Impromptu Speaking

Let silence send your message!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing for the Platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your Laugh Count

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

Mark Twain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tensions And Release

Every speech should have a magic moment

The application of Tensions and Release is critical in public speaking and music.  In speaking, the process begins with a buildup of stress or pressure. The audience senses the buildup and processes the information to translate it into emotions. Finally, the audience anticipates a point of Release. The pressure continues to build until the speaker releases the Tensions, giving the audience a moment to rest. In that period of rest, both speaker and audience reward themselves emotionally. 

The drama created and expectations of a resolution hold the audience’s attention. The anticipation of what’s coming next keeps the storyline moving forward. The amount and quality of Tensions created are significant. It should be appropriate for the moment and that audience. Tensions can be chaos, confusion, unrest, instability, anticipation, or even curiosity. What’s most important is the effect it awakens in the minds and hearts of the audience.

 The feeling the audience experiences after the resolution is critical.  Timing also plays a vital role in the process. Many speakers use some of the same techniques used in music to create a Release. We all know them as loud, soft, rhythm, tone, and silence.  In public speaking, we call them different names. Still, they produce the same feelings and results we experience when listening to music.

Be mindful that everyone will not have the same physical experience; however, there are six basic emotions to which all humans respond. The 1991 World Champion of Public Speaking, David Brooks, often spoke about those six emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. Speakers should match their body language with their feelings during delivery. The quality and amount of stress depend upon what the moment demands. While it is crucial to produce adequate pressure, speakers must also know the right time to release.

If the resolution is too early or too late, that will ruin the experience. Instead, release at precisely the right time, and you will produce a magical moment.  Magical moments are segments of a speech remembered long after a speaker has made their delivery. The buildup leading to your Release can create a magic moment. The Release can be gradual or abrupt. It requires expectations from both the speaker and the audience. Both must move in concert as they advance towards a climax. As a rule, every speech should have a magic moment.

Tensions are critical moments for both speaker and audience. The audience is an active but silent contributor as the drama unfolds. However, some audiences don’t like to take a wild roller coaster ride. Therefore, the number of times you insert Tensions and Releases in a speech matter. How many times can you handle the big dipper? Speakers must never forget the purpose of Tensions and Releases. They keep the storyline moving forward. Keep an eye on the facial expressions of your audience. Strategically apply your Tensions to match the emotions in the room. Remember, the speaker creates the entire process, then calls upon the audience to be curious or excited or anticipate what might come next.

The effective use of Tensions and Release in speaking can be a game-changer. It is a process that produces immediate results. When you notice audiences are eager to take some action during the moment of silence after your presentation, you will understand the power of the process. It is a power that does not last a minute; it is a minute that will last a lifetime. Make a conscious effort to master the application of Tensions and Releases in your presentations. Practice using all six emotions in your everyday conversations. And you will come to realize the power of adding Tensions and Releases to your style of communication.

Who is Filling in The Blanks

Give your audience the chance to use their imagination.

When you are delivering a speech, who fills in your blanks? Who answers the unanswered questions in your presentation? Ever given much thought to those questions. Unanswered questions can become a distraction; however, TMI – too much information can also have the same effect. Letting your audience fill in some of the blanks can get your audience connected to your speech.  Give your audience the chance to use their imagination. And if you do, you may avoid the crime so many speakers are guilty of committing – offering too much unnecessary information. Find your balance between what’s said, left unsaid, answered later, and when you should let silence send your message.

When in doubt, leave it out

I am sure you have heard it said; when in doubt, leave it out. But what to leave out is always a bone of contention, especially when receiving expert advice that is well-intended but often questionable. Testing your material with audiences is essential; however, the buck stops with you, the speaker. For example, suppose after testing or delivering a presentation, your audience has many questions related to clarity. Take note. Perhaps some of the blanks your audience filled in did not deliver the message you intended. What’s said is most essential. What is left unsaid at times is even more critical to the success of your presentation. Consider your cost in time as you decide if what you included is a keeper.

            The seeds are sometimes a question or statement

Apart from the economy of words and time, you will discover that letting your audience fill in blanks can also create a bit of mystery to your speech. One technique is to sow seeds in the early parts of your presentation to bear fruit later. The blank you created will often have the effect of making your audience listen more attentively. Your seeds are sometimes a question or statement to be answered later in the presentation. In those cases, you are the one filling in your blank. The resolution may not always be what your audience expected, that’s OK. This practice works even when you receive the expected or an unexpected reaction from your audience. If the blank filled resulted in humor, that’s often a win-win for both you and your audience.  

