Your Ahs Ums & You Knows

How do you silence your “Ah” counter?

20190425_163601.jpgWhen you are on the speaking platform, have you ever found your mind twisting and turning, groping for words or at a loss for your next thought? Do you then turn to the most commonly used filler words like “Ahs,” “Ums” and the dreaded “You know”? How do you silence your “Ah” counter?

How do you turn those negatives into positive sounds, even when your choice is silence? Studies have shown subject matter, and breadth of your vocabulary determines the use of filler words more than habit or anxiety. Some may ask why filler words or phrases are needed at all. What motivates a speaker to fill every moment of silence with sound? For some speakers, it is the fear of dead space when speaking while for others, it may be because of the careless speaking habits perfected over time. Great speakers rarely use unnecessary words, interjections or distracting sounds. Great speakers do not wing it. Great speakers prepare their presentations. Listen carefully to their delivery, and you will find it is not that they avoid pauses, interjections or fillers altogether; instead, they replace their “Ums” “Ahs” and “You know” with filler words that sound natural, intentional and conversational.

The cure for filler words without a doubt is preparation. Speakers can reduce nervousness by pre-determining the way they would like to express their ideas through preparation and practice. By no means, should you avoid silence, however, when pauses are overused, it can be an indication the speaker is unprepared. That style of delivery is distracting to listeners. One proven method of avoiding distracting sounds is by replacing your “Ums” “Ahs” and dead silence with stronger filler words like “Now,” “However” or “You See.” with enthusiasm and confidence. With a little practice, you will soon find your filler words sounding much more powerful and intentional, just like the great speakers.

We all experience senior moments when we are on the platform. A useful ploy to avoid pregnant pauses when you have lost your trend of thought is to repeat your very last sentence with a change of tone and emphasis, as you collect your thoughts. Interjections also come in handy in those moments. An interjection is a word or collection of words that express feelings. For example, “Gee,” “Wow!”- “Oh my!”. I have learned from experience to embrace the use of words like – Yikes, Ouch, and Oops in speeches and to keep them handy for unplanned moments. One notable characteristic of interjections is they have little or no logical connection with the words or sentences that follow. You can safely use them to distract your audience as you collect your thoughts. Turn your negatives into positives. Start using your filler words and interjections with confidence. Make them a part of your conversation with your audience. Practice them until they become permanent, and they will add style and color to your speaking.

The Sound Of You

After you have made your powerful statement!
Silence sends the message.

IMG_6959Do you know the sound of your voice? What you sound like. Have you ever been told you speak too fast, too slow; too loud too soft or you lack vocal variety. Perhaps when speaking privately, you have never received that type of feedback. It may be accepted as part of your personality. But what is your response if you receive this feedback when speaking in public. Whether we speak publicly or privately, the objectives are to be heard, understood and to be repeated. Your volume, rate, pitch, tone, and prosody determine how your message is interpreted. Your vocal variety, your voice inflection, and nuances determine how your message is understood. Often, it is not only what you say. It is how what you said was heard and received. Take a moment, record yourself to listen to the sound of you. If you do, you may be in for a huge surprise.

Even after listening to yourself, you may still be in denial. If you use the rule of three, you may be more inclined to address how you choose to adjust your delivery. Begin by acknowledging the issue when speaking privately. If you do, you may find it will improve over time when speaking publicly. The rule of three is simple. If you receive the same feedback, on three different occasions, from three different evaluators or three different sources, you have an issue you must address. First, you should recognize the problem as one that is important for your success as a speaker. Once you validate the feedback, test your adjustment and practice your modification in your private conversations until it becomes permanent.

Every element of vocal variety is essential. Volume is critical. When making a powerful statement. After you have made that statement, silence sends the message. Without that moment of silence, your message loses its effect. Rate and pace can be used to build tension and excitement in your speech. The resolution of that tension can be a twist or you can use rate to bring the segment to a climax by slowing down to almost a crawl. Whenever I think of pitch and tone as it relates to public speaking, I think of the great singers who color the music of their songs with the clarity of each word they enunciate. Listen to the phrasing of some of the great singers of yesteryear and you will get a better understanding of the art of phrasing which can be used when speaking publicly or privately.

