Practice Practice Practice

When your speech is in your head, it is not ready for delivery.

Sunset at Pismo Beach!

If ever you were to flag down a cabbie in New York City to ask, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall,” the answer you will most likely receive is practice, practice, practice. And your fare will suddenly double while your cabbie takes the scenic route. However, if you ask Lance Miller, the 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking, how do you practice? He will tell you, “You practice precisely as you deliver your speech on the platform.” The word practice can be a verb or a noun. When used as a verb, you perform an activity or exercise. That skill performed repeatedly or regularly improves or maintains your proficiency. The nouns; doctors and lawyers have practices. While they may never become perfect, they are permanent.

Your approach to practice can determine your success or failure when you are on the platform. Rehearsing your speech in the shower, while driving or lying in bed is not exactly practicing, You are sequencing. You are arranging your thoughts in a particular order, which is useful; however, it is a far cry from practicing. Sequencing places your presentation in your head. When your speech is in your head, it is not ready for delivery. You have to move it from your head to your heart. To avoid that extra step, practice as if you are speaking to an audience. When you practice as you will deliver your presentation, you develop muscle memory, which requires your total body involvement.

Lance also recommends that you should avoid practicing in front of mirrors. The speaker focuses on themselves when they should be focusing on their audience. Speaking to cameras is also a challenge most speakers face when delivering an address over zoom. Recording yourself and analyzing your presentation is far more effective than practicing in front of mirrors. Mirrors can also be a distraction to the speaker while practicing. Your focus will be on yourself and not your audience when you are on the platform. What and how you practice becomes permanent.

Anyone who has attained greatness in their chosen field will tell you it took many hours, days, and years of practice. They also had specific workout routines. They also had different exercises for different days. Before they begin to practice, they knew what to would be focusing on during each practice session. They knew how many times they will practice particular routines. They practice their speech uninterrupted from start to finish. Also, they make sure they practice delivering their presentation to an audience. Adopt those practices. If you don’t have an audience, create one. Chairs, trees, dolls, whatever that will not talk back, works well. Feedback will come in your testing phase. Practice, Practice, Practice but do it right and the day will come when you too will be on your way to the Carnegie Hall of public speaking.

Observing Writing & Speaking

Suspects will often change their clothes, but seldom their shoes.

The first step to becoming a better writer or speaker is to become a better observer. By our very nature, we are lazy when it comes to observing things and people around us. We readily accept the observation of others. We use generalities instead of little details we discovered ourselves. We also ignore the senses that were touched, the little things that may have left an indelible mark on us subconsciously. As a writer or speaker, the little details we ignored are the ones that count most to our audience. Addressing the minor details will often go a long way in helping us be better observers, better writers, and better speakers.

When last you took a moment to be more observant of your surroundings? By testing your ability to observe, we can greatly improve our living, thinking, and writing. Close your eyes and try to recall the first time you saw your spouse. Do you remember what he or she was wearing? Do you remember the look when you first made eye contact? Or how about the aroma or the shoes that were worn that day, do you remember? My dad, the cop, once told me to be good at his job, you must be a curious observer. Suspects will often change their clothes, but seldom their shoes. I still remember that tip, as vividly as I remember my mama’s cooking. Mia Angelo, the great poet, writer, and speaker, often said, people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. When you write or tell your stories, explore all five senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Work on the feeling s of your audience, and you will bring your characters and your moments of truth back to life.

Using the right words at the right time to express what you saw, heard, and felt can be challenging, but with practice, you can master the art of audience awareness. If you practice reliving and not recalling details of what you saw, heard, and felt, you can transport your audience back to a time and place. As your story is being told, entice your audience to feel some of what you felt. With that approach, you will be far more effective as a speaker. Great speakers often advise, don’t tell them, take them. Get your audience involved. Ask them to do something or engage them with facial expressions, your vocal variety, and your charm. If you can get your audience to react, that’s a good indicator that you are being heard and your message is being delivered.

Observing your audience from a stage is a bit different. While it is critical to observe your audience’s reactions as you deliver your presentation, it can become a distraction. Speakers should consider their tone, content, and language in the preparation phase of their presentation. Know your audience. Delivery, especially in a virtual environment, has its limitations. However, with a little creativity, we can use virtual settings to our advantage. Make connecting with your audience a priority. Stay connected with them from the beginning all the way to the end. Keep in mind great speeches are often forgotten when there is an absence of a call to action at the end. When a call to action is not offered to your audience, they are left to imagine your purpose. Be specific about what you are asking your audience to think, feel or do. What you are asking your audience to do must also be doable.

