Engaging with Audiences -100 Percent

As you write, target with the intent to connect with your audience.

One of the many challenges Zoom has presented to speakers is the ability to engage audiences one hundred percent. How do you engage an audience that is behind an invisible wall, many ask? That question has been debated over and over by both speakers and audiences.

Pre-Pandemic and Zoom, if you were comfortable facing audiences and blessed with an olive oil tongue, you had it made. You could wing it and live to wing another day. But to engage an audience over Zoom, to penetrate that invisible wall, you must imagine that your audience cannot see or hear you unless you break down that invisible wall that separates you, the speaker, from them, the audience.

New Toastmasters often go through a process of discovery. Initially, new speakers tend to focus on themselves while on the platform. Later, we go through a transformation. We stop focusing on how we look, feel, or even sound. Our focus shifts to how the audience looks, feel, and respond to our message. We realize it’s not about us. It’s all about your audience. And that invisible wall will come tumbling down when we shift our focus to our audience and speak to be heard, understood, repeated, and connected.

Sledgehammers are unnecessary; the process begins with good writing, editing, and delivery. The structure is also an integral part of the process. I once heard it said the great orator Winston Churchill could look at the structure of a speech and, without even reading a word, could tell if what he saw was a good or bad speech, all because of the structure. Do you ever focus on yours when you are preparing your speeches?  What are your techniques for connecting with audiences?

Speakers can develop many well-known techniques to break through that invisible wall in their writing and editing phases. As you write and structure your speech, you must be aware of the parts of the audience’s body with which you are connecting. When you want your audience to think, address the head. If you can tickle the brain, that’s even better. Their reaction will tell you if you have got them thinking. You can then shift to the heart to have them empathize with you.  Moving along, you may then speak to their hands to do something or feet to take some action.  As you write, target with the intent to connect with your audience. Writing to connect takes practice. However, the more you do it, the better and more natural you will become.

All speakers know the power of storytelling. Many years ago, one of my mentors introduced me to the power of keeping story files. Today I have a few volumes of events I captured over the years. After writing down my experiences, I turn them into vignettes to be told at opportune moments. I advise you to keep your short stories simple, authentic, and creative.  File them in a system that makes them readily available. Develop your storytelling skills by focusing on not just telling your stories but on taking your audience back in time with you. When you can re-live your experiences with your audiences, your presentations will long be remembered.

Asking your audience questions is another technique that engages audiences. Rhetorical questions are my favorite because you already know the answer. Asking questions of your audience can sometimes be risky. Know your audience. The method I often use is to preface the question with a setup. For example – It was a Monday morning.  I was standing at my front door – fully dressed but still feeling as naked as the day I was born – Have you ever had that feeling. We all have when you feel like you forget something.  There you have the setup, the question, and the answer. But there’s more. Then comes the pregnant pause – the silence that sends your message. Try it – It works every time. And trust me, your message will penetrate any wall between you and your audience.  

One of the most critical steps in breaking down that invisible wall is bringing that speech to life. Moving your speech from your head to a script is only the beginning. Next, you have to move your speech to your heart. You must convince your audience that you are passionate about your subject matter. You don’t have to sound like a used car salesman. However, you have to sell your message with conviction.  Use the tools you have mastered as you make your delivery. Be aware of your body’s spoken image, verbal punctuation, gestures, body movement, facial expressions, and eye contact. They all must work together in unison when you are on the platform.  

The tools I have given you are just a start, don’t put them on the shelf. You must practice them until that wall becomes invisible to you and your audience. I believe the Pandemic and Zoom have provided us an excellent opportunity to become better speakers – not just virtually but in how we will communicate when we return to live presentations. Today I challenge you to break through that invisible wall when next you step on the platform. Tell your stories, ask questions, and use every muscle in your body to connect with your audience, and you will engage with them every time – 100 percent.

 Fires in the Sky

The Travis Walton Experience

There is something up there – That is now out here. We don’t know what it is, but many are quick to dismiss that something as fake news or “much ado about nothing.” Fellow earthlings, what do you believe?

Ten, five, or even two years ago, I must admit I would be petrified to speak to you about that something, of which I know nothing more than what has been reported. However, recently there has been a lot of new media coverage about that something:  “Fires in the sky” – UFOs. Recently, even our government has finally admitted that we are not alone. But still would not tell us what they know about those fires. We all have heard or read stories about Area 51 and Roswell. However, my all-time favorite UFO story was and still is the Travis Walton Experience. It is the best-documented account of an alien abduction that also cost six of his coworkers their freedom. Why? Because we humans can’t handle the truth. Our truth is all that matters.