One manner of delivery, which is common but gets little attention is prosody, defined as the rhythm and pattern of the sounds of language when speaking. I have also heard it described as “up talking.” Often we begging a statement at one pitch and end the sentence by dropping the voice, while some speakers raise their voice at the end of every sentence. Raising your voice at the end of sentences has the effect of sounding as if every statement is asking a question. It is a style of speaking which you can correct. Begin by focusing on the meaning you wish to convey aided by your vocal variety. Although your focus may be to improve your public speaking, if you begin to practice these tips in your private conversations your public speaking and speaking for all occasions will improve. What you practice privately will always find its way into our delivery when speaking publicly. Your voice is the voice of you.

Making Your Case

To make your case, you must first have one.

pexels-photo-290150.jpegThe art of persuading audiences and judges is as old as life itself. However, success or failure depends largely on how well you succeed in making your case. At Toastmasters meetings speeches are evaluated; we “evaluate to motivate.” But too often we highlight the good and whitewash that which needs improvement. In speech contests, presentations are judged to pick a winner. The objectives are very different; however, one may conclude that it does not matter if you are being evaluated or judged when your purpose is making your case.

To make your case, you must first have one. You must be clear about what you are asking your audience to think, feel or do. You must also be sure that what you are asking your audience to do is doable. If after you have presented your reasoning to that audience or judges, they should be so impressed by your argument about that which you are asking them to do, or not do, is the best in this case and in similar situations to follow, you would have made your case. This process is a proven method of presenting, judges and lawyers use courts, CEOs, and executives use successfully.

Making a connection with your audience is just as important as knowing everything about the subject matter you are presenting. Your ability to communicate is a gift to all. Although we may communicate differently, we all were born with the proverbial “gift of gab” in some form. As kids, we were able to talk ourselves out of any sticky situation. Don’t remember, ask your parents, they will be happy to remind you. Then it happened. Once we became conscious that there is a difference between talking in private and speaking in public, we became fearful of being embarrassed. We lost that gift of making your case, well except for those times when we get outraged. Why! Many will argue it is all because of fear.

Of all the emotions we are faced with on the platform, perhaps fear is one of the easiest to control. How do we control fear? Fear is controlled by you being true to yourself; just like when you were outraged. By being who you are, and what you are all about when you are on the platform. Sincerity is essential when speaking in public. If you are not sincere, you will always be looking over your shoulders. Your voice will quiver, knees will weaken, and as many who have been there and done that would confess, you would rather die than do what comes naturally – speak in public.

I have heard it said the most crucial minute in your speech is or should be the minute of silence after you have finished speaking. If at the end of your presentation, your evaluator, audience or judges feel compelled to take some action, positive or negative, you most likely would have or would have not made your case. Be clear about the purpose and the goals you want to achieve. A speech without a clear purpose will accomplish nothing. Decide before you step on that platform if your goal is to persuade, inform or entertain. Keep that goal like a banner in the front of your mind from the beginning of your talk to end. And when it is all over, the applause will let you know if or how well you have made your case.

Delivering Your Speech

If you did not write it initially – it could not be edited.

IMG_6565Stories serve many purposes in speeches. They can help you connect with audiences to form a connection that allows you to teach valuable lessons or explain difficult concepts. But how do you know when your story is ready for delivery. It is a process. Surely you have heard it said, the secret to public speaking is “to make a point to tell a story.” Great speeches begin with excellent writing and meticulous editing. Weaving stories through your presentations help audiences recall facts and essential information that can be quickly forgotten.

Every speech must have a purpose. Your purpose can be specific or general. Whether your goal is to inform, persuade, entertain or inspire, your audience wants to know the objective of your talk within the first minute of your speech. As you plan your presentation, you must be clear about what you want your audience to think, feel or do after you have finished speaking. Your opening statement should reference the topic of your presentation. The body should provide information to support your opening statement. Your closing should include what you told your audience. After delivering your speech, if someone were to asked what your speech about, they should be able to summarize the purpose in one sentence.

When you tell your story, speak from your perspective. Use dialogue to make your presentation conversational. The more audiences can relate to your characters, the more authentic they become. Every story has an issue to be resolved. If there is conflict, state it early in your presentation. The problem is usually between two opposing forces. Add fuel to their fire. Get them all lit up. State the challenge then; there must be a light at the end of the tunnel. Resolve the tension and conflict without leaving any unanswered questions. Editing will help you achieve that goal. If you did not write it initially it could not be edited.

