Competitive Speaking

A great speech is spoken art.

20181206_145952Competitive speaking can put a speaker’s development on the fast track. To prepare for competitions, speakers must pay attention to those details often ignored. Here are a few of those details to consider as you prepare for your next speech to compete at the Club, Area, Division, District or International level of competition:

The true winners are not the ones who walk away with the trophy but those who win the hearts of their audiences.

Topic Selection: The topic you choose can decide your place in competitions. While you should select a topic you are passionate about, connecting with your audience should be your primary focus. Your presentation should not be all about you. It is should also have some universal appeal. The challenge is to establish a connection with your audience through personal stories, and real-life events spun into a unique, persuasive work of art. It should not be an act.  Simply put, a great speech is spoken art.

Avoid The Following: Recent events & stories overused by the Internet & News Media. Events with varied audience interest and opinions as well as topics too big to be delivered in 5 to 7 minutes. If after you have finished speaking your audience is left with many unanswered questions, you may want to ask yourself if this is a story I can deliver completely in the allotted time.

Study The Points Distribution As You Prepare Your Speech:  The points distribution is usually: Speech Development-Effectiveness-Speech Value – (Content – 50 Points) Physical-Voice-Manner-Manner (Delivery – 30 Points) Appropriateness-Correctness (Language – 20 Points).

Speech Purpose: The purpose of your speech should be clearly defined very early in your presentation. Are you speaking to Inform: Entertain: Persuade: Motivate.
Study the objectives of all ten speeches from the CC Manual. Focus on what do you want your audience to Think-Feel – Or Do after hearing your presentation.

Delivery: Don’t Tell Them–Show Them-Take Them
Be descriptive – Use word pictures to convey your message. A picture paints a … words.
Be concise but also be clear – Every unanswered question becomes a distraction.
Practice your personal stories and anecdotes so that they don’t sound rehearsed-Keep it real.

Timing: Write a 6-minute Speech and Deliver it in 7 – Find Your Speaking Rate.
Calculate your average speaking rate – Men average 125 Women 150. The average number of words in your speech should be between 700 to 750 words. Use single syllable words.

What is your Magic Moment: The moment in your speech that would make your presentation memorable. Every speech must have a magic moment, strategically placed for maximum impact.

A Call to Action:  Recall what you told your audience in the introduction and body of your presentation. Leave your audience with a call to action. Close the deal to leave your audience with a lasting impression. If at the end of your speech you left your audience has a burning desire to take some action, whether you take home a trophy or not, you will be a winner in the hearts of your audience.

Are You Speaking or Performing

Your acting may become a distraction.

FB_IMG_1546708124190There is a fine line between public speaking and performing when you are on the platform. However, if you are performing more than you are speaking when your purpose for being on stage is public speaking, you are on the wrong side of the line.  In some cases, when speakers are not comfortable or too familiar with their message, they may begin to perform. What most audiences want from a speaker is their message, not an act. If you can make a connection with your audience through your message, there is no need to go into acting mode. Even if that act makes your audience laugh or cry, you run the risk of detracting from your message and your acting may become a distraction.

While the focus of speakers and performers is on making a connection with their audience using gestures, eye contact, vocal variety and use of the stage, your message will resonate with audiences when you are perceived to be authentic. When your audience can relate to your and your message you will be accepted as a credible messenger. Whether you are an experienced speaker or not, your focus should be on your message and not on how you are looking on stage. With more and more stage time, as a speaker you come to realize that it is not about you the messenger; it’s all about the message.

By no means am I saying it is inappropriate to inject acting into your presentation, however, as a speaker you should always remember that your primary goal is to communicate your message. While it is okay to get involved in your stories, you should revert to reality and your purpose as quickly as possible without taking your audience off on a tangent. Over time, you too will develop a style which makes your speaking and performing delivery appears seamless. Your ability to straddle that imaginary line that separates speakers from performers will develop as your stage time increases.

Presenting to audiences takes courage, however, if you strive to be who you truly are as a person when you are on the platform, half the battle is won. Stage presence is far more powerful than resorting to acting. Strive to be conversational with your audience. It takes practice and stage time to become an accomplished speaker. Speaking and performing both have lots in common, however, it is the intent that makes them separate. Leave the performing to actors and stay more on the speaking side of that fine line when you are on the platform.

 

Your Speaking Voice

The primary cause of negative voice quality is tension

20181208_090953On a recent trip to Pismo Beach, I was asked by a colleague how can I improve my speaking voice? Are there exercises I should be doing to improve my voice and where should I begin? Those questions made me refer to some of my notes from a training session which addressed those questions. That Toastmasters training session was entitled – “Your Speaking Voice.”

Breath Produces Voice:  Deep, controlled breathing is necessary for good Vocal production. Your voice is supported by a column of air, the depth, and steadiness of which determines your vocal quality. Think of the diaphragm as the foundation on which this air column rests and by which it is controlled as it comes upward to meet the vocal organs. When you breathe in, your abdominal wall expands and the dome-shaped diaphragm flattens. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the abdominal wall contracts. The relaxed diaphragm rises, pushing air out of the lungs. The exhaled air provides the controlled production of speech sounds.

As the air pushes upward against the vocal cords, it causes them to momentarily separate, allowing the air to pass between them. The rush of air and the elasticity of the vocal cords then pulls them back together. The production of these vibrations is called phonation. Consider how sound is produced at the mouth of an inflated balloon. Vocal sound is produced in a similar manner. Air pressure comes up through the throat, mouth, and nose, causing a continuous pressure change in the air surrounding the speaker. These pressure changes are called sound waves. They are transmitted to the ear of the listener and the voice is heard.

