How do you Listen

Listen to Understand and Speak Effectively

Shh!! SilenceHow we listen, is an essential skill all speakers must develop, however, it is a skill that can be developed with practice. At almost every Toastmasters meeting, members and guests get the opportunity to answer questions. Even when some guests decide to take a pass on the Table Topics questions, we usually get visitors at the end of the meeting to at least comment on what they heard, saw and felt at the meeting. Yes, we make sure that no one shall escape speaking at a Toastmasters meeting. We listen to understand and speak effectively,

While most members and guests tend to focus on answering the questions, I have found that if you use the Table Topics segment to practice and develop your listening skills, even when you are not the one called upon to answer any of the questions, you may find this portion of the meeting, extremely beneficial to your development as a listener and speaker.

As a first step, we should try to analyze what we do subconsciously when someone else is speaking. Many of us begin preparing our answer, just waiting to begin speaking. The experts claim that most likely we learned this behavior as children and perfect it as adults. When this approach is used, the result is all forms of miscommunication, misrepresentation, and misinterpretation in our responses. Yes, all the misses. Relationships are also affected by this approach when communicating in business and social circles.

An excellent approach I found to correct this method of listening is to try to understand the meaning behind the question. Paying attention to body language used by the speaker will often help clarify the meaning. I am sure you have heard it said many times, actions speak louder than words. Shut down the internal noises in your head so the incoming messages from the speaker can be received clearly. Focus on the body language used by the speaker. Again, the experts claim the spoken word accounts for only seven percent of our communication.So happy I am not an expert.

It is quite natural to have some anxiety when faced with questions. Using your standard mechanisms to control nervous impulses is a good starting point. Breathe! Where there is breath, there is life. Stabilize your heart rate. Experts believe that deep breathing is the right approach to move the noise from your head to your chest. Give it a try. It should not hurt if your focus is breathing and listening. You should feel calm.

Begin your response by using what I call a silent icebreaker. Set the mood by using your body language to express how you were affected by the question. Use facial expressions silently, as you playback what you believe the speaker meant when he said what was said. You have the six emotions to play with here. Happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust.

Once the speaker has stopped speaking, it is now your turn to speak. Paraphrasing, what you heard is a good place to start. If there is agreement about the understanding of the question, you should be off to a good start. By that time, you should be at ease to address what you saw and felt. Now that is exactly why it is so important to work on your listening skills. It sets the stage for a good answer. What you saw and felt along with your words and body language, should satisfy any Table Topics Master at your club meetings or at those testy Table Topics sessions at home.

The Entertaining Speaker

Your Isims & Schisms

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Keep Your Humor Handy

Are you an entertaining speaker? We all love to be entertained. We seek out entertaining books, movies, music as well as all kinds of different ways to satisfy our natural urge for entertainment.  Keynote speakers who are both informative and entertaining are in high demand. They are often called to speak at weddings, conventions and social events. This is why it is important as a speaker to be entertaining.

Entertaining speakers offer diversions from the stresses of everyday life. Dr. Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters famously said: “We learn best in moments of enjoyment”. When we laugh, cry or engage in whatever happens to be our chosen form of enjoyment, we are entertained, however, there is this misconception by many speakers that you have to be funny to be entertaining.

Speakers all know, it ain’t necessarily so. Sure, some entertaining speakers rely heavily on being funny. Conversely, some speakers rely more on life experiences. They keep notes about stories and events from their life and the lives of others.   The good entertaining speaker doesn’t rely on telling jokes, they add humor to their speeches. They are the first to advise that you leave the joke telling to the comedians until you decide to become one.

It is for this reason, I always recommend keeping a story-file or log of interesting stories that cross our path daily. They may be your personal stories or stories that touched you in some manner. You will find that your best humor is those “off the cuff” remarks you say or hear daily. Write them down.  Try them out every opportunity you get. Make them your “isims”, My friends call mine “Henry-isims”. Over time, you will find that some will work better than others. I call those that fall flat, your “schisms”, however, as you begin to score more “isims” than schisms, you will realize that you are well on the way to becoming an entertaining speaker.

Twenty – Ten & One Belly Roll

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Writing humor is no joking matter.  One of the most difficult things to do is to try to analyze humor, to determine why it will make an audience laugh.  Laughter itself is an emotion.  It is an emotion built up to a certain pitch, then released suddenly to create a surprise.  While there are some subjects that lend themselves easily to humor, a combination of acting funny and good humor will often earn you a nod of approval from your audience and judges.