Practice and delivery is the next step in the process of presenting your story. Body language is your biggest ally in this part of the process. Practice moving your hands, your body, making eye contact and changing your facial expressions as you would, when speaking to friends and family. When you are presenting to your audience, start your eye contact with the audience members at the back of the room and gradually keep your eyes moving forward while speaking “one to many.” Every move you make should be with a purpose. When you are making a crucial point, stand and deliver. Body language often speaks louder words. Your body language should be smooth and natural. The final step in the process is to move your speech from your head, and into your heart. Once that is accomplished, your story is ready for delivery.

Coloring Your Speeches

Using descriptive language to paint word pictures.

FB_IMG_1537025645990Coloring speeches with Literal and Figurative Language can make words, phrases, and sentences come to life.

Descriptive language paints word pictures. Speech coloring can take multiple forms. Language can use be used literally or figuratively, whether the purpose of your speech is to inform, persuade, entertain or inspire. Understanding how to use all parts of speech when coloring your speech is crucial for creating vivid descriptions.

Adjectives are words used with a noun to express the quality of a thing named or to give specific details about nouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs to limit or extending their significance. Adverbs usually express time, place manner cause, etc.

Speakers should also understand how and when to use Literal or Figurative Language.  Use literal language should be used to be direct and clear.  Clear and direct communication is useful when delivering detailed or factual information. Use figurative language to convey creative and original thoughts, ideas and concepts to create an emotional impact.

SIMILE Explicitly compares two dissimilar things by the use of like or as. ie, She was as cute as a kitten.  They fought like cats and dogs.

METAPHOR A term or phrase applied to something to which is not applicable, to suggest a resemblance. It does not use the explicit “like” or “as” to form the comparison.ie: She is the apple of my eye. He broke my heart.

SYMBOLISM The practice of representing things by symbols. Using symbols to express ideas or qualities in art or literature.ie: In Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” – All the world’s a stage.

HYPERBOLE A direct exaggerates of speech used for effect not intended to be interpreted or understood in a literal sense.ie: I have a million things to do today. He’s as skinny as a toothpick.

PUN A play on a word or words. Using a word or words to suggest a different meaning or application. Puns may also be words that sound alike or nearly alike but are used differently often with humorous intent.ie: “Every calendar’s days are numbered.”

Literally coloring or highlighting the text of your speech can be fun and also helpful when preparing your speech for delivery. Put some color in your speeches to paint a brighter – brighter world. Happy speech coloring!!

The Power of Tongue Twisters

IMG_6959In my last article on tongue twisters, I mentioned how much they can help with your speaking development.  Tongue twisters are sentences that are hard to pronounce when you speak really fast. The reason they are hard to pronounce is that they have words that have similar sounds. Here are a few I found on the internet for you to try as you begin to develop your own. Try the following tongue twisters: Start slowly and develop speed as you progress. They will also help develop the muscles we use when speaking.

  1. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!
  2. I wish to wish the wish you wish to wish, but if you wish the wish the witch wishes, I won’t wish the wish you wish to wish.
  3. Bubble bobble, bubble bobble, bubble bobble
  4. A sailor went to sea to see, what he could see. And all he could see Was sea, sea, sea.
  5. Sally sells sea shells by the seashore. But if Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore then where are the seashells Sally sells?
  6. If two witches were watching two watches, which witch would watch which watch?
  7. Wayne went to Wales to watch walruses.
  8. Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair, FuzzyWuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy
  9. How much wood could a wood chopper chop, if a wood chopper could chop wood?
  10. Penny’s pretty pink piggy bank
  11. Jolly juggling jesters jauntily juggled jingling jacks.
  12. I thought a thought. But the thought I thought wasn’t the thought
    I thought I thought.
  13. Double bubble gum bubbles double
  14. Lovely Laura loves lucky Larry.
  15. A skunk sat on a stump and thunk the stump stunk,
    but the stump thunk the skunk stunk.
  16. Yellow butter, purple jelly, red jam, black bread.
    Spread it thick, say it quick!
    Yellow butter, purple jelly, red jam, black bread.
    Spread it thicker, say it quicker!
    Yellow butter, purple jelly, red jam, black bread.
    Don’t eat with your mouth full!
  17. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
    if Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
    wheres the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  18. Whether the weather be fine
    or whether the weather be not.
    Whether the weather be cold
    or whether the weather be hot.
    We’ll weather the weather
    whether we like it or not.
  19. How many yaks could a yak pack – pack if a yak pack could pack yaks?
  20. Don’t trouble – trouble, until trouble troubles you! If you trouble – trouble, triple trouble troubles you!

