Every Evaluator is a Donor

Remember the Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difficult Conversations

Are you the problem solver at your Company?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The objective is for both parties are to feel:

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefits of Competing

What we practice daily becomes permanent. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some examples:

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

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

ALWAYS SUMMARIZE TO CLOSE

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

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

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

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

Are You Competing

Follow the herd, and no one will hear you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Freedom Reign

Can’t we all just get along

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from the speech – Mr. HarvardSpeaking Poetically

The Beginnings of Toastmasters

For many years Toastmasters was a well-kept secret

Every Toastmaster has had, or will at some time have to answer the question, what is Toastmasters? And how and why did it get started? At a recent Toastmasters meeting, a member asked that very question. And many agreed that “For many years Toastmasters was a well-kept secret.” So here is a brief history of how the organization evolved.  

Dr. Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters, often spoke about finding
your way to Valhalla, that place where heroes go to live out their afterlife. However, if you were to ask the doctor of letters, “Can you show me the way to Valhalla?” he didn’t point you to places of higher learning or suggest the best life coaches. Instead, he would point to your heart.

Dr. Smedley firmly believed that the one sure way to punch your ticket to
Valhalla was through self-improvement and being of service to others. He also thought there was no better way to self-improvement than through better communication and leadership. Being of service to others became his mission in life.

After graduating from the Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, Dr.Smedley started his journey to Valhalla. The year was 1903. He took a job as a Director at the Young Men’s Christian Association: (YMCA). He quickly observed that the young men who stayed at the facility could not communicate effectively. Indeed, some of the ladies present may be saying: “tell us something new, or what we don’t already know.”

But sometimes, it takes a man to initiate change. That man was Dr. Smedley, who began inviting the young men at the Y to remain after dinner to toast each other. They would then evaluate each other’s toast. And the person who delivered the best toast was declared the Toastmaster.

But that was not the beginning of Toastmasters. The idea quickly attracted other residents at the Y to start attending his meetings and toasting. Soon, the group became known as the “After-Dinner Club.” But between 1903 and 1924, Dr. Smedley was transferred and promoted several times, and the clubs often fell apart after his departure.

He continued starting a new “After Dinner Club” wherever he was stationed. In 1915, Dr. Smedley was the Director in San Jose, California. However, the idea did not take root until he started club number one in Santa Ana, California. The year was 1924, and Toastmasters officially began.

In 1932, Dr. Smedley created the Federation. By 1941, realizing the Toastmasters organization needed leadership, he resigned from the YMCA to give Toastmasters his full-time attention. 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.

Looking back on the history of Toastmasters, the Federation has gone from “After Dinner Clubs” resembling banquets to virtual meetings. Yet, ironically, the most asked question by people calling the organization’s Head Office is, do you sell toasters? I am told that to this day, the answer is always, “No, we don’t. Toastmasters is where leaders are made!”

My Brief History of Everything

December 19th, 1994, I was born – along with the universe

In my last blog – Your Toastmasters Journey – I wrote about the value of repeating Icebreakers. Last Saturday, at our Surf City Club, we were treated to an icebreaker by one of our membersShaw F. Ramey- Wright who gave me permission to post his icebreaker to my blog. Hope you enjoy this icebreaker as much as we all did.

My Brief History of Everything by: Shaw F. Ramey-Wright

In the beginning, there was nothing. Emptiness, the void. Then, at the dawn of time, December 19th, 1994, I was born – along with the universe of course.

As I came into awareness, I was surrounded by beings, similar in physical construction to myself, but larger. I later learned that they were called humans, and I found them intriguing – the way they communicated, interacted, and moved was fascinating. And I wanted to know more.

In the coming days, months, and years I mastered their primitive language and came to understand their rituals. As I grew, I learned to appreciate some, and avoid others.

The practice of taking young offspring and forcing them into small rooms with dozens of others to drill mathematical calculations into their craniums was one that brought me little joy. Another practice that they called theatre, or drama, was much more enjoyable, and when I first engaged in the custom, in what they called “high school,” I fell in love with it.

Having been an observant and shy child, drama was my first opportunity to build presence and confidence, and to this day, I consider my decision to take that course of instruction one of the best choices of my existence.

After attending high school, I embarked upon another chapter of existential discovery and placed myself into much larger rooms with many more people at one of the several holy sites of knowledge that the humans call Universities.

