When evaluators can fulfill those expectations, you have received a good evaluation. However, what separates the evaluator from the cheerleader, coach and critic is the language used to deliver that evaluation.

In a casual or informal setting, we are direct. Do you remember the feedback you gave when another driver cut you off? We are all human. Then why is it so difficult to be natural among friends and associates? Could it be because you are conscious of being evaluated also? Whenever we approach evaluating for the right reasons, we feel wordy to evaluate anyone at any level, anytime. And what are those reasons? First, you are offering your knowledge and experience to help others improve. You are building self-understanding. You are creating mutually beneficial bonds with others. And you are improving your impromptu speaking skills.

The tone and content of an evaluation can positively or negatively impact everyone – speaker, evaluator, and audience. Therefore, it is essential to meet every speaker where they are. After you have had a few experiences under your belt as an evaluator, you can tell if a speaker was prepared or not. Every day is not Sunday. Even a major league slugger gets three strikes before they are out.

As an evaluator, think before you make that call. Even when you believe that call is deserving, it can be taken differently, especially by audience members. Also, an overly kind or undeserving evaluation may be received negatively by others. Some guests may even walk away with the false impression that it is the accepted standard of your group or club.  In those cases, there are no winners. So, amid the noise and haste, be gentle, and be on good terms with all persons. Some feedback is more effective when given privately.

Good evaluators prepare for their speakers.  As Yogi Berra “is said to have said,” if you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else. Similarly, if you are not prepared, not familiar with the objectives of the speaker’s project, which the speaker has provided, you are going to try to “wing it.” And that is where many evaluators get into trouble. One of the primary responsibilities of the evaluator is to prepare the audience for the speaker’s project.

The evaluator sets the expectations of the assignment for the audience. It is also important for the speaker and evaluator to connect before the delivery of the presentation. Ask what are you working on and what would you like me to observe specifically? With that information and your evaluation forms for that project, you should be all set as an evaluator.

Addressing only that which the speaker can change is a good rule of thumb. Make notes during the presentation and pay attention to the speaker’s soft skills, natural eye contact, meaningful gestures, audience awareness, and speaking area usage. To make the best use of your delivery time, work in threes. Three things the speaker did well – organization, clarity, humor. Three things the speaker can improve, like posture, unanswered questions, or confusing statements. And three things to encourage or boost the speaker’s morale. Thank the speaker for their time and work in preparing for the presentation. When speakers and evaluators are ready for the platform, that’s a winning proposition for everyone. Always close on a positive note and give thanks for the moment.

Follow-up after the speech is essential. After providing the speaker with a written evaluation, ask for questions or comments about the evaluation. The responses you receive will help you improve as an evaluator. Do not be defensive. Clarify anything that may have been misinterpreted in your verbal evaluation.  Then, expand in your written evaluation on anything you were unable to cover in the oral assessment.

Let the speaker determine if your feedback is a criticism, coaching, cheerleading, or evaluating. However, if critics and coaches hold the same views as you, their evaluator, and they still don’t know that they have a problem, then they have a problem. And a  cheerleader and not an evaluator will better serve that speaker. Therefore speakers should also seek out their trusted evaluators. As we all know, many are called critics, coaches, cheerleaders, and evaluators. Still, few, and only a few, are ever chosen.

Speaking Poetically

Adding poetry to a speech can be scary and intimidating.

Do you ever speak in a manner related to poetry? If you do, whether intentional or not, you may already be speaking poetically. Poetry is an excellent way to release pent-up emotions. It has the power to inspire audiences to change. When your message is delivered poetically with a repeatable rhythm, it compels audiences to act.

Audiences don’t expect an entire speech to be delivered poetically. However, adding some poetry can significantly enhance any presentation. Try adding a few poetic lines to your next speech and observe your audience’s reaction. Think of those lines as the cream you would typically add to your favorite beverage. It doesn’t change the product but adds flavor to enhance the experience for both the speaker and the audience. And as a bonus, it may even increase the clarity of your message.