Speech Editing – From Good to Great

Every word counts. Less is more.

20180930_094407.jpgEditing your speech can be both a painful and rewarding exercise. Careful editing can make your copy cleaner and your prose sharper. To get the best out of writing and rewriting your speeches, you must take your own work seriously. Seldom do you write or say exactly what you wish, on your first or second rewrite. It is my hope that you will find these tips as helpful as I have while editing. I too believe good speeches are written – great speeches are rewritten.

Avoid clichés that are common and overused. Aside from being indicative of lazy writing or speaking, they are rarely used correctly and even when they are, they rarely make sense. Who throws out “the baby with the bathwater” today”? Would you “cry over spilled milk” – “at the end of the day” and yes are you still “going the extra mile”. You may get a chuckle or two for some of these clichés, however, you may want to be more current. Those expressions are outdated.

Repetition not used intentionally for effect should be avoided. Check your copy carefully for how many times you have used your favorite words or phrases.  Increase your vocabulary. Go to your thesaurus to look for synonyms – words or phrases that by word association would be more pleasing to the ear. Learning how to make the best use out of synonyms and antonyms will prove to be extremely important for all kinds of purposes when writing and rewriting your speeches.

Modifiers like “very big” get old quickly. How about “gigantic”. Use a noun that does the work of an adjective. The most common problem with the use of modifiers is where you place them. Specifically, modifiers can cause confusion or unintentional humor in a sentence when they are placed too far from the noun they are modifying. Reducing your work count by replacing entire sentences with a single word or two works great. Also, seek out those two for one-word opportunities. Every word counts. Less is more.

Examine the beginning of each sentence. Varying the lengths of sentences can be very effective. When writing personal stories, try to limit the use of “I” over and over. Count the number of times you used “I” in your copy. Try shifting the focus from “I” to “you” with a question or a “you statement” focusing on your audience. Be more inclusive.

Have fun rewriting some of your old speech.  Rewriting makes your speech writing clearer, more powerful and can make your good speeches great.

Table Topics Tips

Keep it Simple – Keep Calm and Carry On

20190426_133908_001How do you prepare for Table Topic is often a concern of new and seasoned Toastmasters.  How can you prepare for answering questions on a wide range of subjects with confidence – How do the pros do it?  Well, I am told,  they keep it simple. They keep calm and carry on and here are a few of their secrets they – Practice the art of passive listening: Listening without reacting: Allowing someone to speak, without interrupting – Silencing the noise in their head. Not doing anything else at the same time – Not an easy skill for some of us to master

Stay up to date on current events: While it is impossible to be knowledgeable about every topic under the sun, they stay on top of local, national, International news and trends. Staying informed is always an excellent preparation idea.  They are passionate and their ideas are original.

Make impromptu speaking part of their everyday conversations:  Like the pros, we too face all kinds of questions and topics every day.  They use them as opportunities to practice. They tell personal stories. You too can make your friends and family your audiences. They will be none the wiser.

Learn from the pros, they keep it simple. Practice these few skills daily and you will develop wit, natural humor and a repository of topics to draw from. Like a well-developed muscle, you will begin to respond like they do to any topic you face.  They listen attentively to decide if it is a question or statement. They repeat the topic silently to themselves. They pay special attention to the keywords in the question or statement. Usually, that is when their gut instincts kick in with their POV – their “Point of View”. You can always tell because that is when you see them smile. They don’t fight the feeling they go with the flow.

In a Toastmasters setting, you should wait until the Table Topics master has left the speaking platform.  Buy yourself some time. Wait until you have the full attention of the audience. Assume your speaking posture then begin your response by paraphrase the topic followed by your “POV or the Hook” you will use to reel in your audience. Forget the salutations, dive right into the topic. Add a twist to the subject matter. Give two examples or “for instance” – summarize and make your call to action, where applicable. It is that simple.

