Your Feedback Partner

Training your feedback partner to evaluate you is a good idea.

20191212_131721Do you have a feedback partner? We hear it repeatedly; we learn through feedback. Still, it is one of the most problematic aspects of bringing a speech to the platform. What do you do with all that feedback you receive? How do you separate feedback from opinions. We all know, not all feedback is useful; however, all comments are worth careful examination.  Constructive criticism is helpful; they make you take a more in-depth look into what your audience may be hearing, thinking, and feeling. To help you develop those analytics, a feedback partner can be a tremendous asset to your development as a speaker.

Training your feedback partner to evaluate you is a good idea. You know what you are trying to achieve as a speaker. Find someone with whom you share similar goals and would tell you precisely what you need to hear and not what you want to hear. Sure, it can be disheartening to hear the speech you worked on for months or years still requires a tremendous amount of work. I know the feeling very well. However, my feedback partner has always been the one I would turn to before being judgmental about any feedback I receive.

Take turns giving and receiving feedback from your partner. Become familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Discuss all weaknesses and be specific about what each other is trying to achieve. A well-prepared speech is just the beginning of the delivery process. Discuss the many aspects of your delivery to determine where you need the most help. Address one of your concerns in each evaluation. One evaluation can be about your breathing, transitions, or vocal variety. Be clear about what you want your partner to focus on. A feedback partner, who is familiar with your speaking style, is the best person to provide you with their observations.

It is also essential to look for repeated comments in your evaluations. Discuss those comments with your partner. When you are receiving the same observation from different evaluators, at different times, that is most likely an alert to a habit worth avoiding. It is common to resort to what comes naturally when we are under pressure. Even when we know that habit is substandard, but feels good, we will more often than not, resort to it when it is in our comfort zone. Breaking those bad habits do not come easy. Find that special someone with whom you are comfortable, and over time, you will achieve the success you are seeking to become someone’s, super feedback partner.

Your three Ps of Public Speaking

Your purpose and point should go hand in hand

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The Bernal Hill

What are your three Ps of Public Speaking?  For some of us, it is Preparation, Practice & Presentation for others – Pitch, Pace & Pauses. Then there it is Practice. Practice. Practice. While all your Ps are import parts of the process of bringing a speech to the platform, when you focus on your Preparation, all your other P’s fall into place.

A question we all should ask ourselves as we begin our preparation is what my purpose for speaking is – Is it to inform, persuade, inspire, or entertain? If you do not have a purpose, then what is the point of speaking?  Once you are clear about your purpose, the points will often follow. Your audience will be more inclined to accept you and the points you make when they are interested in your purpose.  Your purpose and point should go hand in hand. Next, you should decide on the strategies you would use to make your purpose resonate with that audience. You can use humor, statistics, or an opening that is thought-provoking to arouse curiosity about what will follow.

Presenters should make sure they are appropriately dressed for the type of information they plan to present. First impressions count. When you step unto the platform, before you utter your first words, your attire will determine the chatter in the minds of your audience. Your credibility is on the line when it comes to how you look. Your clothes speak as loudly as what you do or say when you are on the platform. If your audience respects you, they are more likely to consider your ideas and suggestions. How you present yourself will significantly influence the results when your objective is to inform, persuade, inspire, or just attempting to be funny.

How you practice can make all the difference. Formal or casual Practice can take place anytime, anywhere. There are times you will need an audience and times when you will not. You can practice the flow of your speech, rhythm, or timing, even when you are driving. Today, we have the option also to practice online. That gives us the added dimension of seeing ourselves as we practice, which can help us correct the bad habits we develop. We should always remember what your Practice becomes permanent. Review your presentation as if you are a member of your audience. Evaluate what you saw heard and felt based on the purpose of your presentation. If you get your point, you have found your three Ps of public speaking

The Preacher and the Farmer

Our bounty is the spoken word

20200326_105949There is an old story often told about a Farmer and a Preacher both standing side by side, admiring the bounty the Farmer’s farm had produced. The preacher said to the Farmer, “Wow – what a beautiful farm you and the Lord have here.” The Farmer smiled and replied – “yes, for sure, my skills helped, but you should have seen it when the Lord had it all to himself.”

There are many lessons one can glean from that story. However, my take was the Farmer, in his wisdom, was referring to the preachers who often comment on the results. Many have no idea of the humble beginning, which leads to that end. I do believe the Farmer was also making the point that the skills you develop are your blessings, but its hard work that produces your bounty.