             Who, what, when, where, why, and how

So how do you decide what is said and what you can leave to the imagination of your audience? It is a matter of risk and reward. Be mindful that whatever you choose may not always work. Good results often elevate speakers from good to great, but what if the risk was a failure. Look on the bright side; you are still a good speaker. When testing, start by asking these questions – who, what, when, where. why and how. Those six questions are your safety net. If any is answered with the least possible number of words and ambiguity, why take a risk? Clarity should always be your primary consideration. On the other hand, if you have a gut feeling, there will be some reward – test, test, and test again before going with your gut feeling.

    Pause for a cause and not just because

One of your essential blanks that can positively or negatively affect your speeches is the pause. Of course, pauses are necessary blanks in your presentations. However, when pauses are deemed unnecessary, they can be a distraction to both you, the speaker, and your audience. Speakers should- “pause for a cause and not just because.” When preparing your presentation, remember what is left unsaid can be just as important as what is said. Therefore, make sure you ask yourself this important question before taking your presentation to the platform – Who is filling in The Blanks.

The Way to Valhalla

The year was 1924, and Toastmasters officially began.

Toastmasters
Very First Manual

In Scandinavian mythology, there is a place where fallen heroes go to live out their afterlife. That place is called Valhalla. It is a giant hall with over 500 doors guarded by fierce wolves and giant eagles. The ceiling, adorned with gilded shields and swords of the fallen heroes. It is the place they call Valhalla; their heaven,

Dr. Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters, often spoke about finding your way to Valhalla. However, if you were to ask the good doctor of letters to show you the way to Valhalla, he did not point you to places of higher learning or direct you to the best life coaches. Instead, he pointed to your chest, yes, your heart.

You see, he firmly believed that the one sure way to earn a ticket to your Valhalla was through self-improvement. And that there is no better way to self-improvement than through better communication and better leadership. How and when he found his path in life is one I believe every Toastmaster should know.  

Dr.Smedley began his journey to Valhalla in 1903, after graduating from the Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. He took a job as a Director at the Young Men’s Christian Association: (YMCA). There he observed, that the young men who stayed at the facility could not communicate effectively.

Now I could tell from the smiles on the faces of some of you ladies; you may be saying, tell me something new. But sometimes, it takes a man to make a difference to initiate change. That man was Dr. Smedley, who began inviting those young men to remain after dinner to toast each other. They would then evaluate each toast. The person who delivered the best toast was declared the Toastmaster.

However, that was not the beginning of Toastmasters. The idea quickly attracted other residents to start attending and toasting. Soon, the group became known as the after-dinner club. Between 1903 and 1924, Dr. Smedley was transferred and promoted again and again.  

Everywhere he was stationed, he continued his journey, starting one of those “After Dinner Clubs” In 1915, he was the Director in San Jose, California. However, the idea did not take roots until club number one started in Santa Ana, California. The year was 1924, and Toastmasters officially began. And in 1932, Dr. Smedley created the Federation.

By 1941, realizing the Toastmasters organization needed full-time attention, Dr. Smedley resigned from the YMCA and started yet another stage of his journey. He continued his mission until his passing in 1965 at the age of 87. Today the tradition of toasting has advanced to include eloquent speeches and helpful evaluations.

The Federation has gone from those after-dinner rooms resembling banquets halls to even meeting virtually. Yet, ironically, the most asked question by people calling the organization’s head office is, do you sell toasters? The answer with a smile is always;” Toastmasters is where leaders are made!”

Club Number One continues to exist as a testimony to Dr. Smedley’s life’s mission. His way to Valhalla was a long and winding road, but he never wavered. If you were ever to visit his club number one, you would notice an empty chair at the front of the room. That chair stands as a constant reminder to everyone present that the founder is gone but not forgotten. And that we are all on the same journey to our Valhalla.

Toastmasters have grown to be world leaders in the advancement of Communication and Leadership from those humble beginnings. Valhalla is “the road less traveled.” It is a highway filled with many peaks and valleys. However, if you take one small step to help others find their path in life each day, just like Dr. Ralph Smedley did, you too will be well on the way to your Valhalla.