All speakers know they don’t have to be poets to add poetry to their speaking. Still, there is a resistance to embracing this art form. When our creative juices begin to flow, we seem to resist the urge to “take note” or even acknowledge our creativity. Adding poetry to a speech can be scary and intimidating. However, when poetry is presented as a natural form of self-expression, audiences often remember the moment vividly. They often recall how they felt.

Whether your use of poetry is an innate skill or one learned, it is a skill worth exploring. It encourages speakers to use more vocal variety, emotions, and body language in their delivery. Give it a try, and you will also discover, adding poetry is one of the fastest ways to establish a solid connection with audiences.

Looking back at my primary school days, I remember our teachers using poetry to help us overcome the fear of public speaking. Sometimes I think it achieved the opposite. While those experiences played a significant role in teaching us how to memorize, they failed to focus on the depth and beauty of the poems. Our ability to remember line by line was of the utmost importance. Forget one word, and you were lost and stayed lost.

Many of us never understood or truly appreciated the value of those poems. We were too scared. Like it or not, we had to recite the works of the legends of poetry, like William Wordsworth and Shakespeare, start to finish, as we stood nervously before our teacher and classmates. Who knew? Perhaps that’s where the fear of using poetry and public speaking all began.

It was only later in my cultural development I realized what I was missing. I began exploring metaphors, similes, and imagery in college. I also learned quite a lot while playing music for theatre companies. Then, in the late seventies, I had the opportunity to work with poet and playwright Derek Walcott on some of his plays. That experience was an eye-opener and quite an education.

There, I observed firsthand the value of using the wealth of literary devices available to those who dare to take them to the stage. In his workshops and rehearsals for two of his plays – The Joker of Seville and O’Babylon – Derek showed his creative mastery. He constantly tested the limits of using poetry in his plays and his poetry readings.

Different cultures and accents inspire a varied range of emotions. When communicating in a formal setting, we often speak a bit differently. However, all speakers want to be authentic when they are on the platform. Using a poetic quote can be an excellent interlude, especially when it is in the native language of your audience. There is a profound change in communication styles when native speakers of the same culture meet and speak.

Their confidence, descriptiveness, and vocal variety are more pronounced. Look for those opportunities that open those doors. They offer speakers the ability to be in the moment and to use their poetic license. Then seamlessly, you can flip that inner switch and return to the expectations of the platform and the formality of the occasion. It works every time.

Finally, relevance is essential when speaking poetically. Poetry always takes us back to an appropriate time and place. It can be a time when we were happy or sad. Perhaps it was a moment when we could not find the right words to express our feelings held deep within. In those moments, turn to the power of poetry.

You will discover expressions of emotions that are fitting to express those feelings. When those meaningful events in our lives are expressed poetically, they are cemented in our memoirs forever. Over time, we may forget the details of those events but seldom do we forget how we felt at that moment. Your words of comfort at the right time and in the right place will always remain fresh in our lives when we tell them in a manner related to poetry.

The Meeting That Never Was

Make your next meeting an experience.

Sometimes we attend a scheduled meeting, which turns out to be something else; an experience. Recently I had one of those unforgettable experiences. At one of my club’s bi-monthly meetings two Thursdays ago, we didn’t have a quorum.

As the SAA- Sargent at Arms, I called the meeting to order. Realizing we were facing a problem all clubs occasionally do, we considered canceling the meeting. Luckily, we didn’t, and it turned out to be a moment all who showed were happy they did. I now call that experience – The Meeting that Never Was.

The scheduled agenda was postponed to the next meeting day. A motion was then entertained to watch a video and have Table Topics based on what everyone saw, heard, and felt. The motion carried.

After watching the video, Jeffery Deslich delivered his Table Topic, which I am happy to share today with his permission. The video selected from my library was by Dr. Sean Stephenson.

His video was played on the final day of a 3-day Seminar I had attended one week earlier. Unfortunately, Dr. Sean Stephenson is now deceased, but he remains unforgettable.