Many years ago, I was asked by my first coach, if you had the choice to be mentored by an MBA or a Farmer, who would you choose. Completely forgetting that old story, I selected the MBA. My coach favored the Farmer. But over the years, my coach made me realize how much Farmers and Public Speakers have in common. Time made me realize why my coach chose the Farmer and not the MBA. He also felt that some of the latter are fake and full of it, fertilizer if you wish to be kind.

If you were to take some time to examine the work ethic Public Speakers and Farmers must possess, you too will recognize the similarities and their differences. Both the Farmer and Public Speaker are well aware of the importance of being prepared. They both are mindful of how critical it is to practice best practices. Also, they both are aware that the bounty they produce is not for themselves, but their audiences and customers.

Farmers and speakers know, to succeed, you must supply the market with what it needs. They both know you must bring your best products to the market. They know the importance of rotation. Long before they plant that first seed, they know their soil has to be well prepared. They also know better than anyone; that it is not if, but when things go wrong, you must have a solid backup plan in place. Public speakers require a different set of skills; however, their objectives are all the same – Excellence! Excellence that demands that you always do your best and not that you always be the best.

A common mistake some speakers make is, believing they must always give a new speech each time they face an audience. That is like asking the Farmer to bring a new product each time they go to market.  Time has shown me that the repeated performances of a task will more often than not result in improvement over past efforts. I highly recommend the good, better, best approach, which I regularly use. Good better best, never let your good speeches rest, until they become your better, and your better speeches your best.

The gift of speech is one of the remarkable skills we possess. It is a gift we must not take for granted. Our bounty is the spoken word. Language in all its beauty is our gift to all humankind. As a Public Speakers, I believe when you dedicate your life to be of service to others, just as the Farmer does daily, you too will one day be able to say to the preachers admiring your bounty, yes it took some skills – but you should have heard me when I did my very first icebreaker.

Speaking From Squares

Great speeches are not read; they are delivered.

 

IMG_6299Speaking from Squares can be fun. I often use squares to turn topics into speeches using squares. I begin with a blank sheet of paper. Fold it lengthways first, then once over to end up with four squares. If the plan is to deliver a longer speech, fold the square sheet one more time to end up with eight rectangles; however, for the purpose of this exercise, let’s call them square.

Now, unfold the entire sheet of paper. For a short address, you now have four squares. For longer speeches, you have eight squares to work with. You also have a crease like a spine running down the center of the page. On that crease, write your foundational statement to keep you grounded. At the top of each of the squares, add the speech title. Later you will add a subtitle to each title of the speech in each square. You are now ready to begin filling in your squares.

Add the subtitle, “introduction,” to square one. For your introduction, you may choose to include a salutation to recognize your presenter and audience or, you may prefer to go straight into the presentation. I like adding a greeting. It adds a professional touch to your opening. Always remember you are at that lectern or podium because of the audience. Without an audience, you might as well deliver your speech to the trees in the forest. Set the stage for your presentation in that first square. Make your initial contact with your audience count. State your message clearly. Your message should also resonate with your foundational statement, speech title, and subtitle. Your purpose for facing that audience should be clear visually and verbally.

Next, go to square four. Add a label to that square with the subtitle, “summary.” Recall two or three of the talking points you made in square one. Later you will also add any power statements you delivered from your stories in squares two and three. Always remember, your message is the purpose of you giving that speech. Every talking point you include in your squares should point back to your foundational statement, title, and subtitle. Your labeling will pay huge dividends when you are ready to deliver your presentation. You will find it is much easier to focus on the title, subtitle, and foundational statement as they relate to the square you are delivering, before moving on to the next and the next.

In squares two and three, add your subtitles just as you did for squares one and four. Again, your talking points should relate to your title, subtitle, and foundational statement. Try keeping your subtitles to one word wherever possible. In squares two and three, you will make a point to tell a story or tell a story to make your point. When you are presenting a speech that is under ten minutes, four squares work well. Once you have mastered the four squares model, it is quite easy to move on to eight squares and above for longer presentations or even a TED talk.

When you are using an eight square model, you can use one or even two squares for introduction, two for the summary, and four or six subtitle squares for the body of your presentation.  You can make your model however you like. Once you have finalized your model, you are now ready to have fun connecting your talking points to your title, subtitles, and foundational statement. Draw lines to connect the subtitles to the foundational statement. I call it connecting the dots. Soon you will notice you have a storyboard, mindmap, or worksheet for your speech.  You are now ready to write.