On November 5th, 1975, Travis Walton and six of his coworkers were on a truck departing the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest near Snowflake, Arizona. Suddenly, they witnessed a bright, large, silvery disk landing about 100 feet away from their truck. Travis jumped off the truck and started toward the object. He was blasted with a bright light that knocked him to the ground unconscious. His coworker, in a panic, fled the scene to report the incident to the authorities. However, their story was met with skepticism. The six coworkers were even subjected to taking polygraph tests. Five passed, and one was inconclusive. Still, no one believed their story. Soon, rumors and questions began to swirl. Was Travis killed in the forest by his coworkers? Were they covering up the truth with their crazy story? Are there aliens among us? Is one sitting next to you right here- right now?

Travis Walton went missing for five days and six hours before showing up mysteriously on the side of a street near Heber, Arizona. And his a story that was even more outrageous. Walton’s account of what transpired over those five days and six hours he went missing remains to this day, the best account of an alien abduction. Walton even wrote a book three years after the incident that was later dramatized in a film called – Fires in the Sky. After being struck by the light beam, Waldon claimed that he awoke in a hospital-like room, observed by three short bald creatures he described as humanoids. Initially, he fought before being subdued by a human wearing a helmet. That human led him to another room where he blacked out when three other humans put a clear plastic mask over his face. After that, Walton remembered nothing else until he found himself walking along the highway where he was found. He was dropped off, and the flying saucer departed overhead.

Although to Travis, every word of that account was true. But if you were Travis Walton, would you have told it to anyone? Walton described some of the events and their aftermath in a book – The Walton Experience. He claimed that being abducted by the humanoids was the better part of the story. Travis was freaking out initially. However, that experience was nothing compared to what he had endured from his fellow humans. Some accused him of being a charlatan, a fake to make money. Some even claimed that his abduction by aliens never occurred. And that it was a hoax just for publicity. Now that you have heard Walton’s story, do you believe we are the only living creatures on the face of this earth? You may want to check who is still sitting next to you, my fellow earthling.

We, humans, are becoming more and more skeptical about the truth. When a story is about something our intellect can rationalize and understand, we are more inclined to accept it as truth. When we can’t, it is often written off as fake news. In one of his many interviews, Travis said he came to believe that it was better to let the government spin his and their story however they wished. They claim it is to protect us all. Let the believers believe and let the doubters doubt. But today, there are many more reports of Fires in the Sky. Not just in America but all over the world. However, what is most disturbing to some, is the belief that those fires can be advanced technologies developed by countries seeking world dominance. What do you believe?

If there is something up there that is now out here, don’t you want to know? Do you even care? The lesson from the Walton experience for me is that your truth is all that matters in the world today, but be very careful with whom you choose to share those truths. While some may think you are just crazy, who cares? Why worry. Others will write off your experience as just another case of – fake news – or even much ado about nothing.

What you Said & What we Heard

The tip of the tongue the teeth and the lips.

What you said and what we heard were quite different. All speakers receive similar feedback at some time, even when they are sure they said what they meant to say. While some may be quick to blame their style of speaking or even their accent. That feedback may be a clarion moment, advising that it’s time to work on your voice, diction, and vocabulary.

Have you received feedback about your diction in an evaluation recently? For some evaluators, addressing a speaker’s diction is like touching the third rail of public speaking. Well, today, let’s touch that third rail carefully.

On or off the platform, speakers must never forget that what matters most is what your audience heard, not what they said or intended to say. Your diction determines your style of enunciation when we are speaking. Diction exercises and drills can help us develop our stresses, rhythm, pronunciation, and intonation. When practiced regularly, they enhance our ability to deliver our presentations with precision and clarity. Messages heard and clearly understood by audiences are repeated. To be quoted by someone who heard you speak days, months or even years ago is rewarding and validating.

When communicating formally or informally, we stress our content words. Conversely, we unstress function words. Simply put, content words contribute to the meaning of the sentences in which they occur. They typically are verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, some pronouns, numbers, questions, and quantities. When content words are stressed, they are more pronounced, they sound louder and sometimes are held longer in duration to command attention. And when speakers add a moment of silence to follow a sentence with content words, their message is sent. The silence that follows sends the message.

Function words are usually unstressed. They often don’t convey much meaning; however, they are essential to the grammatical structure of sentences. They include articles, prepositions, conjunctions, auxiliary verbs, and some pronouns. They are often pronounced quickly with a lower pitch than content words and are sometimes difficult to hear. They are usually softer, quieter, and are held much shorter in duration than content words. As a result, your function words can sometimes get lost in your communication.