Green Bay – The Road Trip

When you think like champions, practice like champions, and play like champions, you are champions.

If you ever go to Green Bay, Wisconsin, make sure you visit Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. Take a guided tour of the stadium. And, for sure, you may also find it only fitting to pay homage to one of the legends of American football, Earl Louis Curly Lambeau.

In 2018, I traveled to Green Bay with my daughter, Phylicia, to check off one of her bucket lists items. Our road trip felt like we were on a pilgrimage as I watched her experience one of her happiest days at an almost empty stadium. I had bitter-sweet memories of those times she sat in a corner like Jack Horner, eating humble pie. At the same time, the rest of the family celebrated with our heroes during the Niners’ glory days. Yes, game days were challenging for the family whenever the packers were in town. But, while she was cheering for the Packers, everyone else was for the forty-niners.

That day she was all smiles as we admired the trophies and magnificence of Lambeau Field. The many Super Bowl trophies with Lombardy’s words of wisdom adorning the walls of the stadium. One that stopped me dead in my track: “There is only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything.” Still, I kept thinking, where did I go wrong as a father? But, as the tour progressed and the story of Curly unfolded, I was reminded of one of my first parenting lessons. We make our kids, but not their choices. That day, I was the one eating crumbs off my daughter’s humble pie as our tour guide spoke about the life and loves of Curly Lambeau. His coaching philosophy was simple; when you think like champions, practice like champions, and play like champions, you are champions.

Curly Lambeau was an outstanding player at Green Bay East High School, where football was like a religion. And curly was very religious. After graduating from high school, he fulfilled his childhood dream of playing college football at Notre Dame for the legendary coach, Knute Rockne. However, curly returned to Green Bay after only his first season with Notre Dame and never returned to the college. Some say it was because of injuries; others claimed it was because of his inadequate finances. But I believe it was because of his love for his girlfriend Marguerite, who became his first wife. Oh, Curly was known to be quite a lover and could sell snow to Eskimos. He even had two more wives before his sunset in June of 1965. When asked in what was his final interview if he had any regrets in life, he said: “My only regret was that I didn’t start two teams back in 1918.”

The story of the Green Bay Packers dates back to 1918n when Curly returned to Green Bay from Notre Dame. Curly took a job at the Indian Packing Company but continued his love affair with football. You see, Football was not a profession until the mid-1920s. Salaries for the top players were between 100 and 300 dollars per game. Still, in 2017, Curley jumped at the opportunity when he learned about a Community League that was about to begin in Green Bay. The fee to join was $50.00. Curly, with his smooth-talking, convinced his management at the packing company to pay the startup fee, which they did reluctantly. And, the Indian Packing Company Football Team was born to boost morale at their meatpacking facility.

Sadly, the novelty soon wore off, and in less than two years, it was curtains for the league and the team. The following year, Curley learned about the formation of a National League. However, the signup fee for that league was a whopping $150.00. Curly again approach his management, who politely told him to get lost. Who wouldn’t have loved to be a fly on the wall to hear his pitch, as he was told: “Come on, you waisted our $50.00 just a year ago!” But Curly would not be denied. Finally, his management relented when they learned about a plan, Curly and his buddy from his high school, George Whitney Calhoun, who was in the newspaper business. The Indian Packing Company Football team was restarted and admitted to this newly formed football league called – The NFL. Yes, the same NFL we know today.

The team needed Additional funds to purchase uniforms, gear, and other necessities. So together, Curly and Calhoun came up with a genius plan, selling Zero valued shares. The shared offer nothing to the buyers, only bragging rights, nothing more, nothing less. To this day, Green Bay is the only sports franchise that is of the people, for the people, and by the people. There is even an ongoing waiting list of prospective buyers today. That startup fee that was about $500.00 is also known as one of the most significant ROI – Return on Investment in the world of sport and business. The Green Bay Packers as a franchise is now worth over 2.7 billion dollars. Ironically, the name change from the Indian Packers was initiated by Margarete when she shouted – For goodness’ sake, Curly, why don’t you call the darn team the Green Bay Packers and stop this? “Indian Packing business – You are now a professional ballplayer man.” The new name stuck, and the team became – The Green Bay Packers.