A good barometer to keep you on track is your laugh count. Whenever  I am  asked what is my formula for preparing a successful  five to seven humorous speech, my answer is  always the same  – 20-10-1 – In a five to seven minute try to fit at least twenty laughs, ten chuckles and at least on belly roll into your content.  Laughter should also begin from the first minute of your presentation.

I arrived at this 20-10-1 formula, after a World Champions of public speaking asked me to keep count of the number of laughs he received as he delivered a keynote address. I was so fascinated by the experience, I then did the math and, arrived at an average laugh count of at least twenty laughs, ten chuckles and one belly roll. After testing my theory and found that although more is better at least a -20-10 -1- laugh count works just fine.

There are three techniques which will help you increase your laugh count.  The first is tagging.  Tagging prolongs the laughter by just adding a word or two to provide additional information to a previously delivered humorous line. Your tag may have no real connection to the main humorous bit. It might just simply be a funny addition which makes the laughter continue.

The second is “speech brighteners”. Speech brighteners can generate a “quick laugh”. “Speech brightener” requires no setup and does not interrupt the flow of your speech. It merely emphasis a point or provides a change of pace. The whole idea behind a speech brightener is to catch you audience off guard and to achieve one of the most important elements of humor, surprise. For example: “Believers, love your enemy. It will drive them crazy!”

The third is wit; the ability to make clever off the cuff remarks. No one can predict what or when humor will generate laughter, however an unexpected chuckle from your audience can be an opportunity to get witty.  A witty saying may produce very little but they all add to your laugh count. I offer you my 20-10-1 formula, however, keep in mind all audiences differ, their reactions are not always the same and it is your tags, brighteners and wit that count.

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Stand and Deliver – Move with a Purpose

Movement keeps your audience engaged.

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If as much as 60 percent of our communication is nonverbal, and our entire body communicates more to our audience than the spoken word, it is important that we include in our preparation how we stand and how we move when we are on stage or the platform.

Movement attracts and keeps your audience engaged. Your entire body communicates its own visual message to your audience. Your posture and how you move or even sit, communicate to your audience whether you are confident, alert or if you are in command of the platform. Sitting and speaking will be addressed in another article. This article is about how to stand and deliver and moving with or for a purpose.

Some speakers prefer to stand and deliver while others may choose to use the stage for different purposes. When asked the question, which one works better, my answer is always the same. It depends on the type of speech you are delivering.  When you are standing behind a lectern or podium, obviously stand and deliver would be ab better choice, however when you are on the platform or stage, a combination of both, stand and deliver and moving with a purpose – for a purpose produces better results.

Before you begin your presentation, it is important to decide how you are going to use the speaking area. Becoming familiar with your speaking area to decide how it can be used to your advantage is very important. Your movement should always be in sync with the content of your speech. Some speakers even position parts of their speech at different locations on stage.  At times they would stand and deliver. Move to take their audience to a different time and place. Move to make a connection with the audience as they make a point, or demonstrate a particular action or activity in their speech.

How ever you plan to move on stage takes practice and preparation.  Whether you choose to stand and deliver or move with a purpose or for a purpose, remember why you are on the platform. You are there to connect with your audience. You are there to deliver a message. You are there as the messenger. The stage is yours for a few minutes. You can own it, you can work it or you can use it to your advantage. Whatever you do, never forget to make your movement part of your preparation. If you do, your audience will surely remember what you and your body said, long after you have finished delivering your story or message.

 

Your Unnecessary Words

pexels-photo-890550.jpegOne of the best ways to find your – (SOs, THATs, BUTs..etc )  all those unnecessary words you add to your speeches, is to convert your written copy – your copy for the eye, to a copy for the ear. When you write your speech for the ear, those unnecessary words seem to jump out at you. You may also notice they are used more frequently at the beginning, or at the end of your sentences.

Converting your speech from – written for the eye, to a copy for the ear is simple. If you are using Microsoft Word, cut and paste your speech as written, to create a second copy. Add lines to that second copy – (Go to Page Layout – add lines continuous) Next, edit each sentence as the line will be delivered.   Add markers,,,, for pauses and look for opportunities to re-edit the speech for a more natural delivery.

Here is an example from one of my speeches entitled – Lost.