Over time we become identified with our distinctive voice, intonation, and manner of speaking. Your vocabulary is essential when you are delivering your message. The words you choose can easily misrepresent the message you intended to convey. A better selection of words and proper diction can help us communicate more effectively with our audiences. Also, we tend to develop rhythmic patterns when we stress and unstress our words and syllables. We develop accents, especially when pronouncing two-syllable nouns. Ever notice that we stress the first syllable in almost every instance of the English language? And at the same time, many two-syllable verbs have second-syllable stresses.

Note that there is often a shift in stress when there is a noun-verb combination. For example – DEsert/ deSERT – ADDress/addRESS – PREsent/preSENT – The stressing and the un-stressing of content words and syllables create rhythm in our manner of speaking. Over time we develop a distinctive mode of pronunciation commonly used in the environment from which we originated. Where and how we place our syllables, stresses, and pitch often determine that which is called our accent. And believe it or not, we all have one; an accent.

To correct the problems and some of the bad habits we develop in our everyday communication, we must first become aware of how we sound when we speak. Do you know how you sound when you talk? Is your delivery fast or slow? Do you eat some of your words? Do you sound like you asked a question when you make a statement?   Well, I have good news and even better news for you. First, the good news: Those problems can be fixed easily with drills and exercises. And the better news? I know a place where you can find many of those drills and exercises.

Speaking out loud is a free website to which you can subscribe to get you started. It is a website developed by Susan Dugdale, which features articles on the basic principles of effective speech delivery. On her website, you will find several tongue twisters and drills to help you with your diction and pronunciation. On Susan’s website, in addition to a list of 36 of the best tongue twisters, you will find games and drills to develop your speaking skills.  The link to her website is  https://www.write-out-loud.com/dictionexercises.html  

Let’s have some fun with a few of her tongue twisters: Put a few on the back of a business card for easy access to practicing: “The tip of the tongue the teeth and the lips.” Now say that a bit faster.  

And how about your B words? “Betty bought a bit of butter, but she found the butter bitter, So Betty bought a bit of better butter to make the bitter butter better. Again, try saying that a bit faster and faster.

And let’s end with a few F words: Four furious friends fought for the phone. Again, again and again.

Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions. And a little bit faster, please, fantastic!

Lastly, remember your voice is your instrument. Take care of it. To keep it tuned and ready, stay hydrated, avoid shouting and where possible, use amplification. Do a simple warmup exercise before speaking. “Me Moo Mu My” is one of those simple flexing exercises all speakers can do even silently before stepping onto the speaking platform. Your daily exercise routines will help you stay ready, Improve your diction and clarity. And your message will be heard, understood, and repeated when you remember it is always not what you said; it’s what your audience heard!

LOST

“Where was the last place you left it Daddy?”

It was a Monday morning I will never forget to remember. There I was, standing at my front door fully dressed still feeling naked as the day I was born. Suddenly, I realized I was missing something. In a tizzy, I thought I had lost my keys and wallet. And as if that was not bad enough, After turning the house upside down, I lost my mind and asked one of my kids – the smartie who always has a silly question for every answer you ask – “did you see my wallet?” That’s when I got one of his dreaded responses that would make any saint a sinner. “Where was the last place you left it Daddy?”

Friends, I don’t know about you, but questions for an answer always drive me crazy. And although that day, a little voice popped into my head telling me to stop, close my eyes, and think. But, no! I had to add fuel to my own fire with some snide remark. “Well, if I knew the answer to that, would I be asking you smarty? And as that little molehill is about to erupt like a volcano into a domestic dispute with everyone involved, the little voice returns screaming to Stop! Close your eyes and think. Think about that last place – The last place you saw it – The last place you had it. The last place you held it.

Have you ever had one of those days? If truth be told, that day, I opened my eyes and headed straight to that last place – the refrigerator. And as I desperately tried to steal away with the evidence, I heard it from the peanut gallery –My own words coming back to haunt me. “ Daddy – you always find what you are looking for in the last place you look.” And as you always say, everything has its place, and every place has its space.” Yes, my keys and wallet were right next to the milk and OJ – just chilling. As my eyes screamed – Did I do that?

