The Olympics of Public Speaking

Did I take a club speech to Division or a Division speech to the District?

Making it all the way to the World Championship of Public Speaking is the dream of many Toastmasters who enjoy competing.  For some, it is the Olympics of Public Speaking. Many enter the competition for the love of speaking competitively and to develop as a speaker. The lessons learned from their successes and failures serve as reminders of the “dos and don’t” when next they are on the platform. However, for many, it’s the 2nd place finishes that are the hardest. You were so close. What could you have done differently?

Did your journey end at the club level, even though some felt that your speech could have been a winner at the finals at the International contest?   Even more painful, did your end come at the Regionals? Where ever it ended for you, make it your new beginning. The 1990 World Champion David Brooks called 2nd place finishes “The Sting of Silver.” Even before the pain passes, take the lessons learned and start preparing for your next trip to the platforms. Look at what worked and start fixing what didn’t. Your journey to the big stage continues.

A good place to restart is with your topic selection. Was your topic appropriate for the contest level, that room, your audience, and judges? Did you take a club speech to division or a Division speech to the District? That’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight. While you should choose a topic you are passionate about, connecting with your audience should be your primary focus. The topic you choose can decide your final place in your competition. Was your presentation all about you? Did the topic have some universal appeal? These are all questions you should address. 

Coaches always emphasize the importance of establishing a connection with your audience through personal stories and real-life events spun into a unique and powerful speech. Your speech should not be an act. Your results are by far better when you use persuasion and the power of the spoken word effectively to keep your audience engaged. While it’s a tall order for anyone, it is one of the main reasons why there is only one winner annually.

Every World Champion I can remember had a well develop (FS)-Foundational Statement. Your FS is the premise, theme, or message on which a speech is built. For some, it was a carefully worded sentence, a question, or a phrase with a unique connection to their message. That message should be powerful, catchy, memorable, and short enough to fit on the back of a business card. Be concise but also be clear. How you choose to deliver your message is also critical. Remember you are giving your speech to and for your audience.

To achieve your best results, don’t just tell your audience; show them, take them, be descriptive. Use word pictures to convey your message. If a picture paints a thousand words, then paint pictures with your words. Also, check for unanswered questions in your script. Questions can become a distraction to your audience. Answer every question, resolve every conflict, and be always clear to your audience.

Speakers should try to avoid recent events and stories overused by the Internet and social media. Events with varied audience interests, opinions, and topics too big to be delivered completely in five to seven minutes are risky to bring to the platform. If a topic can divide the views of an audience, it will most likely divide the opinions of the judges. Remember, all you have is five to seven minutes. And don’t use the platform for therapy. Let those who have moved on rest in peace. Establish your purpose in the first thirty seconds of your presentation and let that purpose resonate through your speech.

Be sure about what you want your audience to think – feel – or do after hearing your speech. The minute of silence after your address can be the most critical minute for you, your audience, and judges. If they feel compelled to take some action during that minute of silence, you most likely achieved your goal who knows, and you could be the next Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking. 

All Speaking is Public Speaking

You cannot unsay what was said

My first speaking coach once said to me, all speaking is public speaking. Whether you are giving a prepared speech, an Impromptu talk, a Table Topic, or even speaking with friends and family, you are public speaking. For that reason; speakers must always choose their words carefully. You can undo what was done, but you cannot unsay what was said. Good public speakers strive to speak with empathy, good tone, and vibe when speaking on or off the platform. They know what you practice, becomes permanent. They also learn and exercise the essentials of good communication. They open with short introductions, followed by the premise of their story, the story, before closing with a summary or conclusion. Their communication is always clear, concise, and engaging.

Table topics are one to two minutes long. Prepared and impromptu speeches are five to seven minutes. Call them whatever you wish; once they have an opening, body, and conclusion with a topic and purpose, they are speeches. And they should always be delivered as such to the audiences you are addressing. When delivering any of the thirteen different types of speeches, if you practice using the same delivery style as you would in your everyday speaking experiences, over time you too will notice a tremendous improvement in your ability to communicate effectively.

Preparation is your key to success as a speaker. Dr. Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters, often said “A prepared speaker should never be nervous.” However, today speakers must stay prepared. While we should always prepare for any speaking assignment, there will be times when you didn’t get prior notice. That’s when staying prepared pays huge dividends. It is great to have one or two pocket speeches you can deliver at a moment’s notice.  However, here are a few more ideas to help you stay prepared. Keep a list of one, two or three-word topics which you can comfortably speak on, anytime, anywhere. Build and keep a story file from your life experiences. Begin with that single word that is the trigger, which always leads you to reflect on each experience. From that single word, you can build an idea, topic, and story.

Your single word can also lead you to a foundational statement. Next, add one or two related words to develop your topic title. For example: Your first word can be Love.  A related word can be Marriage. You now have your topic title from those two related words: Love and Marriage. Another approach is to use categories: Here are a few: Good Times, Rookie Mistakes, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. You can also string two related table topics into a single five-to-seven-minute speech. Have fun developing your ideas into topics and titles. Titles also make good openings for your presentations. Don’t make them too complex; make them memorable. If your topic echoes universal experiences, that will prepare your audience for what is to follow. Silently they should be saying, tell me more, tell me more.

When speakers accept that all speaking is public speaking, they will notice significant improvements in their ability to connect with audiences.  It doesn’t matter if they are on or off the platform.  With every opportunity to communicate with others, their confidence grows.  When impromptu speaking, they will feel prepared, because they have stayed prepared. Use your everyday conversations to develop your communication skills. You will notice your transformation into a speaker who can take you on a journey, and not just tell you a story about a journey. Speakers who can bring the person they are off the platform, to the platform, are the ones who speak from the heart, and truly believe that all speaking is public speaking.