The Seminar was entitled – Monetize Your Message – Hosted by Bob Dietrich and Chris Nielson. It featured Lance Miller, Darren LaCroix, Mark Brown, and many other well-known Toastmasters and professional speakers. The following was Jeffery’s Table Topic. He vividly captured and shared how much he appreciated Dr. Stephenson’s video in an email to all the members of the club.

——– Original message ——–

 Hello fellow Toastmasters,

“During the last meeting, which was minimally attended, Henry proposed that we watch a video by Dr. Sean Stephenson, a therapist, self-help author, and motivational speaker. This speaker was unique in that because he was born with a problem that caused his bones to be very brittle, and he was only 3 feet tall 65 pounds, and in a wheelchair. Nonetheless, this man was an incredible speaker. “In the speech that we watched, he broke down the elements of the speech that he was giving, as he went along, detailing the many lessons that he has learned on how to write and deliver a great speech.”

I searched YouTube hoping to find this video, I could not find it, although I found many other excellent Sean Stephenson videos such as:

YouTube Link:
Creating Powerful Connections | Sean Stephenson    
(Dr. Sean Stephenson Videos are available on YouTube)

After watching the video last Thursday, we had a table topics session, and I delivered my table topics speech about the video from the notes I had taken.

This is a summary of my notes:

Don’t jump into the speech – he rolled his wheelchair out onto the stage but did not immediately start to talk; instead, he took a moment to look at the audience – for the audience to look at him. This had a huge visual and psychological impact.

For someone in a wheelchair, he had an incredible onstage presence, the way that he moved his wheelchair about the stage kept the viewers’ eyes focused upon him.

No autopilot – focus on your audience, make it real and personal every time you give your speech, don’t just recite your speech the way you have rehearsed it many times before

Pauses – many times during his speech, he just stopped and looked at the audience, sometimes to let the audience absorb what he just said, or other times to build up anticipation of what he would say next.

No Division – write your speech in a way not to divide your audience into groups; politically, religiously.

No Idolization – be one with the audience, try to be like your audience, show your audience that you are like them, do not put yourself on a pedestal.

Reconnect with the audience often.

Oh, Bummer. I have a note about a joke he told, but I only wrote on the punchline! “I’m not the father… I’m not the father” please, somebody, remind me of the joke! … ( it was about receiving good and bad news – I am not the father – Good News… I am not the father – Bad New)

Never make up a story – I liked this part the best! In this concept, he referred to the story as coffee, never make up a story, make your story real, but it’s okay to add “cream” that’s what adds flavor to the story, a little bit of embellishment.

He used many comedic hand gestures, for example, “ripping the Band-Aid off.”

Don’t apologize for screwing up – if you screw up and apologize to your audience, then you have screwed up twice! If you make a mistake, just keep going.

Audiences want closure – when you end your story, your audience wants it to have an ending. Even if it is a bad ending, it provides closure. ‘He closed his story by humming the tune to “Hail to the chief” as he told of him being pushed in his wheelchair into the White House, and that took his story back around the beginning of his speech where he talked about wanting to become the President of the United States.”

I invite all of you to go to YouTube and watch one or more videos from this excellent speaker. I believe you will find them very entertaining as well as educational.

I’m looking forward to seeing you at next Thursday’s meeting,”

Jeffery Deslich

That was not the first or will not be the last meeting that never was. However, every time I have one of those experiences, I am reminded of the humble beginnings of Toastmasters and even some clubs. They began with those who showed up and kept coming back. So, make your next meeting that never was, and experience. Have it for all who are called and the few who have chosen to be present. It’s not always about the numbers when you show up.

Impromptu Speaking

Let silence send your message!

Samuel Clements, famously known as Mark Twain, must have scared every aspiring speaker when he said –  “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” However, Twain was known to be quick-witted, humorous, and could be in the moment when called unexpectedly to speak.

I believe the secret to impromptu speaking lies in your ability to be in the moment. But first, you must have a plan. Over time, speakers should develop their strategy for speaking impromptu. Begin by focusing on the keywords of the question. Then, use your keyword as anchors at the beginning and end of your answer.