That’s when I knew I had to find my quiet place. As a kid, my quiet place was deep in the woods. Today it’s the Mall. Do you have a quiet place? I could walk the Malls for hours, seeking nothing but finding a little peace and quiet, well, only until closing. That’s when I often realize I am lost. Usually, it’s when I try to remember which door I entered and where I parked my car. Has that ever happened to you? Trust me, that’s no fun. Can you remember standing in front of those huge directories telling you that you are Here! And you are still confused, trying to figure out where’s here. Only to realize once again – You are lost!

However, it was during one of those episodes, the little voice reminded me – You’re not lost, but even if you are, you will be found. Stop, close your eyes, and think – On that Monday morning, that little voice came to me from deep, deep within to remind me never to sweat the small stuff. Often things are not lost; they are only misplaced. Things like keys, wallets, papers, and even friends are replaceable. But, sometimes, we lose our way. We didn’t Google it. And like Columbus, we didn’t know exactly where we were heading. But he kept going and look at how much he found when he was lost.

Over time, I have accepted that all things are replaceable, even friends. And those friends I’ve lost when I was lost will stay lost. I’ll make new friends. You can get directions to get back on track. But what do you do when what you lost cannot be replaced? When what was lost can only be restored – like your good looks – your good name? Have you ever lost hope? How do you restore hope? That is when we must go to that place that is deep, deep within. That’s when we must stop, close our eyes, and listen to that little voice of reason. And it will take you to that place deep, deep within to restore what we once had. Regardless of how bad things get, my friends never lose hope – for when hope is lost – all is lost.

Not long ago, I read a story about a little boy named Cody. In 1986 he was just 6-years old. He was lost in the woods for 18 hours. His story began when he played hide and seek with his little sister at a family picnic. Suddenly he vanished. Everyone feared the worse. What made his story most remarkable was what he found in those 18 hours. Little Cody was confident that somehow, he would be found and never gave up. To the amazement of everyone, he was found alive 20 miles from the picnic from where he had disappeared. He still remembers walking those 20 miles and what he found during that experience – confidence. He still remembers how he listened to that voice deep within when all but hope was lost. He would stop, close his eyes and think about what he found deep, deep within – the confidence to carry on.

My friends, Today, whenever I am leaving home, and I have that naked feeling, I go straight to the refrigerator. What do you do when you feel lost? Where do you go to find yourself – When all but hope is lost, and you begin to feel like it’s you against the world. Stop, close your eyes and think. Think of that last place when you had it. The last place when you felt it. That last time you enjoyed it. Dig deep, deep within, and never give up. Never give up until what you have lost is found.

Follow Your Dream

A dream without a plan is just a wish.

Write it – Then Speak it

Can you recall a time when you felt like you had a brilliant idea, one that you could change the world? But just as you began reaching for that dream, you sought advice from the experts – Mr. and Mrs. Always Right – Those righteous family friends who know everything about anything. And with all their what-ifs, they were quick to point out every little thing that could turn that dream of yours into a nightmare. Yes! We all have friends like Mr. and Mrs. Right. Do you?

And although you felt in your heart that you were all right, and the Rights – were all wrong, did you follow your dream? No! You, too, surrendered; why? Because those experts were able to convince your family, your friends, and even your pets that you were losing it, going crazy, and somebody had to save you. So now, you’re saved! Alleluia! And everyone is happy as you are now living like the Rights. – Doing the nine to five – You’re now living off the wall.

Fast forward – ten years. You are now sitting in your Den – With your wife and two point five kids. Yes, the family is growing. You’re enjoying your newfound favorite TV show – Shark Tank – The place where dreamers go seeking OPM – Other People’s Money – to make their dreams come true—and getting it. That’s when you see your bright idea flash before your eyes on your widescreen TV, with some stranger asking for 500 thousand dollars for 10% of his business—Your brilliant idea.

And to add insult to injury, your supportive wife chimes in – Honey, why didn’t you think of that. While you are accusing this stranger you have never met, of stealing your dream. But did you really have a dream? Again, your dear wife chimes in with – “Love a dream without a plan is just a wish. And there is only one place that promises to make all our wishes come true, (finger snap) Disneyland. In your dream, you must see the possibilities. You must make it happen. You must follow your dream with a plan. Love. The plan is the glue that will make you stick to your dream”

The most common excuse we all give for not following our dreams is life; the price we pay to see another God-given day. But if truth be told, we are quick to surrender to the comforts of the life we have come to know – instead of facing the challenges of following our dreams. And when that life demands that we start making a better living for the family, that’s when we go running back to Mr. & Mrs. Right, who are the first to tell you, your time has passed – You are over the hill – It is too late. But believe me, my friends it’s never too early or too late to follow your dreams.