The sole purpose of this exercise is to prepare your speech for delivery. I am often reminded of these words from one of my mentors,” great speeches are not read; they are delivered.” Write for the ear and not for the eyes. The writing and editing of your speech using your storyboard, mindmap, or worksheet should keep you focused on your message. With your first draft, you can now begin practicing, editing, and re-editing as you continue testing. Soon you too will be having fun delivering that topic, that speech and many of your speeches in the future, speaking from squares.

Dare To Be Different

When you follow the herd, you will never be heard.

20190726_172024Do you dare to be different, or do you follow the herd? May speakers often ask how do you stand out from the crowd. Over the years of competing, I came to realize that you will gain a great deal of experience by taking risks or doing the unexpected when you are on the platform. You must dare to be different when you are on the platform. When you follow the herd, you will never be heard.

I adopted those words of wisdom I got from one of my mentors as my mission statement when I first entered the competitive public speaking arena many years ago. I also began to observe that evaluators, judges, and audiences took note and rewarded those speakers who dared to take the road less traveled and stood out from the crowd. They always reward the few who are not afraid to be different.  I know of cases where speakers have gone against the advice of feedback and have been greatly rewarded.

Good coaching and feedback are essential. However, I came to realize that your success as a speaker starts with good writing. Editing, re-editing, and a willingness to follow your inner feelings takes courage.  In my early years of competing, I, too, believed that by hiring a great coach, you would find that magical formula to turn your club and district speeches into masterpieces. Over time, I came to understand hiring a coach was the next step after you have written something worth editing. In the words of a past world champion David Brooks, you cannot edit what you have not written; he affirms that “great speeches are not written, they are rewritten.” And it is in the editing and re-editing, you will find that final version that will make you a champion speaker.

Editing and reediting is a process that can and will be challenging for all speakers. Speakers should resist making changes based on the feedback received after each delivery of a speech. Speakers should develop a process by which they validate the slew of comments and suggestions they will receive after even what they thought was an excellent delivery. I often use the rule of threes. If you hear the same thing, three times from three different individuals, it is time to take steps to resolve that issue with help from a coach or someone you trust.

If you are committed to being different, some of the feedback you receive from your peers will require second opinions, third and sometimes even a fourth opinion. When you dare to be different, you are the one who should make the final decision about what you are taking to the platform. If you are willing to take a risk to try what you believe has never been done or said before on the platform, go for it. If it works, you will be greatly rewarded, and if it didn’t, you would have learned a valuable lesson. Dare to be different, and you will always be heard, when you choose not to follow the herd.

 

Your Signature Speech

Do you remember cursive.

20200208_165442_resized (1)Do you have a signature speech? One, you can jump out of bed at any time, any place, anywhere to deliver with substance, style, and confidence. Every speaker should have one. While this may sound difficult for most speakers to do, especially those who try to create their masterpiece in a single sitting, I do believe developing  Your Signature Speech is achievable when you make a commitment to gracing the platform over a fair amount of time. It takes stage time, failures and you paying your dues before you begin racking up successes.

If you were to ask any speaker you admire, how did you manage to get to where you are today? If they were to truthfully share their secret, you will realize their Signature Speech was not something they did or sat down and created; it is something they achieved by developing their speaking muscles over time.  And what are those muscles?  The messages you develop, the ability to connect with audiences, and the willingness to go that extra mile.  With the blood, sweat, and tears you put into achieving Your Signature Speech there is always the hope one-day it will pay off huge dividends. And the earlier you open that account, the better. 

Long before I even had my first bank account, I began developing my cursive writing signature skills – Do you remember cursive. Is it still around?  I knew the day would come when I would have to face a banker to sign my first check. Who wants to look stupid doing that, I thought? I worked on that signature until I felt it was unique, authentic, and worthy of representing me. I felt proud of what I had produced. I felt and still believe it is the symbol of my identity to the world. Yes, I’ was moving on up. 

As I got older and began using that signature, I  continued experimenting with different versions of my signature, until I settled on one which I could identify immediately. I kept working even further until I decided on a version I felt one day would be worth a million dollars. Not there yet, but still working on it. However, when that day came to face that banker, I looked him in eye and proudly delivered, and you know what he said? One day that signature will be worth a million dollars – Not there yet – but I’m still working on it.

By applying the same principle I used to refine my cursive signature to speech writing, I  began developing my Signature Speech. Today, I am still a work in progress. As my journey continues, I am getting more and more comfortable with my ability to speak anytime, anyplace, anywhere with substance, style, and confidence. The more I take my Signature Speech to the platform, the more stage time and little tweaks I make along the way, consciously or sometimes subconsciously, the more I see that speech developing into my masterpiece. In that Signature Speech, my audiences also immediately recognize my style, my rhythm, my cadences, and even my isms – the symbols of my identity to the world – Just like that cursive signature, I use almost every day of my adult life. And, who knows one day, that signature speech may also be worth a million dollars – I have a dream – Who said that?