In the English Language, there are five basic types of questions. Factual, Convergent, Divergent, Evaluation and Combination. Most Toastmasters Table Topic questions are either Convergent or Divergent. Therefore, it is wise to identify the topic type as you listen carefully for subtle details hidden in the question.

 Convergent: Questions moving towards a single point challenge the cognitive thinking skills of the respondent. They are expected to offer a response that is within a finite range of acceptable accuracy. The response provided may be based on personal awareness, material read, or known. The speaker is also expected to justify their answer or give evidence to support their response.

Divergent: Questions moving toward different directions challenge the speaker to explore other avenues and create different variations and alternative scenarios. Correctness may be based on logic, projections, creation, or the speaker’s imagination. These types of questions require the speaker to analyze, evaluate or synthesize the various possible outcomes.

How you answer your question is most important. Don’t leave your audience out of the moment. Check-in with your audience. When you fail to check in – your audience will check out. A standard method used to answer Table Topic questions is the PREP formula. The acronym PREP is derived from (P) Point, (R) Reason, (E) Example (P) Point.

In Toastmasters Table Topic Competitions, each speaker is allowed 2 minutes and 30 seconds to respond to their question before disqualification. So, prepare a plan for how you are going to divvy up your allotted time. The following is my suggestion.

  •        Point – Pause – Paraphrase:             30 – Seconds
  •        Reason – Because – Justification:  30 – Seconds   
  •        Example – For Instance or Story:    30 – Seconds
  •        Point to Summarize and Close:        30 – Seconds

Note the speaker will still have 30 seconds left. After you have delivered your summary, hand control back to the Chair. Stop talking! Let silence send your message.

Table Topic contests judging are like any humorous or international speech contest. The suggested point values are Speech Development 30 pts, Effectiveness 25 pts, Physical 15 Pts, Voice 15pts, and Language 15pts. When your answer is different enough to stand out from the rest of the crowd, you will most likely win the judges’ hearts and minds.

We all know nothing in life is absolute. But just as there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to an argument or a Divergent question – Make sure you address both sides; the pros and cons. A referee with a two-headed coin is biased. Similarly, addressing only one side of a discussion will divide your audience and your judges. So show both sides of the coin to your audience.

Your summary and closing must have a lingering effect on your audience. You don’t have to be an expert on the subject you are addressing. However, by relating the question to a real-life event or a familiar theme, you should get a boost of energy. So, relax, and get to work without hesitation. Be in the moment.

Before you begin to speak, let your body language show your appreciation for the question. With a smile, check in with your audience, then paraphrase or restate the question. If possible, add a twist to your paraphrase to make a stronger connection. Then, address the question as if you are the expert in the room. You must convince your audience that you know what you are talking about.

Table Topics in Toastmasters is intended to help members develop their ability to organize their thoughts quickly and respond to an impromptu question or topic. Two past Presidents I have always admired for handling difficult questions were Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton. They were both quick-witted, Regan especially. He mastered the art of turning questions on its head in a flash with humor.

When speakers can get their audience to laugh, think profoundly, or look at a problem differently, they will be rewarded by their judges and audiences. So perhaps Mark Twain was right; maybe it does take three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech, but I will add, except for when that impromptu speaker is in the moment, with a plan.

Your Packaging Begins with You

We speak to be heard, understood, and to be repeated.

Do you package your speeches for delivery – If you don’t, why not? We wrap our gifts – Right? Well, if your presentation is a gift to your audience, how that gift is presented matters. Your wrappings can make the difference between how your presentation is delivered and received.

When you work on your deliverables, you will notice a significant change in your style of presenting your gift to an audience. The speech is the product. Your wrappings are all the deliverables; sincerity, passion, message, and a host of other essentials. With practice, you will find yourself using them seamlessly as you deliver the presentations and speeches you create. Why –  Simply because – your packaging begins with you.

Packaging is a process. Begin by taking an inventory of your weaknesses and strengths: the skills you have mastered and those you need to improve. Start with the basics. How well do you prepare for each delivery? Do you dress appropriately for each occasion? A gift delivered in fine China would have an entirely different effect on the receiver if that same gift were presented on a garbage cover.