My dream was always to be doing what I am doing right here, right now – Public Speaking; however, I got a late start. My parents thought I was mute at birth. They blamed my demise on cutting my hair too early, which turned out to be an old wife’s tale. So, I had some catching up to do. But once I began speaking, they could not shut me up. The comments on my report cards always had one common theme – Good student – talks too much. Did you have similar comments on your report cards?

Then in 1997, I found a great organization that transforms talkers into speakers. They convinced me that if could dream it I could make it happen. But I must see the possibilities in my dreams, and I must follow my dreams. And here I am today, living my dream, earning six figures from doing what I love – Public Speaking. Now those six figures started with all zeroes, but over time, those zeroes have been changing into ones, slowly but surely.

I believe we can change this world through better communication and better leadership. However, we must never be afraid of failure. I have heard it said many times, that failures are learning experiences; only surrender is permanent. Promise me; if your dream is to write a book, you will start writing. If that dream is to be an American idol, stop idling. If it is to be an Olympian, begin training. Whatever your dream is, just do it! But first, however, you must have a solid plan. A plan A, B, and perhaps even C.

My friends, a dream without a plan is just a wish. Follow your dreams with a plan. With a dream and a plan, someday, you will prove Mr. & Mrs. Right wrong! And on that day, trust me, they will be the first to say – we knew you could do it – I told you so – what took you so long. And that’s when you must continue your social distancing – and with a smile, just keep on dreaming.  

Henry O. Miller © 4.13.2022

Every Evaluator is a Donor

Remember the Mission

If Speeches are the heart of the Toastmasters program, evaluations are the blood that keeps our program alive. At club meetings and contests, evaluators compete. The best Evaluator at the club level competes at the Area, Division, and District levels. The winner at the district level is crowned the District Evaluation Champion. Every Toastmaster evaluates their fellow Toastmasters and is open to being evaluated by their peers. Giving, receiving, and applying feedback enhances our ability to become better public speakers. Evaluations are crucial skills for a speaker’s development. At Toastmasters, we evaluate to motivate. Good evaluators become better listeners, better speakers, and better leaders.

Members rely on the experiences of each other for their support and honest feedback. Therefore, it is crucial to learn best practices and strategies at your club meetings by observing. As you develop, you will receive, apply, and eventually learn to give constructive feedback to others. Understanding what is and what is not an evaluation is critical. Dispelling myths and using proven techniques to deliver feedback should be clearly understood. Using positive language and the difference between offering feedback and advice is vital. Every evaluation given or received can cause a speaker to move forward on their journey or submit to the belief that public speaking is for professionals.

As you continue your journey as a speaker, you will have many opportunities to evaluate fellow Toastmasters. When you receive evaluations from your peers, what should you do with those evaluations? They should be kept in a personal file. That file will later serve as your roadmap documenting your progress as a speaker. Keeping your evaluations in a single location is a good practice. The Toastmasters Pathways Program offers a repository for your evaluations. Review your past assessments to look for repeated behaviors. Take note of repeated comments. And also, look for areas where you have grown as you continue to develop.

 Evaluations are the personal opinions about the speech and not the Speaker. At club meetings, the evaluation is based on the objectives of an assigned project. However, although evaluations in a contest setting are quite different, the guidelines are similar. The Evaluator focuses on what they saw, heard, and felt, just like any audience member. Evaluators should also remember that the speech is not theirs; it’s the Speaker’s speech. As an evaluator, you are not a teacher and should avoid phrases like “you would,” “you should,” or “you could have.” Avoid any language which may sound like you are coaching or offering advice. It is better to use I statements. However, as a general rule, a suggestion should follow your critique, so keep your comments and suggestions brief.  

There are many common myths that evaluators and speakers should dispel. The first is that they are not worthy of evaluating a speaker with more experience than themselves. Wrong! Some of the best-unfiltered feedback you will ever receive is from kids or non-Toastmasters. Speakers speak to be heard and understood. Once you can understand the Speaker, you should be able to talk about what you saw, heard, and felt. Focus on how you felt and respond with your emotions as if you just had a one-on-one conversation with the Speaker about their speech.

Another is that you must find something wrong or negative about the speech. Wrong again! No, you don’t. You don’t even have to like the speech or the Speaker. Instead, decide on one of the techniques commonly used for evaluations. For example, in a club setting, if you can communicate with the Speaker before the speech is delivered, ask the Speaker for three things they would like you to focus on as their Evaluator. Two well-known techniques I like using are the Sandwich method, Good – Improvement – Good, and the Spaghetti method. With the spaghetti method, you state each category you will address: i.e., Presentation, Content, and Delivery. Then, you speak about the positive and negative in each category before linking what you liked overall in your summary.   