One of the many challenges speakers all face while developing their Signature Speech is? “Making it modular”. Speakers should be able to add or remove modules from that speech at will or at a moment’s notice.  You may prepare a ten or fifteen-minute presentation for your audience. But upon your arrival at the venue, you discover that is a change in the schedule and you are now asked to speak for five or perhaps twenty-five minutes. What do you do? You add or remove modules from your speech. It happens not to some but to us all. I have seen some speakers try using pauses to turn their five-minute speeches into seven or into a ten to fifteen and fail miserably. However, when you know your subject matter well enough to make significant changes to your presentation instantly and make it appear seamlessly, you are ready to face any audience, anytime, anyplace, anywhere with Your Signature Speech.

What is a Toastmasters Tall Tale

Let your three B’s sting your audience!

FB_IMG_1550169405777A Tall Tales is a speech that is of a highly exaggerated, improbable nature leaving some members of your audience thinking liar, liar pants on fire. At the same time, others might also be thinking, wait a minute, that may be true or, is it? Hum! A Tall Tale, like any good story, should have a theme or plot, filled with humor, more humor, and where appropriate, props to bring your story to life. If you are wondering why we tell Tall Tales in Toastmasters? Tall Tales encourages speakers to let our imagination run wild. They challenge us to expand our creativity and ability to become better storytellers. And good storytelling is the secret to becoming a better public speaker.

Today, whenever we want to learn about something old or new, we turn to Alexa or Google; however, on this occasion, the best definition I found for a Tall Tales is from good old Webster. Webster describes a tall tale as a “Narrative of events that have happened or are imagined to have happened.” It is usually a short story, real or fictitious. It could be a piece of information, gossip, rumor, falsehood, or just a big lie. Today we call many of those stories fake news.

My first competitive tall tale speech contest was in 1999. After completing four Competent Toastmaster Manual Speeches, I competed with a speech entitled Hell’s Paradise. That speech took me all the way to my first District Contest. Hell’s Paradise was about the companies that were dominating the software market in the eighties and nineties. I did not name names, however, I am sure you, too, will get my drift even if you were not around at the time. I felt one of those companies behaved similarly to Adam when he was in the Garden of Eden – rotten to the core. And then there was that other company’s view of the world was, in my opinion, it was just micro and soft. On that premise, I built “Hells Paradise.” However – Was I ever so wrong? We all got Googled by this little company that expanded by ten to the one-hundredth power. Go figure!

One of the lessons I learned very early in that process was since your speech must impress your audience as well as the judges, it would help if you studied the judging criteria. Reviewing the score sheets while you are developing your speech also paid dividends, Start with something that is familiar to your audience. Why try to be Columbus, be authentic. Make your lies B-Bigger and B-Better and B-Bolder. Let your three B’s sting your audience! And pay close attention to the following:

SPEECH DEVELOPMENT: The way you put your ideas together so the audience can understand them. A good Tall Tale speech immediately engages the audience’s attention and builds to a conclusion. Begin with a theme with which your audience is already familiar. That will earn your thirty points.
SPEECH TECHNIQUES: That refers to the use of various tall tales skills, such as exaggeration, hyperbole, irony, pun, humor, and surprising twists. These techniques are the essence of making a tall tale successful. If you skillfully incorporate those techniques into your Tall Tale, that is good for another twenty-five points.
APPROPRIATENESS OF LANGUAGE: This is where many “Tall Tale” competitors get into trouble. Your choice of words should relate to the speech purpose. Your language should fit the occasion and be in good taste -Ten points.
PHYSICAL: Presentation of a speech carries part of the responsibility for effective communication. Body language should support points through gestures, expressions, and body positions. Fifteen points
VOICE: The sound that sends the message – Your voice should be flexible, moving from one pitch level to another. A good speaking voice is on that can be heard and easily understood- Another fifteen Points
LANGUAGE: The Proper use of grammar and correct pronunciation will show that the speaker is the master of the words used – five points, to take you over the top.

Look at your life and the lives of others around you. And I am sure you will find many stories you can spin into a Tall Tale. Challenge your audience to ponder with that look that says – REALLY! NO! PERHAPS –THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE; Take your audience to the edge of the precipices and dare them to believe we are both going to jump, but you go first. That is when you must give the moral of your story or leave your audience to figure out the “rest of the story,” – the life lesson we all should take away from every Toastmaster’s Tall Tale Speech.