You are a significant part of the package. How you choose to introduce yourself can enhance or destroy the beauty of the moment. Before you utter your first words, you are screened, evaluated, judged. You are an integral part of the packaging, and your audience’s first and last impressions linger.

The instruments we all use to make our delivery are our body and our voice. Many moons ago, I heard David Brooks, the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking (WCPS), state:  “We speak to be heard, understood, and to be repeated.” It was then I immediately made that bit of wisdom part of my packaging. The deliverables you use will vary, but you must remain sincere throughout your presentation.

If your audience believes for a moment, you are reading, repackaging, or regifting a presentation; you will lose them. And when an audience is lost, it is more than likely; they will stay lost forever. When you make yourself heard, understood, and memorable enough to be repeated, your packaging is working for both you and your audience.

Having your audience do some unpackaging with you works better than you doing it all by yourself. Whether you are delivering a diamond ring in a tiny box or a spanking brand-new Computer, what’s most important to the receiver, is in the package. The element of surprise must not be lost. Make the unveiling and revealing of what’s in the box an experience that will long be remembered.

Show your appreciation for the suspense displayed by the receiver. Eye contact is essential, and so is your body language. Let your audience feel your passion as the giver by including them in the process. Never leave your audience out of the experience as you both savor the moment together.

How you use the platform is also a vital part of the process. Where you start, finish, and every move you make in between are significant. Your every move or action must be delivered with a purpose. Some speakers even create a separate script for their movement when they are on the platform. For example, when delivering from center stage, stage left, or stage right, the speaker scripts and knows the emotion they wish to establish.

On a large platform, every location requires a different pitch, volume, and body placement to be seen, heard, and felt by everyone present. Always remember you are not the gift. What’s in the box matters most to your audience. You are the messenger and not the message. Your job as the messenger is to make sure your message is well delivered.

Your level of energy cannot be understated. Take your pulse before you step on the platform. If you don’t feel one, you are not ready to make your delivery. As Craig Valentine, the 1999 – WCPS, would say, good speakers don’t get ready – they stay ready. When your energy level is low, it becomes contagious. A low energy level can make the difference for your audience being lifted to higher heights or lower lows. However, that energy must be controlled. Make sure the objective is felt and understood by you and everyone in the audience.

Packaging is just as crucial as every word you include in your presentation. As speakers, we seek feedback about what our audience saw, heard, and felt. While many of us focus more on what we hear, paying attention to what is seen and felt is essential. Study the feedback you receive on your packaging and work on how you deliver those intangible deliverables.

Seek feedback about your body’s spoken image. Rate each category; your posture, gestures, body movement, facial expressions, and eye contact. These are all crucial parts of your packaging and should not be taken for granted. They should be included in your evaluations and preparation simply because – your packaging begins with you.

Writing for the Platform

Unity and logical thinking are two essential fundamentals of good writing.

Is your presentation ready for the platform? Taking a presentation to the stage is a process. Unity and logical thinking are two essential fundamentals of good writing. Emphasis and variety in your structure are two more essentials that will make your presentation interesting. Emphasis makes your writing forceful. Variety makes ideas appealing to the ear. When all the parts of your structure contribute to making one clear point for your audience, your writing is unified. Each sentence you deliver must form part of the perfect whole. Any change, even one word, can disturb the clarity of your point of view and outcome.

Variety in the structure and length of your sentences make for a good speech. Avoid a series of short or long sentences. While there are no specific rules that govern the construction of paragraphs, listeners expect your ideas to be coherent, well-developed and unified as you address the topic. Keep each paragraph word count between 100 and 250 words long with an average of 5 to 7 sentences. Place your topic sentence close to or at the beginning of each segment. Your topic sentence limits and directs the development of your idea. Organize your paragraphs according to patterns. Patterns help your audience stay connected to your story. 