Having been fascinated by these beings that surrounded me since I first entered this plane of existence, I dedicated myself to two courses of study, Sociology, and Psychology, disciplines that would help me understand these entities. And thus, the Enlightenment began.

During my time as a scholastic monk, I continued another practice I’d taken up in my early days – rhythmically moving my body in large chemically sterilized pods of water. The humans called this swimming, and regular sessions of this activity maintained muscular definition, metabolic rate, and overall health function, in addition to mood-altering effects – primarily of a positive nature.

As I approached the culmination of my academic vows. I took a variety of leadership responsibilities – President of the Swim Club, Director of Legislative Affairs of the Associated Students of UC Davis, Lead Coordinator of Student Mental Health.

 I didn’t know what these were, or what I was doing, but they sounded important. And I learned that the number and quality of titles a member of this species holds influences the amount of opportunity afforded to them.

 Indeed, the humans told me that in completing my monastic curriculum I would be awarded a bleached piece of wood with pigment etched on its surface, declaring that I was a Bachelor. It’s a title of great distinction.

I re-entered broader society, as a Bachelor, in modern day. I pursued many of my previous interests in a variety of “jobs”. I served as a campaign manager, I contributed to clinical research that studied the effects of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, I served in the governing body of my home state as a District Representative for a member of the California State Senate, and I also served as a volunteer for a crisis line.

Across my life, I have taken great joy in developing relationships with others, serving my community, exploring the natural environment, and maintaining my physical and mental health.

To date, I have lived for just over 27 revolutions of the planet Earth around its local star. So far, this existence has been something truly special, and I look forward to the future.

Your Carnegie Hall of Public Speaking

Whatever you practice becomes permanent.

A story often told to aspiring musicians is about a young violinist flagging down a New Your City cabbie to ask: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall.” And the cabby in a New York minute, without skipping a beat replied ” practice! practice!! practice!!! dear friend” And your fare may also suddenly double as your cabbie takes you the scenic route.

Similarly, if you ask anyone who coaches speakers professionally, how do you go from good to great? They will tell you- you must know when to practice, what to practice, how to practice, and why you practice. They will also advise you to practice as you intend to deliver your presentations when facing your audiences. And you must also practice until you are comfortable with who you are and the message you plan to deliver.

Having a great speech is only one of the first steps in bringing that speech to the platform. It is a process. The word practice can be a verb or a noun. In the speaking world, practice is a verb. You are performing an activity or exercise. When you repeatedly complete a skill, you improve or maintain your proficiency. Doctors and lawyers have practices. Their practice, the noun, defines the type of business or service they provide.

Whether your practice is a verb or noun, the purpose is to keep improving; perfection is an opinion or an illusion. However, whatever you practice will become permanent. For that reason, it is crucial to examine your practices as you practice. Your practice approach will determine your success or failure when you are on the platform.

For example, rehearsing your speech in the shower, while driving, or lying in bed is not exactly practicing. You are sequencing. You are just arranging your thoughts in a particular order. While that is helpful, it is a far cry from practicing. Sequencing puts your presentation’s words, paragraphs, and ideas in the correct order in your head. While sequencing is an essential step in your preparation, it is not ready for delivery when that speech is still in your head.

You must then move that presentation from your head to your heart. You can choose to avoid that extra step of sequencing. Instead, some speakers prefer to practice as if they are always speaking to an audience. That approach helps the speaker develop muscle memory, which you cannot do effectively in bed, shower, or driving. It requires your total body involvement. Accentuating the six emotions as you practice is most important. Those emotions are happiness – sadness – fear – anger – surprise, and disgust.  

You should also avoid practicing in front of mirrors. Speakers tend to focus more on themselves when they practice in front of a mirror. Instead, the focus should be on your audience. Speaking to cameras is also a challenge most speakers face when delivering an address over zoom. But you will find recording yourself and analyzing your presentation is far more effective than practicing in front of mirrors. Mirrors can also be a distraction. You may find yourself focusing on every little mistake you made and not running your speech from start to finish. Again, what you practice becomes permanent.

Just as that young musician had to practice the works of the masters to attain a standard to perform at Carnegie Hall, speakers should also study the speeches of speakers they admire. As you listen and analyze their speeches, take note – they tell a story to make a point, or make a point and then tell a story. They deliver their stories with conviction using those emotions to which all humankind relates. And with practice, your storytelling becomes natural as you become an authentic storyteller. 