LOST

Ever lost your keys or your wallet, and as if that was not bad enough, you lost your mind and naively asked your kid, the smart one with all the answers “did you see my wallet” only to get that dreaded response-that would make any saint a sinner.  “Where was the last place you left it, daddy”. ……

Edited  For the Ear

1. Ever lost your keys,,,,, your wallet … And

2. as if that wasn’t bad enough,,,,

3. You lost your mind,,,

4. naively asking your kid,  the smart one with all the answers,,,,

5. “did you see my wallet”

6. only to hear that dreaded response

7. that would make any saint a sinner,,,,,,

8. “Where was the last place you left it, daddy”……..

Review both copies, the copy for the eyes and for the ears.   Strike out all your unnecessary words also replace your UM’s and AH’s with a breath. Make them silent UM’s and Silent AH’s.  After you have done this exercises a few times, you will notice a big change in your delivery. You will also begin to realize, unnecessary words only add time and very little value to the delivery and quality of your speeches.

Opening To Close

Do you close to open or open to close.

800px-Broadway_BridgeWhen you are preparing to deliver a speech what are your goals? Do you focus on choosing a topic that will grab your audience attention, or do you focus on choosing an opening that is strong enough to open or close? I often go with the latter and have had my best results when I choose an opening to close. Let me explain.

While your topic selection should always be an attention grabber, your opening and closing more often than not will determine if you are able to connect and hold the attention of your audience from beginning to the end of your speech. Whether you decide to write out your speech or use bullet points, your opening and closing should be so well rehearsed and internalized, you should be able to spontaneously deliver both at will to open or close your speech.  Your opening and closing should also have an intimate relationship with each other. Your closing can be a call to action or callback to your key points. Whatever you decide, your closing should relate in some way to your opening. It is for that reason I recommend that you close to open or open to close. Give it a try. 

When you prepare for your next speech, write out your ending first. Condense that ending into a single sentence to make that sentence your opening statement.  That statement should short and profound.  Give it a try and if it doesn’t work for you the first time, this one is not water under the bridge. Like the bridge above, with each try at a new opening, you too will discover new ways of opening to close.

Feedback & The Rule of Threes

No one individual is Superman

bodybuilder-weight-training-stress-38630.jpegOne of the most difficult questions most speakers may have to answer at some point in their speaking career is – “Are you coachable?” – As they try to find common ground between the edits of their coach, and their burning desire to be the speaker they are aspiring to be.

Good coaches give their protégé as much information as possible to improve the skills and style they already possess, however, as the protégé it is your responsibility to develop your learning strategy.  It is your responsibility to ask yourself – how I can apply this information, style or, try to discover where this will or will not work and why.  Finding the right answers to those questions can be challenging to both coach and protégé and may sometimes lead to the question – Are you coachable?

It is only natural to feel compelled to respond to comments or justify what someone said you did or should have done. It is in those times, I have found value in the rule of threes. Take note of the comment. If it is repeated – three different times, by three different people, in three different settings, there is a problem. Consult with your coach. Listen and take action on the feedback you receive. It is then your responsibility to go out again and test that feedback. In the speaking business, no one individual is Superman. Good coaches will suggest and urge you to test.

Make the rule of three an important part of your learning strategy. Be a sponge when you receive feedback from your coach. Seek to know more about how others respond to you as a speaker. Seek to know what you may be missing as a speaker. Don’t take feedback personally. If you can take feedback as being useful information for you and it is not about you, soon you will discover the true value of being a good protégé and the joy of being coachable.

The Value Of Quotes

Goals in Writing are Dreams with Deadlines – Brian Tracy

pexels-photo-290150.jpegQuotes strategically placed in stories can brighten speeches.  Over the years, I have amassed a collection of small books with quotes which add value to the point of my stories.  One of those books which I treasure is a thirty-two pager written by Brian Tracy entitled “Excerpts from The Treasury of Quotes”.

This book was given to me many years ago by a fellow Toastmaster. It contains one hundred and fifty quotes taken fresh from Brian Tracy’s journals, lectures, and audio recordings.  Each quote relates to some aspect of everyday life. Some of the topics addressed are attitude, possibility thinking, belief, desire, decision, character, integrity, honesty, and goals to name just a few.

Quotes I often use in my everyday speaking which sometimes ends up in my speeches are – “Your attitude is an expression of your values beliefs and expectations” – “Optimism is the one quality more associated with success and happiness than any other” – “Integrity is the foundation upon which all other values are built” and –  “Think before you act and then act decisively – Fortune favours the brave”.  All valuable quotes that can brighten your stories

One word of caution, make sure to always give credit to the author of your quotes. To quote Brian Tracey – “Truthfulness is the foundation upon which all other values are built” – And finally one of my favorites Tracy quotes? “Goals in writing are dreams with deadlines”.