Practice seeing the unseen, hearing sounds of silence, and the feeling of being touched even when you are alone. And you will know what it’s like to be in tune with your surroundings. And as we observe the little things around us that we so often ignore, we will be inspired to become a better observer, better writer, and a better speaker.

Organizing Your Speech

Just as important is the organizational structure you choose.

It is often said, we speak to be heard, understood, and to be repeated. Topic selection is important. We choose topics we are passionate about. However, just as important is the organizational structure you choose. A well-organized speech enhances the audience’s understanding of your topic. When your speech is well-structured and easy to follow, it is more effective. A clear understanding of the different types of structures and when they are used will help you organize your speeches. The following are some structures you may find useful during your writing and delivery.

CHRONOLOGICAL: Chronologically organized speeches follow a sequence of events. When you speak about events linked together by time, it is best to engage the chronological organization style. Your main points are delivered according to when they happened and could be traced back in time in a chronological speech. Arranging main points in chronological order can help describe historical events to an audience and when the order of events is necessary to understand what you wish to convey. This style is effective when delivering Informative or when delivering demonstrative speeches about a series of events.

TOPICAL:  A topical structure organizes speeches by topics and subtopics. Break your speech into sections that explain major concepts related to your topic, followed by smaller and smaller subtopics. If your speech center’s main points on ideas are more distinct from one another, use a topical organization style. Your main points are developed separately in a topical speech and are generally connected within the introduction and conclusion. In other words, the topical style is crafted around main points and sub-points that are mutually exclusive but related to one another by the thesis. Use the topical style when elements are connected because of their relationship to the whole.

SPATIAL: A spatial structure organizes a speech by geography, the physical structure of the topic, or discusses the impact your topic has upon a region or the world. Spatial also refers to content that covers the physical landscape of a specific location. For example, if you are giving a speech about California, you may organize your presentation to imply movement from the North to the South; or from San Francisco to Monterey. 

CAUSAL: A causal structure organizes speeches to link a cause to an effect or its cause. Casual speech is also a way of talking that you use with people close to and trust. There are different words, phrases, and ways of speaking that you can use with your friends, your family members, and with people who are a similar age, social status, and personality to you.

COMPARATIVE:  A comparative structure organizes speeches by describing two or more objects and their shared and or different attributes. Show how your topic compares to another by examining similarities and differences.

As you select your topic, understand the style you will use to deliver that particular presentation. Develop a well-structured, clear, and organized speaking style, and you will always be heard, understood, and repeated. 

Your 3 T’s

Every unanswered question will become a distraction

How do you make your presentations linger forever, in the minds and hearts of audiences? Many of us Toastmasters use the three T’s formula to prepare our presentations. The first T is you tell them what you are going to tell them. The second is you tell them. And the third is you tell them what you told them. But do you know that formula dates back to over 2,500 years? Yes, that formula has been tried, tested, and proven. It has withstood the test of time. Rooted in Aristotle’s Art of rhetoric, written in 350 BC it is still valid today. Aristotle believed that the foundation of good rhetoric must include attentiveness to the Ethos, Logos, and Pathos of the presenter. The famed Greek philosopher also believed that when you focus on the three T’s and present with Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, you can appeal to your audiences and persuade them with power.

Ethos is your personal credibility; the faith people have in your integrity. It may be because you are recognized as an expert in the particular field you are addressing. Sometimes it is because of your experience. You may know a thing or two because you have seen a thing or two. Why should your audience listen to you speaking on that particular topic? They will because of your Ethos. As you develop your speech or presentation, avoid leaving what I call loose ends; unanswered questions. Every unanswered question will become a distraction from your message. If your audience still has a myriad of questions after you have delivered your speech, your clarity or credibility may be an issue. When your story may produce doubt, leave it out.

Then there is Pathos, the speaker’s ability to connect to the audience’s feelings. Speakers should target the parts of the body they are after when they are presenting. Sometimes it will be the head, other times the heart. Showing that you have the ability to empathize is important. The ability to understand and share the feelings of others takes practice. To bring your audience into your speech or presentation at an emotional level takes careful planning. Your ability to connect with your audience increases tremendously when you get your audience emotionally involved. However, as a presenter, you should know when you are going after the head. You should also know when you have achieved your goal. The same goes for when you are after the heart. Strike the perfect balance. If you are all head or all heart, you will lose your audience.

Logos is the substance of your presentation; the words, the organization, the logic. It is the appeal of your presentation based on reasoning. Is the presentation logical and well-supported? That is one of the questions the presenter must answer. One of the Toastmasters projects I have always enjoyed is entitled: “How to Say It” That project focuses on the three C’s. Your speech must be Crisp, Clear, and Concise. Words are powerful. The selection of your words is crucial. Words have the ability to stir imagination into the audience’s mind. Combine the power of your Ethos, Pathos, and Logos with the clarity of the three T’s, and your presentations will live on in the hearts and minds of your audiences forever.