Production of Voice Quality: Think for a moment about musical woodwind and brass instruments. Their sound comes from the musician’s breath and lip vibrations or the vibrations of a reed in the mouthpiece. Because the chambers of these instruments differ in size and shape, their tone qualities are distinctive. Different parts of the original tone are increased, or resonated, and other parts are reduced. Human resonance is the increasing or modifying of sounds by the throat, nose, and mouth. The sound waves created by the vibration of the vocal cords travel into the upper part of the throat, then to the mouth and, at times, into the nose. As these waves bounce around within these structures, they are reinforced and amplified. The differences in people’s voices arise from the size of the vocal cords and the effects that the resonators (throat, mouth, nasal passages) have on the vocal tone. To a certain extent, a speaker can change the size, shape, and surface tensions of the pharynx and the oral cavity; he or she may also use, partly use, or close off the nasal cavities.

Improving Your Voice: Before trying to improve your voice, you must first understand what kind of vice you have. Do you whisper or boom. Does your voice convey life, color, and melody, or do your sentences come out flat, wooden, and without variety? The primary cause of negative voice quality is tension – emotional or physical tension – so controlling tension is critical to improving your voice quality. The key to developing effective voice quality is being aware of the different roles you play during a typical day: parent, employee, boss, friend, lover, consumer, salesperson. Each of these roles reflects different personality traits and requires different voice images. Listen to how your voice sounds in your various roles as you relate to others. Consider what you are doing with your voice. How is your mouth moving? How are you using your lips? To improve your voice, you must become aware of stress, muscle tension, and relaxation. The most important recommendation for developing voice quality is to relax your throat while you speak. Think in terms of the impression you would like to convey. Is it friendliness, confidence, and a desire to communicate? If you release the tension from your voice, a pleasing tone will likely result. Remember that the emotions and vocal colorings you express with your voice can arouse similar feelings in others.

What’s Your Purpose?

It takes Preparation to speak with Style – Substance – and Clarity.

20180929_095036Regardless of the occasion, we must have a purpose for speaking?  The 4 Types of speeches are to INFORM – PERSUADE – INSPIRE – ENTERTAIN.

The following are some of the crucial questions you need to ask yourself as you prepare for each occasion?

Is this a speech to PROMOTE a cause – IMPROVE your image or the image of your organization – Is it to SELL products or services – ANSWER questions – INSPIRE others or EXPLAIN a process.

After selecting your topic and deciding on your purpose, here are some more questions to consider as you research and prepare your presentation.

  • Do I know this topic very well?
  • Am I passionate about this topic?
  • What do I want to accomplish with this speech?
  • Can I complete this presentation in 5 to 7 without leaving unanswered questions?

What do you want your audience to think, feel or do, in that minute of silence after your presentation?

It takes PREPARATION to speak with Style, Substance, and Clarity.  Prepare every speech to be UNDERSTOOD, REMEMBERED and REPEATED  –  When your speech is understood, it will be repeated. When it is repeated, it will be remembered – Speak to be remembered – However, statistics show:

  • 50% of what I tell you even now, will be forgotten in 24 HRS.
  • In 24 HRS after that, you will not remember another 50%.
  • 24 HRS after that you may even question if you weren’t ever here.

Keep it simple. You must have a hook. The THEME or SCARLET RIBBON must run through the speech or presentation, from beginning to end. You must also have a SPEECH STRATEGY – What is Your Point of Attack? Head the Heart or the PocketBook?

TITLE:  First Impressions are lasting. Don’t give away your entire presentation or speech with the title. Your title is your anchor – Include it in your presentation.

OPENING – Lead with your strongest point. When you begin! Start! First impressions are lasting. In your first minute, you can win over or lose your audience.  Give a hint or some indication where you are taking your audience.

Don’t Tell Them–Show Them-Take Them.

  • Be descriptive – Use word pictures to convey your message
  • Be concise but clear – Every unanswered question becomes a distraction
  • Practice your personal stories and anecdotes so that they don’t sound rehearsed-Keep it real.

HUMOR: Ever tried to buy a piece of equipment from someone who doesn’t know how to operate it? Be factual. Use statistics. Do not overstate your case. You’ll undermine your credibility. Don’t try to be a comedian.

COMMUNICATE CLEARLY AND CONCISELY

Make brevity a part of your style.  Write and then deliver or deliver-then write. Whatever happens, to be your choice – Focus on your choice of words.  Check each sentence to see if fewer words can provide the same message. Great speeches are not written – they are re-written – This is why we write!

DELIVERY

Everyone has a personal manner of speaking.  Be yourself.  Most people can process information only at a moderate rate. Find your voice. Find your rate. Don’t speak too fast or too slowly. Don’t try to sound like someone else.  Use strategic pauses for emphasis. Practice enunciating each word clearly – Work on your Verbal Punctuation.

CONCLUSION

Your conclusion is just as important as your opening. Recall some of the main points of the presentation. Leave enough time to summarize and emphasize your take away message.

Your Ahs Ums & You Knows

How do you silence your “Ah” counter?

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

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

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

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

The Sound Of You

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

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

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

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

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

Making Your Case

To make your case, you must first have one.

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Tongue Twisters

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

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

Speech Editing – From Good to Great

Every word counts. Less is more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table Topics Tips

Keep it Simple – Keep Calm and Carry On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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