Start building your own library of little books with quotes that will not only brighten your everyday communication but will also be the brighteners in your speeches as you discover, the value of quotes.

 

 

Gestures-Your Body Speaks

Use Posture, Gestures, Movements, Facial Expressions Eye Contact

In 1997 when I joined Toastmasters, one of the manuals I received along with my Communication and Leadership Handbook was one on “Gestures: Your Body Speaks”.  The focus of that manual was on how to use your body effectively to enhance your message. It is a book I still use, to remind me of the importance of gestures as we speak.

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Let Your Body Mirror Your Feelings

As we speak, our bodies are constantly sending nonverbal messages which listeners judge. They judge both you and your message based on what they see as well as what they hear. If you want to become an effective speaker, you must understand how your body speaks.  While you can’t stop sending your audiences nonverbal messages, you can learn to manage, control and improve the messages we are sending to your audiences.

Action Speak Louder Than Words. Our goal in public speaking is to communicate. To be an effective speaker you must communicate earnestness, enthusiasm, and sincerity by making your manner and actions affirm what you say.  When you speak, people not only judge your speech, they also judge you. If they are not convinced of your earnestness and sincerity, they are unlikely to accept your message.

We remember more of what we see than what we hear.  It is difficult not to look at a moving object. People also remember messages that reach multiple scenes, however, we remember best when both our visual and auditory senses are involved.  As a speaker, you can capitalize on these tendencies by providing visual stimuli that capture your audience’s attention and enhance retention of your verbal message. Gestures, body movements, facial expressions – are all valuable tools to keep your audience engaged when skillfully employed.

To make your body speak eloquently, marshal your nonverbal tools. Use posture, gestures, body movements, facial expressions and eye contact effectively as you speak.  When your actions are wedded to you, your words will strengthen the impact of your speech.  Be yourself. The emphasis should be on communication and the sharing of your message or ideas. Strive to be as genuine and natural as when you are talking with friends and family members.

Believe in what you are saying. Let your body mirror your feelings as you share your message with others.  Let your physical movements come from within and make sure they are appropriate for what you are saying. If you involve yourself in your message, you will be natural and spontaneous.  Self-confidence through preparation is also vital. When you are well prepared, it is easier to focus on your message and your audience.  Practice and rehearse your material until it becomes a part of you but do not try to memorize your speech verbatim.

Whatever your vocal strengths and speaking skills are, your ability to visually communicate your ideas through gestures and other forms of body expression will enhance not just your presentations, but your overall effectiveness as a speaker. Practice your nonverbal communication. Make it an important part of your preparation. A videotape of your speech will often remind us of those unconscious mannerisms you may want to avoid and the ones that are an accurate perception of your body’s spoken image.

Excellence

To excel is to do Better Today than you did Yesterday

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Together We All Can Achieve

Not long ago, I listened to a presentation by one of my fellow Toastmasters who reminded me why I joined Toastmasters and why so many of us who have remained faithful to this wonderful organization keep coming back.  And as I drove home from that meeting, I was reminded of a little book that was given to me years ago, by a Toastmaster I admire; Dana La Mon.  In his little black book entitled, “The Excellence Book” Dana writes that he was stuck as he contemplated his job and his career. As he considered what his focus should be in life, repeatedly, the word excellence flashed in his head.

 

In Dana’s little black book, he explains that to excel is to do better today than you did yesterday.  Compare your performance today with yesterday’s results and if you improved or advanced you excelled. If you see room for more improvement, you should be looking at tomorrow’s opportunities to excel. I have noticed over the years that those who keep coming back seeking excellence have found it. They find it by simply following the program and the promise they took when they first joined Toastmasters.

We all joined Toastmasters and attend meetings for different reasons, but there comes a time when we all will ask ourselves that question – “why do we keep coming back.” I do believe if you answer is in search of excellence, you are coming back for the right reasons. And that excellence extends beyond your personal goals. That excellence should be for your fellow members and your club as well to excel.

Doing your best should be your focus. Even if or when your decisions make you unpopular, always remember excellence demands that you do your best and not be the best. Keep excelling day by day and Together Excellence will be Achieved.