When competing at the Area, Division, or District Competitions, prepare a cheat sheet for note-taking and use it to practice. Many examples are available on the web. Follow the Speaker from their beginning title and introduction. Highlight the central point from the body and the development of their topic. Make sure you Repeat their FS – their Foundational Statement. Your delivery should be one – the Speaker – to many – the audience. Keep in mind that your audience is the camera in a virtual setting. And if you mentioned what the Speaker needs to work on in your summary, end on a positive note. Remember the Mission as you focus on the Toastmaster’s core values: Integrity, Respect, Service, and Excellence.

The following is a general reminder of what evaluators note when observing a speaker on the platform – Poise, Confidence, and Nervousness. They listen for Vocal Variety, Diction, Simile, Contrast, Rhyme, Echo, Alliteration, and Metaphors. They list some of the Speaker’s power statements. Then they recall how the Speaker delivered them in their evaluation. Mirror the emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, or even disgust. Often, how you felt is more memorable than the actual words spoken.

Your last words may be your most important statement in an evaluation speech contest. They should linger into your minute of silence after you have spoken. Do not thank your audience, let them thank you with their applause. Choose your last words carefully. And always remember, when you Evaluate to Motivate, you are honoring the Mission. You are helping with the development of your fellow members and clubs. And with each evaluation you give or receive, you are like a donor supplying what the heart needs to keep our Toastmasters programs alive, strong, and healthy.

Difficult Conversations

Are you the problem solver at your Company?

How do you speak to angry customers – carefully! Speaking with a dissatisfied customer was the occasion that brought me to Toastmasters initially. In my past careers as a Credit Manager, Technical Support Engineer, and Manager, I often dealt with dissatisfied and angry customers. However, after my many successes and developing a record of restoring relationships between my Company and customers, I became known as the problem solver. Are you the problem solver at your Company?

 It is important to remember when you are the problem solver; the customer is trying to resolve an issue or a challenge they are facing. You are not the problem; however, you can become their bigger problem if you are not careful. They may be expressing their frustration at the Company and not you personally. So don’t take it personally.

Their dissatisfaction and frustration resulting from the issue may be because of the business challenges they face, or it may be due to the failure to meet past expectations. For starters, always make sure you are the person who should be addressing their issue. Then, if you will be their problem solver, the following are some helpful tips when facing angry, dissatisfied customers.

Establish if a problem does exist, and you are not dealing with the misinterpretation of your documentation. Be emphatic without accepting blame. Sometimes, documentation interpretation is the root cause of a perceived problem. Documentation clarification can often save both parties time and unnecessary frustration when resolving issues.  

Take a moment to do a quick check or audit before digging deeper into the problem.

  • First, verify that the product is performing as designed.
  • Next, consider if the customer’s expectations were reasonable.
  • Finally, establish if the issue is a problem or feature request.

The objective is for both parties are to feel:

  • That they were heard and understood
  • Someone will address their concerns
  • And a resolution for their problem is possible immediately or in the future.

To advance to a resolution, be prepared to answer questions as they arise. Stay focused, relaxed, and confident without allowing yourself to be intimidated. Make sure your product knowledge is current. Operators who use your product daily may see use-cases you have never experienced before. Listen and document their experience before moving forward.

Keep an open mind. Resist the temptation to interrupt or propose a solution before fully grasping the issue you attempt to resolve. Instead, show empathy when faced with the unexpected. Paraphrase the customer’s statements to gain a clearer understanding of the issue. Be open to testing and recreating the behavior the customer is experiencing. Expect the unexpected.

There are times when a customer may strike out at you. Don’t strike back or give in to the customer with promises you cannot keep. Silence works best in those situations. Instead, professionally stand your ground. Then turn your customer’s focus and attention back to solving the problem.

Your objective as the problem solver is to turn your dissatisfied customer into a happy, satisfied customer for life. That is a big responsibility and a tall order for anyone. However, when trusted with that responsibility, you are your Company’s face. That challenge will test your communication skills. Each time you speak to a dissatisfied customer and achieve success, your confidence will grow. Of course, you can’t win them all, but who knows, someday you too may become known as the problem solver.  

The Benefits of Competing

What we practice daily becomes permanent. 