If ever you are asked why I should write out my speeches, the simple answer is to have something to edit. The speaker should know what they would like their listeners to think, feel, or do after hearing your presentation. They should also decide if their purpose is to entertain, inspire, persuade or which combination is their delivery style. They should also choose a topic they are passionate about. They should then make a list as they ask themselves the following questions:  

  • What will you or your audience find engaging about this topic?
  • What supporting data or stories will prove my point of view?
  • What have I read or heard that I agree or disagree with about this topic?
  • What is the lesson, message, or takeaway for my audience?

Write down all the answers that come to mind. Then, write a hypothesis – your preliminary thesis or a foundational statement. Your foundational statement is a short phrase that echoes throughout your speech.  Also, to ensure you have covered every aspect of your story, make sure the following questions are answered: who, what, when, where, why, and how.  Keep in mind; any unanswered questions can become a distraction to your audience.  The amount of detail you offer depends upon your audience. Whether you are a generalist or specialist on the topic you are addressing, show respect to your audience’s intelligence and curiosity.                                                                 

Vocalize what you have written. As you move your text from your head to your heart, remember emotions move audiences. Read your script out loud until what you have written is internalized. Speeches are delivered, not read. Your presentation is not an act; however, you must bring your words to life. Add the feelings you wish to share with your audience. Practice your delivery of those feelings. Show your audience what it’s like to be happy, sad, surprised, disgusted, or paralyzed with fear as you engage them emotionally with your stories. When your speech is unified, and you can make your audience feel your emotions, you are ready to take that presentation to the platform.

Your Quotable Quotes

Relevant, Relatable, and Repeatable my three R’s when selecting quotes

Quotations can add life and luster to your narrative when used effectively. They can provide credibility, a fresh voice, and new perspectives to your point of view. Conversely, if used ineffectively, they can clutter your presentation, interrupt your flow, and distract your audience from focusing on your message.

After carefully selecting a quote to use in your presentation, you should ask yourself, is my quote relevant, relatable, and repeatable? If the answer is yes to all three questions, you have completed the first test of the selection process.  When your selection is relevant, relatable, and repeatable, you must then decide how, when, and where that selection will fit to add credibility, life, and luster to your story or message. I call Relevant, Relatable, and Repeatable my three R’s when selecting quotes.

I agree; there is nothing you will ever say in your lifetime that has not already been said by someone, somewhere, and at some time.  There is nothing new under the sun. However, I believe in our spontaneous everyday human interactions; we spew wisdom and quotable quotes that naturally creep into our communication with others. Some are bits of knowledge, quotes, and phrases that are appealing to the ear.  We seldom take note of those “isms”   until we hear those same expressions we have used for years in a book, song, or text by someone famous. How often have you said, if only I “would-er,” I “should-er,” I “could-er.”  

Phrases with good ear appeal come naturally to many, but few write them down. When we use our own words of wisdom in our presentations, they are remembered long after leaving the platform. When your audience can relate to your repeatable phrase, like a haunting song, even if they wish to forget what they heard, they can’t. Therefore, speakers should strive to have a few ear-appealing phrases in their speeches. Some call them soundbites. Others refer to them as quotable quotes. To name just a few, “Read my lips.” – “no pain, no gain.” and this “Yogism” – “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

A question often asked is, how much is too much when selecting a quote?  While you should try to present your own words as much as possible, you should cite only the most memorable parts of the source you have selected. Once you have carefully chosen a quote, make sure you have an appropriate setup and follow-up. What precedes and follows the insertion of your selection are just as crucial as your quotation.

Next, you must decide how to weave that quotation into your text. Think of the quotation as the books between your bookends. Your quote is supported by your setup on one side and your follow-up on the other. If one side provides too much or too little support, everything collapses. Again, I must stress that the quote must be relevant to the context preceding and following your selection. If it does not fit, it is better to quit. Move on. The setup and follow-up are just as important or even more critical than the quote you selected.

When using the words of others, get out of the habit of saying “he or she said.” Instead, use a verb to give a voice to the person you are quoting. The person spoken about can become the person speaking; when you use instead, he/she declared, proclaimed, suggested, exclaimed, complained, or remarked. And, this is where it gets a bit tricky for speakers. How do you provide a citation for your quotation? All quotations and paraphrases require a formal source.