Anyone who has attained greatness in their chosen field will tell you it took many hours, days, and years of practice. But how they practiced was also very important. They also had specific workout routines. They had different exercises and drills for each day. Before they began to practice, they knew what to focus on during each session. They knew how many times they would practice each routine. And they practice uninterrupted from start to finish.

Speakers should also make sure they practice delivering their presentations to an audience. If you don’t have an audience, create one – chairs, trees, dolls. Use whatever that will not talk back to you. 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 – at your club, contests, or who knows – The World Championship of Public Speaking.

The 4 Squares Method

Brainstorming is an excellent way to begin your preparation!

Gathering data and ideas for a presentation can be challenging and time-consuming. Yet, we all have had speeches in our heads that we say we will deliver someday. Well, why not make today that someday. Brainstorming is an excellent way to begin your preparation for that presentation.

Brainstorming is the process of writing your unedited opinions, facts, thoughts, and ideas about your chosen topic. Let all your ideas flow once you have decided to bring that topic to the platform. Then, like an open faucet, begin writing your thoughts.  Write down every – who, what, where, why, and when. However, at times is challenging to stay focused on the overall goal and your intended audience as you write. How you gather your information matters – I call the method I use – The 4 Squares.

A phycologist who helped Nelson Mandela transition from his 20 years of darkness to the light and presidency of South Africa introduced me to this method. Many years ago, I adapted it to my speech writing and coaching. Answer these four questions honestly, and you may resolve your problem: 1. What you know 2. What you don’t know. 3. What you know that you know. 4. What you don’t care to know.

Regardless of the type of speech, you plan to deliver, the 4 squares method will help you stay focused as you prepare. Audiences quickly become aware of whether you are ready or not when you are on the platform. A prepared speaker should never be nervous once they develop a preparation method for their presentations. With this method, you can create word pictures in the mind of your speech.

Selecting an appropriate topic for the audience, you will be facing is an essential part of the preparation process. Let us assume you already had this topic before you began your brainstorming. Once you have all the information you wish to present, an excellent question to ask yourself is, what is my PURPOSE?  Which of the following will it be?

INFORM: Am I going to inform my audience about a subject that should be of interest to us all?

PERSUADE or MOTIVATE:  Do I want my audience to take some action or make a change in their life?

ENTERTAIN:  Am I just going to keep my audience happy. Humor is universal. It is also an excellent additive to your other purposes. Comedy is best when it is natural or carefully constructed and not forced.

Your purpose can be a combination of any of the three. But, while you can always add entertainment to your mixture, your purpose should always be crystal clear.

What you do with the information you collected will determine the outcome of your presentation. The next step is to begin testing and editing to see what you should keep or throw away. Your general rule of thumb should be, keep what adds to your overall goal.     

Now let’s look at the 4 squares method of evaluating the information collected. With this method, you can develop and arrange your facts, thoughts, and ideas in the 4 Squares on a sheet of paper.  You can also focus on your speech title and the foundational statement while gathering information on the topic. Your foundational statement is your power purpose statement that summarizes the message of your presentation.

The following is The 4 Squares method:

Fold a Blank Sheet of Paper into 4 Squares – Add the Letters SMP to Square 1 & 3. SMP stands for – Story Makes the Point. It is always a good idea to add stories to your presentation. You can tell a story to make your point or make a point to tell your story.  

Down The Middle – The long side – Add Your Foundational Statement – Your Purpose Statement will keep you grounded. Then, on the 4 Squares across the top – Add Your Speech Title.  Next, fill in your Squares with the information you collected using bullet points or short sentences.

Square 1:  What You Know about the topic.  Facts, Figures, Dates, verified details you researched.

Square 2:  What You Don’t Know.  The future, the what if’s – What’s accepted universally as the unknowns.

Square 3. What You Know That You Know. What you can deliver like a palindrome – backward & forwards.  

Square 4. What your audience Doesn’t Care to Know. The minutia – what you don’t need to mention.

The 4 Squares method will help you immerse yourself in the subject matter. It will help you gain extensive knowledge and heighten your excitement about your topic. When your audience can relate to your excitement and enthusiasm about a topic,  that compels them to be better listeners and makes them more interested in your presentation.

You now have a roadmap for your speechwriting with that single sheet of paper.  Now you are ready to begin creating your outline. Again, write for the ear and not the eyes as you develop your introduction, body, and conclusion. Finally, you are all squared away. You are ready with the 4 squares method to write and deliver your presentation.