In case you are wondering, who is still the Packers fan? My daughter Phylicia still is. But after that tour, I now have nothing but respect and admiration for the Green Bay Packer. Yes, I am still a Niner. On our way home, I had to ask my fabulous daughter again why – what on earth made you such a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Was it because of your favorite play Bret Favre, or was it Curly? What was the attraction? Still clutching her single share certificate offer, which added her to their waiting list, with a smile, she said: Dad, who would not like to be part of a team owned by their fans. Players will come, and players go, but the true fans will always remain. Is there any other team that is of the people, for the people, and by the people? It’s not just the players. Dad, it’s the fans and the community of Green Bay that make their team true Champions.

Do you Check-in with your audience

When you want to be heard, don’t follow the herd

Check-in if you want to be checked-out

A proven way to engage audiences in the first minute of your speech is to use a check-in. When you don’t check-in, your audience may just check-out. Many professional speakers will tell you that you may never get back that audience once you lose them in that first minute of your presentation. Checking-in with your audience is an invitation to get them involved. It’s like opening the doors to say welcome, let’s talk. That moment you take to acknowledge your audience will pay huge dividends to you, that audience, and most importantly, your judges when speaking competitively.

The best check -ins are questions, aroused curiosity, or conflict. However, you should also be aware that some check-ins can cause your audience to immediately check-out from you and your presentation. For example, overused openings like: “Have you ever….” When the second half of that question does not stimulate curiosity or excitement in your audience’s minds, that check-in may be a check-out. The next time you have the urge to open with: “have you ever,” try building the curiosity you are seeking with the word:” Imagine.

Speakers can find many excellent check-in examples in some of the Toastmasters World Champions of Public Speaking speeches. One example that immediately comes to mind is Darren LaCroix’s question while lying face down on stage. In the opening of his championship speech: Ouch, he asked: “did I stay down too long – have you ever stayed town too long.” That was one of the most memorable lines of that speech. Another excellent check-in was by Lance Miller – Do you validate.? Again, these are all questions strategically placed to open the doors to establish a connection with their audience. Notice, they all little questions that produce huge results.

Sometimes you can also connect with your audience by addressing the deliberately placed elephant in the room. David Brooks used that technique when he won the Championship in 1990. For his presentation, he wore jeans and a tuxedo. And, what did he do? He used this check-in: “in case you are wondering, some of us do dress this way down here?” His check-in was relevant to the 1990 current events and the situation in the country when the famous was becoming infamous – Sounds familiar – He did his homework, and it worked.  

It’s wise to know as much as possible about your audience’s expectations and demographics, age, background, and gender. Another technique commonly used by Toastmasters and by Jazz musicians too is the call and response technique.  At the beginning of the presentation, the speaker or performer frames questions to connect with their audience. For example, a speaker may ask questions related to the topic they are about to present. This technique is helpful when the speaker is not familiar with the audience they are facing. It can build confidence and quickly help establish parameters with that audience.  

The more you know about your audience, their likes, dislikes, and expectations, the easier it is to establish a connection. Keeping your audience engaged from start to finish begins with your opening. Then, a strong introduction sets the tone for the remainder of the speech. At every step of the way, you must know what you want your audience to think, feel or do. Speakers must also know how much is too much or how long is too long. Speakers must also listen to feedback but go with their gut feelings. “When you want to be heard, don’t follow the herd.” Instead, take the obstacle course or the proverbial road less traveled. And when you are a speaker who is known for checking in with audiences and keep them engaged, soon audiences from all over will be checking-in to just to check you out.

Storytelling

Your once upon a time is now!

Do you remember the first time you heard the words “once upon a time”? Who was that storyteller? What was their story? And how about you? Is your story still being written, or will it someday just be told. Why wait to be the sage on the stage. Those days are over. No one can tell your story better than you. Your once upon a time is now. And while we should never let the truth get in the way of a good story, if you keep your truths in the middle of your account, you will always have an attentive audience. With a basic understanding of what it takes to tell stories effectively, you can captivate any audience with your storytelling. 

When you’re an authentic storyteller, audiences will happily take a trip with you down memory lane. Every successfully told story begins with a plot. Your plot is your “what” of the story. It is the foundation on which you build the story. Also, to engage your audience, you need a “setup.” Your setup transports your audience to a time, place, and event. First, introduce the conflict in your setup that leads your audience to say to themselves – tell me more. I want to know who did what to whom. Then, unveil your story by recalling the narrative in a progression of time. As the event unfolded from weeks, months, or even years ago, make that event come to life as if it were yesterday. 