Regardless of who you are quoting, give them their due.  One of my favorite references in my everyday communication is: “In the immortal words of the great Marvin Gaye – what’s going on.”  I also love this bit of wisdom from John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” But, of course, my favorite sources of quotable quotes will always be the Holy Bible and the songwriters of the seventies, eighties, and nineties.  Listen to the lyrics of many of those songs, and you too will discover a treasure trove of quotable quotes.

Since your speaking is about your perspective, it is a good idea to start quoting yourself. All the great ones do it. Why bring the wisdom and language of others to the platform and let their language and works usurp yours? When you are on the platform, give yourself the permission and liberty to be yourself. First, think of the context that will make your quotation relevant and relatable to your presentations. Remember the three R’s when selecting. Next, think about how you can weave and produce that same message with your own words. Finally, let your audience know who is speaking, and for sure, they will soon be repeating your quotable quotes. And yes, you can quote me on that!

Adding Dialogue to Your Monologue

With dialogue, you can bring an experience or event back to life.

We all have heard it said. No one could tell your story better than you. While that may be true, how you tell your story can make all the difference. Speakers often deliver their presentations as a monologue, dialogue, or with a combination of both. Stories delivered as a monologue is one person doing all the talking.  With dialogue, the speaker can punctuate their presentation with the characters’ voices to make their point more effective or move an audience to make the story unforgettable.

The word monologue has its roots in the Greek word “monologos” – translation, speaking alone.  Dialogue also has Greek roots derived from the word “dialogos” – a conversation between two or more characters narrating parts of the story. Many speakers deliver their entire presentation as a monologue.  However, when you add dialogue to a monologue, speakers can engage their audience as if they both are having a conversation within the presentation.

Dialogue takes you back to experience the scene’s true emotional and personal impact. When two or more people are involved in a conversation, everyone brings their pleasures and pains to the platform. Their emotions are express as a conversation with the audience. The speaker is no longer telling the story or delivering the message to the audience. Instead, the speaker is reliving a moment in time with the audience. With dialogue, you can bring an experience or event back to life.  You can take your audience back to the time and place of the event to show your audience what happened and not just tell them about what happened.

Dialogue also opens the doors to a wide range of voices and opportunities to explore your vocal variety. It is always more interesting for an audience to hear other voices in a speech and not just one voice narrating a story. For example, you cannot deliver what was said using the character’s voice when delivering a monologue. With dialogue, you can create other voices to make your presentation conversational, more interesting, and memorable for your audience.

The beauty of dialogue, when used correctly, does not dominate the speech; it blends in seamlessly. Administer your dialogue in small doses like medicine. A little goes a long way in making parts of your presentation unforgettable.  Dr. Randy Harvey demonstrated that technique beautifully in his speech – Lessons from Fatdad.  Here is that amazing emotional scene he created after his dad’s thunderous bellow scattered their hounds like cottonseeds on the wind:

“The next morning – Fatdad was buffing the scratches out of his new car.

 I said – “Fatdad, I’m sorry you had to rescue me.”

He scooped me up in his big arms,

Said – “Son, in life, sometimes you’re the catcher – sometimes you’re the caught.”

“When you love somebody – their trouble is your trouble.”

That line delivered with dialogue remains one of the most unforgettable moments of that speech to this day. His speech also won him the coveted title of World Champion of Public Speaking in August of 2004.

When using quotations, dialogue allows the speaker to imitate the voice of the person you are quoting.  With dialogue, a speaker can use voice, tone, and inflections to bring the words of great speakers back to life. Just a snippet is often enough to change the focus of your audience in a speech. At that moment, audiences often reflect on a time and place when those exact words meant something special to them. For some, it can be a moment of learning, growth, understanding, or renewal.