Where is My Audience

Love it or hate it, Zoom is the new normal.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Thanks for your condinued readership. What a year it has been. Tell me! Are you Zooming? As that famous therapist, Dr. Phil would say, how’s that working out for yuh? Love it or hate it, Zoom is the new normal. Our audience is in the camera. And that’s where we are now looking from the start to the finish to make your connection. And where do you store that image of your audience? In your mind! So, take a good long look at everyone before you start speaking, as its the last time you should look at them while you are speaking.  

That first moment of your speech is critical. In your opening, you have the full attention of your audience. Even before you utter your first words, your audience is sizing you up. You may only have that one chance to create that first impression. Unfortunately for some, that one chance is the first moment of your talk. When that audience has never seen or heard you before, expectations are at their highest. If you are known as a good presenter, your audience may immediately revert to your previous presentation positively. Now you must match or improve on that last performance.

One of the significant adjustments speakers must make today when speaking over Zoom is holding on to their audience. But it’s scary to think that you risk losing their attention if you look at them on your screen. As a speaker in transition, my advice is to keep an image of your audience in your mind. Imagine how they are responding to you as you speak. That approach takes lots of practice, confidence and, admittedly, is easier said than done, but you will get better with time.    

Feel confident that your opening is strong enough to hold on to the attention your audience has given you. Imagine taking your audience on a journey to another level of consciousness.  A weak opening will leave everyone, including yourself, uninspired and disappointed. Although you should not be looking at your audience, you must feel a strong connection.

Ironically, this is when you must speak as if you are delivering your speech to a mirror. Many years ago, I heard a coach who loves to wear hats say, never practice in front of a mirror.  She said that you are practicing focusing on yourself and not your audience when you do that. So now we practice looking into the camera lens to make our connection. Wow, what a difference a few years make.

With that said, your topic selection is most important. When your listeners can relate to your topic, they will listen to you and pay closer attention. However, your introduction must hold on to the gift and the initial spotlight on you, the speaker. In your opening, grab your audience’s attention and hold on to it. Pleasantries and excuses for any reason are nonstarters – get to your point, purpose, and your presentation.  Keep in mind that you are on your speaking platform wherever you are.  The basics of delivering a speech, talk, or presentation are in play. And what are those fundamentals?

First, you want to introduce your topic with a title.  I make my title function like a light switch. I ask myself, would this title switch my audience on or off? Is it going to give away my speech? Will it offer a hint of what’s to follow?  Even if your presenter announced your title in your introduction, it’s an excellent idea to include a version of it in your opening. A follow-up comment about your introduction, if appropriate, is always a good ice-breaker.

Next, lay down your foundational statement – check in with your audience with a question to establish rapport. And then, transition smoothly into the body of your presentation. Remember, you are doing this blindly, so use your imagination. Focus on the details and speak with your entire body. Use vocal variety, gestures, and eye contact. Finally, let your audience tell you how you did. That’s why we receive evaluations and feedback.

One delivery mistake which always seems magnified over Zoom is repetition. What’s said already should only be repeated when summarizing or making a call-back to a person, place, or thing. Enthusiasm, too little or too much,  sticks out like a soar thumb. But on the flip side, here is one technique that works well and holds your audience’s attention. Make a promise early. Remind them about that promise a few times during the presentation. And make sure you fulfill that promise before you close.

Another negative is appearing angry or frustrated for your entire presentation. Every emotion should be for a purpose. If your demeanor exhibits one feeling for the whole speech, that will negatively resonate with your audience. Being entirely positive or negative can also be a turnoff. Strike a balance with your content. Contrast is an excellent technique to pique your listener’s interest. Whatever you do, your gold should be to draw your audience to you, the speaker, your message, and the value of your presentation.

Speaking over Zoom can be lots of fun. But, where is my audience? That might still be a troubling question for some speakers. Well, in Zoom, they are right there in the room, inches away from you. Keep that in mind as you prepare your presentation.  Zoom can help us all prepare for better speaking days.  When we go back to face-to-face or hybrid meetings, we should all be more conscious about what it takes to make and hold on to our connection with audiences.

I believe some of us may need many therapy sessions to deal with the images left in our minds from Zooming,  And we all know treatment isn’t cheap; ask Dr. Phil. However, over time I believe we all will be better presenters and better prepared for our audience whenever we return to meeting face-to-face. And we don’t have to ask the question –  Where is my audience?

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