Your One Minute Toastmaster

Be the messenger, not the message.

Ten tips to help control nervousness when you are on the Platform:

Feeling some nervousness before speaking to any audience is natural and at times, even healthy. Channel your anxiety, and you will be OK. Some nervous energy might show that you are passionate and care about what you are presenting to your audience. Too much nervousness will detract from your message and performance. Your physical preparation is also an essential P when preparing for the platform. Your other P’s are: Preparation and Practice before Presenting.

1.    Know the Room-: Become familiar with the speaking area before it is your turn to speak.  The view from the speaking area is quite different from the audience or the back of the room.

2.    Know Your Audience:  Meet and, if possible, greet some of your audience as they arrive. Meeting your audience before you speak can help you better connect as you look out into the audience as you deliver your speech.

3.    Know Your Material: In the words of Dr. Ralph C Smedley, “A prepared speaker should not be nervous.”

4.    Relax: Get on your feet, stretch a bit before taking the stage.

5.    Visualize yourself giving your speech: Harbor positive thoughts. Visualize yourself being successful, and you will be successful.

6.    Think Positive: Audiences do not want you to fail. Smile, and your audience will smile back at you.

7. Don’t apologize: Do not call attention to any of your slipups. Those slipups may very well have gone unnoticed.

8.    Focus on your message – When you focus on your message and your audience, your attention moves away from yourself. Your energy moves outwardly towards your message and your audience. Be the messenger, not the message.

9.    Turn nervousness into positive energy:  Add vitality and enthusiasm to harness your nervous energy.

10.    Gain experience. Experience Builds confidence: Grasp every opportunity you get to SPEAK. Grasp every chance you get to EVALUATE – Evaluations are the key to becoming a better speaker.

Just another Icebreaker

Include the six emotions that touch all audiences

The first speech delivered by a Toastmaster is the icebreaker. However, that first speech can be the first of many great speeches if your chosen approach points you in the right direction to begin your Toastmaster’s journey. Pathways, the Toastmasters newly minted communication and leadership program, introduces each new Path with just another icebreaker. After being in Toastmasters for many years, it’s only natural for members, both new and old, to ask why someone must prepare another icebreaker to begin every new Path. How many times must you re-live that first experience when you almost fainted on the platform? Some of the main reasons are the ever-changing faces in club memberships and the development of each club’s programs. I believe we have a greater appreciation for that first experience when you take a moment to look back as you continue moving forward. With each new Path you begin, you will recognize the importance and focus on speaking about your life experiences. Telling those stories with passion will help you to continue with your development as speakers with greater confidence.

If you were to review some of the world champion speeches, both past and present, you would discover they contain many of the rudiments you will find in a well-crafted icebreaker. Over time, you may also conclude that icebreakers can set the foundation for that world championship speech you will deliver someday. However, your icebreaker will become that memorable speech only when you begin to live and share the values of the lessons learned from the stories you continue to develop and deliver. Telling your story is not enough. It would be best if you also took your audience with you to re-live those precious moments. When you speak about your successes, failures, and future aspirations, your audience will better understand who you are, which is one of the icebreaker’s primary purposes of the icebreaker. As you tell your stories, never forget to include the six emotions that touch all audiences: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust. And when you make sure your speech contains a Purpose, Point, and Message that touches the head, heart, and soul of your audiences, they will always lend you an attentive ear.

Telling your story to an audience can be challenging. Pathways provide you with worksheets that help you structure not just your icebreaker; they provide you with the foundation for your future presentations. They will also help you organize your thoughts as you decide what you should include or exclude. Once you start working with the worksheets, you will quickly realize their value. Some of the questions you should consider asking yourself are, what’s the greatest lesson you have ever learned, who taught you that lesson, and how that lesson changed your life. Your answers should resonate with the audience for which you have prepared. Remember, you are delivering a speech about yourself to that audience and not giving a speech about yourself for yourself. Telling your stories in that manner sounds self-centered and selfish when the focus is entirely on you and not on your audience.

Once you have prepared and delivered a few icebreakers, you will begin to develop your format. Keep a story file to preserve the ideas and the beautiful lines you use in your everyday conversations. You will also start recognizing and paying attention to those lines and formulas you have heard delivered by other experienced speakers. One of those that immediately come to mind, which I have borrowed many times from Patricia Fripp, a Hall of Fame, award–winning speaker, is Q1, where I was, Q2 where I am. Q3, where I am heading. Answer those three questions, with three sub-points for each of those questions, and you will have the basic structure for your icebreaker.

Another I borrowed from the great motivational speaker; Les Brown: Q1: where have you been, Q2: where are you heading. Q3 when will you get there. And my very own: Q1: I was, Q2: I am, and Q3 I will be. Practice creating your own Q’s, and over time, they will become a natural part of your preparation, not only for but also for all speeches. Icebreakers are fun. When the stories you tell make your audience think. When your life experiences touch their heart and soul, when your subtle humor makes your audience laugh and cry in those four to six minutes that they will never forget, they will be ready, willing, and able to walk a mile with you in your shoes. When you develop your four to six-minute speeches, your five to seven will follow and flow with that same style and delivery. Keep breaking the ice with each new audience you face, and the day will come when you will remember every one of the icebreakers you deliver as just another icebreaker and some of the many excellent speeches you have given as a Toastmaster

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.