The Competing Occasion

Time is of the essence when opening your presentation

Every speaking occasion is different. Every time you open your mouth to speak, you are judged – on or off the platform. But what about when you are speaking competitively? On those occasions, both speaker and speech are judged by individuals with different levels of expertise. Therefore, you must provide reasons to persuade your judges and audience to favor your presentation over someone else’s. Competitive speakers must know what motivates both their judges and their audience. The competing occasion demands that your topic selection must be appropriate for that particular audience and occasion.

How are great speeches created? They are created by the speaker having a clear understanding of their topic. Speakers should also know how they will get audiences to listen, be entertain while informing, and how they can make their presentation memorable. Speakers must also know exactly when they have achieved their goal and not overstate their case to undermine their credibility. Good sales-persons know exactly when to go for the head, heart, and your pocket-book. Speakers must also know their points of attack and when they have achieved their purpose, and it’s time to close the deal.

Time is of the essence when opening your presentation. Lead with your strongest point or argument. Get to the point. First impressions leave an indelible impression on audiences. Statistics show in your first minute; a speaker can win-over or lose their audience. Speakers should hint where they are going or plan to take you in the first minute of your presentation. In that first minute, you want your audience to think silently, come with me – l will tell you more. That curiosity you arouse in your opening will serve as the impetus for the rest of your presentation.

D’Brooks, the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, advises that you make brevity a part of your speaking style. He’s also an advocate for writing out your speeches, not to be read, but for them to be edited and re-edited. He stresses – “Great Speeches are not written, they are re-written.” Whether you choose to write first and then deliver or deliver and then write, it’s OK. When you write your speech, you can focus on your choice of words as you re-edit your speech. As you check your sentence construction. As you see visually, if you can deliver each sentence with fewer words.

David also reminds speakers that we should compete to become better. It’s not all about winning a trophy. It is about competing at a high level and taking the time to know as much as you can about your audience and their expectations. Find your voice. Don’t speak too fast or too slowly. Don’t try to sound like someone else. Be yourself. Use strategic pauses for emphasis. Practice enunciating each word clearly. Make sure you have a memorable or magic moment in your presentation. Your conclusion is just as important as your opening. Recall some of the main points of your presentation. Leave enough time to summarize and emphasize your take away message. The quality of your performance and not the trophy will determine if you made a winning presentation when your speaking occasion is competing.

2020 is Hindsight Finally

The future is now

For years we have said in jest 2020 is hindsight. And finally, it has now come to pass. However, for those who live life looking back, it will come to stay. Every year is a good year considering the alternative. But life is where the rubber meets the road. Before stepping forward into another year of your speaking journey, it is a good idea not to get stuck looking back but to review the feedback you received from your mentors, coaches, and trainers. Now is a good time to review what worked and what didn’t as you move forward to make 2021 a year of speaking excellence.

Feedback has played an important role in my public speaking journey. I still review many of the comments I received from when I first started my journey twenty-four years ago. I look back at those remarks to see if I have grown. I look back to be reminded of the bad habits I corrected and the good ones I must continue to develop. It is easy for habits, both good and bad, to creep into your presentations when you’re growing as a speaker. When you stop speaking for a few days, you will know. Stop for a few more weeks; your audience will know. Stop for a few more weeks, and everybody on the planet will know. A constant review of your past will lead you to a brighter future. Looking back, but don’t stay back. Keep moving forward.

The comments you receive from evaluators are different from the feedback you’ll get from your mentors, trainers, and coaches. Although we love to hear what helps us build confidence as a speaker, there comes a time when only the truth matter. The comments that will help you most are the raw truth. And sometimes, that truth may be too painful to stomach. Anyone can stroke your ego, but it’s the truth that will help you to excel. Dana LaMon – the 1992 World Champion of Public Speaking, said it best when he visited our District 4 in 2007 – He said, “I am stuck on excellence. Compare your performance today with yesterday’s results, and if you have improved or advanced, just a little you have excelled”.

There are no shortcuts to achieving excellence in public speaking. For some, it takes baby steps. It’s a long and winding road, with many milestones to record along the way. Enjoy the successes, but it’s the failures that will drive you to achieve your goals. When you can say to yourself with conviction, it doesn’t matter what failures I have had in the past; what matters most is what I will make happen in the future, and the future is now; you are on your road to excellence. Let’s ring in the new year with a new challenge. My new challenge in 2021 will be podcasting. What’s going to be yours? Let’s begin the New Year with a brighter outlook as we wave goodbye to 2020, to let it remain in hindsight, finally.

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