Table Topic can be a fun and rewarding experience. Make impromptu speaking a part of your development as a speaker. It is all about revealing the authentic when you are in the moment. Whether you are in an interview, club meeting or on a stage, if you are prepared to be honest and to be yourself, you too will be able to respond like the pros to any question or statement “off the cuff”.  Have fun with Table Topics and remember these words of Dr. Ralph Smedley the founder of Toastmasters: “we learn best when we are having fun.”

Toastmasters International Table Topics have a time range of 1-2 minute. The Greenlight at 1 minute- Yellow light at 1 minute, 30 seconds – Red light at 2 minutes.

Evaluating Tips

Your Gift to The Speaker.

Evaluating a speech in a club setting is a little different from evaluating in a competition. In a club setting, before you begin to evaluate the speaker, the evaluator should first become familiar with the objectives of the project. Every Toastmasters project has a stated set of objectives. It is important for the evaluator to observe the speaker and evaluate his or her presentation based on the project’s objectives and not the objectives the speaker has not yet completed. Meet the speaker where they are presently on their journey.

In both settings, the evaluator should evaluate the project based on what they saw, what they heard what they felt. Not what they wanted to see, wanted to feel or wanted to hear. Everyone reacts differently to a speech. Your evaluation should consider how the speaker and the speech affected you and the audience. Focus more on how the speaker and speech affected you using “I” statements as you recall the strengths of the speaker and the speech. Evaluate any problems you observed and make sure to offer a suggestion.

In a club meeting setting, the evaluator should state the objectives as part of the speaker’s introduction. Did the speaker follow the objectives, is one of the questions the evaluator should answer. Details to look for and comment on are, was the speaker nervous? Did the speaker use eye contact, vocal variety, and gestures? How was the speaker’s energy? Was the speaker sincere, passionate and knowledgeable about the topic? Highlight the positive and give the speaker no more than two items you observed that can benefit the speaker in future projects.

When you are a contestant in an evaluation contest, make yourself a template or Speech Evaluation Work Sheet to use as a guide. While all of the items above apply in a competition setting, you must answer one very important question. What can I do to be different from the rest of the field? This is not the time to be a coach. Start with the speech title, the opening, the body and the conclusion emphasizing the message. It is that simple. End on a positive note and remember whether you in a club meeting or competing, we evaluate to motivate. Evaluations are your gift the speaker. Evaluations are the heart of the Toastmasters educational program.

Timing Is Everything

Fast Speaker or Fast Listener

In the Toastmasters world of public speaking, timing is everything. The 5 to 7-minute speech is our Gold Standard. Icebreakers are usually 4 to 6 minutes long. Fast speakers speak fast; however, not everyone happens to be a fast listener. To ensure speakers remain within their allotted time when delivering an icebreaker, it is best to write a 5-minute speech, for delivery in 6.30 minutes. For a 5 to 7 minute speech, write a 6-minute speech for delivery in 7:30 minutes.

The average speaking rate of most humans is between 120 to 140 words per minute. Therefore, it is important for every speaker to calculate his or her own personal speaking rate. In order to find your personal speaking rate, select a passage from a famous speech. Read it as if you are delivering that speech using pauses and vocal variety.  Read for one minute.  Time yourself. Your word count will be the number of words you read from the beginning of the passage to your last word at the one-minute mark. If your average rate is 130 words per minute, your word count for an icebreaker should be approximately 130×5=650 words – average.

Once you have calculated your speaking rate, you should gather your Readability Statistics. When using MS Word Readability Statistics for Writing, you will need to have grammar checking turned on. Microsoft Word’s readability scores are based on American audiences and Word’s grammar checking. These statistics give speakers an idea of the readability of their content. They also provide general rules that can be useful when editing your written material.

The Readability Statistics facility in Microsoft Word includes:

  • Counts: Count the number of words, characters, paragraphs, and sentences in the document.
  • Averages: Averages the number of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, and characters per word.
  • Readability statistics: Calculates the percentage of passive sentences in the document, Flesch Reading Ease score, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.

A grade level of 5-9 is recommended for general readers. A grade level of 7-12 is acceptable for industry and technical writings. Remember as you edit, you are writing for the ear and not for the eyes. Edit to make your speeches conversational. Stay on time. That is and will always be the Toastmasters Gold Standard.

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