Once again, it is contest season, and many Toastmasters are preparing for their competitions. Some are competing for the first time, while for others, it’s one more time. We all say, one more time, until the next time or until you become the WCPS – The world champion of public speaking. Yes, you can smile.

Whether you are competing at the club or international level, you will notice that your speaking skills will dramatically increase when you participate in any of the annual speaking contests. This is because competing has proven to be the fastest way to develop your speaking skills. 

Once you have decided to compete, it is a good idea to commit to the three Ps of public speaking-: Preparation – Practice, before Presentation. The three Ps apply to all competitions, not just the International Speech Contest. Those Ps also relate to the Evaluation and Table Topics contests.

Make it a habit to answer your everyday questions like you would your Table Topics questions. And evaluate your responses. Provide your answer as if you were at a club meeting. Make it a part of your daily communication style. And over time, you will discover what you practice is fast becoming permanent.  

One may ask how you can prepare for those moments you cannot predict? The trick is to avoid expecting or anticipating, or predicting those moments. Instead, practice being in the moment. Use the skills you have developed at your club meetings over the years to help you to stay ready for your big moment on the competitive stage. Don’t just get ready to compete – stay ready by incorporating being spontaneous in your everyday speaking style. 

Everyone relates to stories. Use life stories and experiences that brought you to where you are today. Then, use those stories to practice thinking on your feet as you stand and deliver with confidence. As one of my mentors would often say, we don’t join Toastmasters to be better Toastmasters at Toastmasters. If life is a stage, then we are the speakers, and again, what we practice daily becomes permanent. 

A well-delivered response depends on how well we listen. Be attentive. Listen for keywords. Let your inner voice silently confirm what you heard before beginning your answer. When evaluating a test speaker, focus on what you Saw, Heard, and Felt. Most people will relate to how the speaker made them feel. Express empathy by using phrases to express how you felt when the speaker said whatever they said that resonated with you.

Make good communication an integral part of your lifestyle. Before you begin speaking, always try to put your audience at ease. An initial pause or a smile is an excellent strategy to help you connect with your audience. Let them anticipate what your opening statement might be after your introduction. There is no time penalty for pausing or smiling; however, you should make sure it is not overdone. Also, pleasantries are unnecessary – Get to the point and begin with your primary issue when you start. Time is of the essence when you are competing. Make every minute count.   

To help you stay focused and on topic, practice using models, formulas, or templates when preparing for Evaluation and Table Topic Competitions. Many excellent samples are available for different types of questions. Some you can even turn into acronyms. For evaluations, there are well-documented standard methods.

Here are some examples:

The PREP Formula: POINT REASON EXAMPLE, then repeat your POINT to summarize works well.

The WAG: Where I WAS – Where I AM & where I am GOING, then summarize to close.

ALWAYS SUMMARIZE TO CLOSE

The CER Method: CAUSE – EFFECT – REMEDY is another excellent method. 

The PPF: PAST – PRESENT – FUTURE. Great for some types of Table Topic questions. 

Stay with the rule of threes as you create your formulas, and you will gain experience with all different types of questions.  

Make competing fun, and you will enjoy the benefits. Strive for excellence. To quote World Champion speaker Dana LaMon, to excel is to do better today than you did yesterday. Compare your performance today with yesterday’s results. If you were improved or advanced, you excelled! Good luck competing, and if you did, I am sure you too will be competing for many more years to come. 

Are You Competing

Follow the herd, and no one will hear you

February signals the beginning of the Toastmasters competition season at the Area, Division, or District levels. Are you competing – If not, why not? Competing is the fastest way to improve as a speaker. These contests vary. They can be International, Humorous, or Evaluation. Whether you plan to speak or evaluate, preparation is crucial. However, before you step onto the platform for the first time or once again, here are a few things you may want to consider.    

Every Speech – Humorous, International, or Evaluation has four areas that require your utmost attention, the point, purpose, message, and the foundational statement, or FS.   The point and purpose of the speech will often relate to the FS. The FS may be inferred when the speaker does not state it clearly. The title of the speech can also help you identify the speaker’s point and purpose. There is always a message that resonates throughout the delivery in that point and purpose.

Whether you are a Speaker or Evaluator, when you are on the competitive platform, your approach to an evaluation differs from speaking or evaluating at a club meeting. At a club meeting, you deliver a speech based on stated objectives. The evaluator states the objectives, follows them, and evaluates based on what they saw, heard, and felt. The aim is primarily to help the speaker improve.