Every story must have characters. Reveal your characters to your audience with clarity. While characters don’t always have to be a person, it takes a persona or personality to make something or someone your main character: your “who” may be fictional, a real person, or even yourself. When your main character occupies center stage constantly in your story, don’t make yourself the hero. Not a good idea – You can be heroic, but not the hero in your story. When your hero is someone your audience can identify with, or root for, making a solid connection with that audience becomes effortless. Storytelling reminds us that we are all human and share many of the same experiences of our everyday lives.

Telling your story using dialogue instead of a monologue can inspire your audience to get involved as they listen. With dialogue, you receive instant feedback. Dialogue takes your audience back to the time and to the place where your event occurred. The more you involve your audience in your story, the more you will feel like you are collaborating, and not just speaking. The days of the sage on the stage are over. Instead, invite your audience to contribute in real-time to your moment with their reactions. A smile, a gasp, a sigh of relief -their responses validate your story and you, the storyteller.

Storytelling is an art as well as a skill one can develop. It’s like riding a horse or a bicycle. The more you ride, the more you will gain experience. As your balance improves, so too will you. One of the first lessons you will learn as a storyteller is that some stories are better received. All audiences are not the same. When you believe you failed, always remember you never fall from grace when the stories you tell touches the hearts and minds of your audience. Your once upon a time is now. Tell your stories with passion and power, and the more you tell, the more audiences you will hold in the palm of your hands when you master the art of storytelling.  

Pathways to Your Communication Leadership Success

The Pathways Program is an evolution in our Toastmasters experience. You now get to customize your learning to fit your goals and needs. It provides the flexibility to choose what you want to learn. You can also select the skills you wish to improve as you continue to manage your Toastmasters education. Pathways sets you on a personal and professional journey of development that reflects the Toastmasters mission. It is a Pathway to your Communication and Leadership success.  

With Pathways, you broaden your abilities to meet the goals you have set for yourself. You start by choosing from 11 learning paths: Dynamic Leadership, Effective Coaching, Leadership Development, Motivational Strategies, Persuasive Influence, Presentation Mastery, Strategic Relationships, Team Collaboration, Visionary Communication, and Engaging Humor.

All paths are based on five core competencies:

      1. Public Speaking
      2. Interpersonal Communication
      3. Strategic Leadership
      4. Management
      5. Building Confidence

Each path is designed to help you achieve the last competency, confidence. The Presentation Mastery path focuses solely on public speaking skills and building confidence in your abilities. Public speaking is a crucial component of the other ten paths. Each path requires you to give a minimum of 15 prepared speeches. Each of the ten paths is divided into five levels. The levels are:

      1. Level 1: Mastering Fundamentals
      2. Level 2: Learning Your Style
      3. Level 3: Increasing Knowledge
      4. Level 4: Building Skills
      5. Level 5: Demonstrating Expertise

The goal throughout Pathways is to apply what you learn as you move from earlier to later levels.   

The evaluation process is standardized in Pathways. It encourages everyone to give evaluations that are objective and constructive. The first page provides an overview of the assignment to help the evaluator understand what you are trying to accomplish. There is also space for general comments about your speech. Speakers should submit the completed form to the Toastmaster and Evaluator for every speech before each meeting.

Your evaluator will use the second page to score the skills you demonstrated during your presentation. Evaluations are scored on a scale of 5 to 1, with five being the highest and one being the lowest. Summarize your evaluations. It is a good idea to monitor your three strengths and weaknesses of each assessment to help you focus on areas of improvement.   

Mentorship is an essential part of the Toastmasters experience. The Pathway Mentor Program is a structured program that will help you identify when you are ready to be a mentor. You will be able to enroll in this Program, once you complete Level 2 of your path. There is no extra charge for pursuing the Pathways Mentor Program. There are four projects in the Program, including “Introduction to Toastmasters Mentoring” at Level 2, which everyone will complete. 

The Pathways Program is your journey to achieving your communication and leadership goals. When you pursue and achieve your goals, they benefit you, your club, Area, Division, and your District. The Pathways Program is the path to your Communication and Leadership success.

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