We all have stories to tell, so don’t be afraid to tell yours.   Practice using stories within your speeches. Use dialogue to transport your audiences back in time. Share the emotions you once experienced with your audiences. Explore different storytelling styles by adding dialogue to your monologue.  Be conscious of which part of the body you are addressing as you speak. Ask yourself, am I addressing the head, heart, hands, or feet? Get your audiences to think, feel or do something. Speak with a purpose, and someone will always be ready, willing, and able to lend you an attentive ear.  When you speak from the heart, the world will listen. And you, your voice, and your stories will live on forever.

What is your Laugh Count

How do you get to your 20 Laughs 5 Chuckles, and 1 Belly Full ?

Mark Twain

Whenever someone asks me if there is a formula for giving a winning humorous speech, my answer is always sure, why not! In a five-to-seven-minute contest speech, mine is twenty laughs – five chuckles and one belly full of laughter. What’s yours? The question that follows is often, and how do you get to your 20, 5, and 1. My response, you keep track of your Laugh Count.

Humor is an unstated requirement in every type of speech. Your laughter should begin within your first 20 seconds in humorous speeches and continue throughout your presentation. When your audience is laughing, you are connecting; your audience is listening and learning. Don’t try to be a comedian. Comedians tell jokes. Speakers connect with stories about people, places, and things. We explore topics some may find silly but funny to others. Have you ever thought about why it’s ok to watch your watch but not clock your clock? There you go!  I often wonder why that statement generates laughter. Look around, and you will find enough fodder that is silly, funny, and humorous to share with your audiences. All you need is a good setup and a relevant punch line.  

Always remember your purpose for being on the platform is to deliver a humorous speech. All speeches should have an opening, body, and conclusion. Your speech should also have a purpose. The purpose of giving a humorous speech is to make your audience relax, think a little, and laugh. If your subject matter is funny, it is easier to achieve your goal-laughter. Now we all know someone who can read from the Holy Bible and make it funny. It is all because of their timing, pauses, and, most importantly, their delivery. Humorous speakers develop those skills over time; however, the topic you choose can set you on a path to delivering a funny speech.  

Your topic selection should be appropriate for your audience, the event, and your venue. Selecting the right topic for your audience takes research. For example, you may want to know the event’s history and some of the previous successful performers? What were their topics? What’s trending that may interest your audience?  These are all questions you should consider if you hope to do well in a humorous speech contest. Do your homework. Audiences will differ. All reactions are not always the same. However, keep in mind humor comes from the unexpected. If your bit of humor did not increase your laugh count, don’t panic; turn it around; you could even make it self-deprecating. Now the jokes on you or the one person in the audience who got it.

Next, as you would do for any speech you are preparing, ask yourself, what is my message? Again, keep it light but ask yourself what you want your audience to take away from this experience? As a speaker, you are speaking to be heard, understood, remembered, and repeated. When someone can remember details of a presentation you delivered five years ago, rest assured you were heard, understood, remembered, and repeated. And that is the best trophy of them all.

To increase your laugh count, observe and analyze what makes your audience laugh. Think back and explore all the circumstances that lead up to the laughter. Then, try to determine what caused the laughter and how to repeat it over and over. The words you choose should be easy to pronounce to convey your desired meaning. They should not create any confusion or misunderstanding. Laughter is an emotion built up to a specific tension. Then suddenly, it is released to create a surprise. Lead your audience in one direction. And when they expect, you continue in the same direction; you turn to the other. Keep it simple. Less always creates more laughter.  

One sure way to increase your laugh count, giggles, and chuckles is with what I call tagging. According to s, a tag can be a brief quotation used for rhetorical emphasis or sententious effect. Look for opportunities to add a funny word, short sentence, or body language to provoke continued laughter, giggles, or chuckles. One of the masters of tagging was Mark Twain. He was first a humorist on the lecture platforms before he became known for writing humor. When he wrote, he imagined he was talking to an audience so that everything had his personal touch. In conversations with friends and family, we tag all the time subconsciously. As you prepare your speech, imagine yourself speaking to your audience. Add your personal touch to make every laugh, every chuckle, and your belly full of laughter count.  Start developing your formula to increase your laugh count.  And you might very well be the next humorous speech champion with a bit of help from my formula and yours.