Although your evaluation is still based on what you saw, heard, and felt on the competitive platform, there are no stated objectives. However, you should immediately identify the speaker’s type of speech. Ask yourself if this was a speech to inform, entertain, motivate, or inspire. How you feel is vital as it greatly influences what you saw and heard, as it will often positively or negatively affect your feelings.

It is also crucial for the speaker or evaluator to understand the difference between point and purpose. The purpose focuses on WHY the speaker is delivering that speech. The top three purposes are to persuade your audience to take action, inform or explain or teach a concept, or entertain the audience. The acronym PIE is a simple way to remember -purpose.

To identify the point of the speech, shift your focus from the WHY to the WHO or WHICH. Who or which character is delivering the story’s details? Although the speech is the speaker’s point of view, it is essential to recognize and identify the different characters telling or sharing the story’s details. The point will often lead to some action.

As the speaker or evaluator, you are up against the clock to make your point, state your purpose, and deliver your message. To do so effectively, you must know where you are as you deliver your speech or evaluation. Divvy up your time. You must know where you are at the five, six- and seven-minute mark when you are the speaker. The same goes for when you are an evaluator. Know the two,  two, and a half-and three-minute marks in your evaluation. Always know where you are and where you are heading.

The message carries a heavy burden, as it’s your final opportunity to get your audience to take some action. The 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, David Brooks, has often said you should leave your audience feeling compelled to take some action during the minute of silence after you have spoken.

Although the speaker’s message should resonate throughout the speech, driving home your message is most important. When you are the evaluator, make sure you highlight the message you got from the presentation and how the message made you feel. Too often, evaluators focus almost entirely on what they saw, heard, and ignore how the speaker made them feel.

Finally, dare to be different whether you were a speaker or evaluator. Follow the herd, and no one will hear you. So, on a scale of one to ten, ask yourself, what is my eleven. What will make my speech or evaluation stand out from the others? While there is nothing new under the sun, if you could find that nugget, making that gem your magic moment can make all the difference.

And, if you felt like you owned the platform and enjoyed the moment, you should walk away feeling you made your point, fulfilled your purpose, and delivered your message. And regardless of where you placed, you will always walk away a winner because – you competed.   

Let Freedom Reign

Can’t we all just get along

Thomas Wolf, an American novelist, once wrote – “You can never go home again.” But I believe we can if we remember where we came from and where we are heading. Recently, I met this brother I used to know; we both grew up in the same hood. But the brother went off to Harvard, and as the sisters would say, the brother was doing good.

We started conversing or conversating, as we would say back in the day – until somehow Language – Black English and Ebonics – got in the fray. Well, I must confess, I was pretty distressed over some of what that brother had to say.

We were never hooked on Phonics; we learned all our language on the streets. And back then, we could tell a true brother or sister with just a handshake when we meet. But since some became uplifted, or enlightened as some of you folks now say – the sisters and brothers are all networking, that’s the PC term they use today.

Trying to impress, I told the brother I love language, and I sometimes still use the vernacular. Man, you would have sworn I had said something bad about that man’s grandmother. He started spewing his English like that brother Al from NB or ABC. Or like he was some big-time professor from one of his Ivey League Universities. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  

Ebonics! that dialect you folks call English has certainly got to go. It’s simply an embarrassment to the educated folks like us who know. Such a limited language, if in fact, language is the word, to me, it sounds more like pigeon English, just the worst I’ve ever heard. 

You folks call that language, words with meanings changing every day; listen to guys like Regan or Obama; they never spoke that way. So, tell me, chump, what if you are called to go and talk abroad, you, they will ever understand, Speak the Queen’s English, my friend, and you’ll be respected as a man.

But, just then, we stopped by Georgie’s where the chicken was still finger-licking good, and there, we met some sisters and brothers who never left the hood. But when the brother started asking for a knife, fork, and napkins to eat his fried chicken, they started dissing him, asking me: “Where did this turkey get this jive?” And to cut a long story short, friends – we are lucky to be still alive.

And as the brother and I bolted, even faster than Usain, I couldn’t help thinking what my grandmother used to say. God bless her soul; I’m sure she’s turning in her grave today. She would say, those who spit up in the air flaunting their good fortune and fame will one day end up crying saliva, with themselves alone to blame.

But I say let the brother speak his peace, and let him make his choice. Imagine what a boring world it would be if we all spoke with just one voice. Let freedom reign, let freedom reign, can’t we all just get along. I pray that somehow someway someday, we all might just overcome – Let freedom reign.

Excerpt from the speech – Mr. HarvardSpeaking Poetically

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