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.

Finding Your Path with Pathways

Take the Nike approach: and “just do it.”

Are you ready for the future of Toastmasters? Have you found your first Path in Pathways? If not, why not! However, if you have already found yours, let’s make Pathways the way of the future for all Toastmasters, newbies, and oldies.

Five years ago, when I was a Pathways Ambassador for District 4, I realized getting seasoned Toastmasters on board with Pathways might be a challenge. However, after looking at the critical points and the focus of the program, I decided to take the Nike approach: and “just do it.”

As a Toastmaster who had already completed multiple DTM’s by following the Communication and Leadership requirements, I, too, was a bit hesitant. But after doing my first Path, I was hooked. And to date, I have completed two Pathways DTM’s and six Paths. I am also committed to the success of our new program and Toastmasters.

One of my primary beliefs is we must always take a step back before moving forward. And I applied that same principle to how I approached Pathways and the challenge it presented. Many years ago, World Champions speaker Lance Miller encouraged me to complete one CC – Competent Communicator and at least one AC – Advanced Communicator annually.

To this day, I still have all my old completed CC and AC manuals. Before starting a new Pathways project, I often look at the feedback received from my evaluators. It was fun to look back at those completed projects. They all took me back to a time and place. It was also quite revealing to observe my progress since I began my Toastmaster’s journey.

After reviewing the new offerings in Pathways, I immediately saw getting started was a problem for some members. Although they were computer literate, there was still a resistance to change with the changes. They were also slow to look at the wealth of resources available at the TI -Toastmasters International and Districts Websites.

Today, one of the best overviews of the program is to log in to your Toastmasters Profile, select the “Choose a Path,” and watch an introductory video available at: Once you have decided on a Path, you will discover the next important step is to become familiar with Base Camp.

Having everything needed for your projects in one place, Base Camp is convenient. I no longer had to resort to my stack of old manuals to review my feedback over the years. They are now in a directory and files at my fingertips which saves lots of time and space.

Today, Pathways allows users more flexibility to view the five levels before starting the projects. Many new and long-time members have found redundancies to be a problem. Doing an icebreaker to begin each new Path is an annoyance for some members. However, being accustomed to doing a CC each new year, repeating icebreakers has not been a problem.

I just got creative. It can be fun when you reminisce about your first times. You can give speeches about your first visit to a concert, another country, your first love, or even your first day at school or college. Do you remember those first times? We all have had so many first times in our lifetime, and I believe it will take a lifetime of icebreakers to deliver them all.

The problems many have observed with the program are fixable. The number of projects repeated in a Path already completed is a significant drawback for members. But, again, my approach is – “it was what it was, it is what it is, and only when we provide our feedback will it become what it should be.” That’s why it is essential for Toastmasters who have done the traditional programs to voice their opinions.

When you do the program, you can provide helpful feedback. If every new journey begins with a single step, what gets us to our destination may change as our journey continues. Pathways is just the vehicle. But it is when we jump on board to become familiar with all the bells and whistles, we will know the type of vehicle Pathways is and what we would like it to be.

Like any new program, we expect Pathways to keep evolving. When I joined Toastmasters in the nineties, Toastmasters of the sixties, seventies, and eighties inspired me tremendously. I will never forget meeting one female member Dr. Smedley mentored when she joined the Navy at age eighteen. She spoke passionately about attending meetings on Base before the nineteen sixties when Toastmasters did not allow females to become members.

The challenges we face today are screaming for better communicators and better leaders. Are you ready to answer the call? Pathways offer many new opportunities to express our vision for a new tomorrow. The program is more balanced between the Leadership and Communication Paths. Members now have a list of projects in each Path with Core Competencies, ranging from writing a compelling blog, creating a podcast to improving your social media presence.

If you are one of those members who took a step back because of the changes from the traditional program, the time is now to step forward. With the virtual and hybrid opportunities available, now is the time to jump back into the program locally and internationally. You can attend meetings any day, any time, and in any language in any part of the world.

Now is the time for all members to start sharing one of the best-kept secrets and valued ROI – Return on Investment, with the rest of the world. Our program has successfully moved from traditional; manuals only to virtual platforms. Although it is still in its infancy, the future is bright.  The time is now to share what is perhaps the best-kept secret in the world today. It is time to start asking your friends, family, and colleagues, are you ready for the future of Toastmasters?

Speaking Poetically

Adding poetry to a speech can be scary and intimidating.

Do you ever speak in a manner related to poetry? If you do, whether intentional or not, you may already be speaking poetically. Poetry is an excellent way to release pent-up emotions. It has the power to inspire audiences to change. When your message is delivered poetically with a repeatable rhythm, it compels audiences to act.

Audiences don’t expect an entire speech to be delivered poetically. However, adding some poetry can significantly enhance any presentation. Try adding a few poetic lines to your next speech and observe your audience’s reaction. Think of those lines as the cream you would typically add to your favorite beverage. It doesn’t change the product but adds flavor to enhance the experience for both the speaker and the audience. And as a bonus, it may even increase the clarity of your message.

All speakers know they don’t have to be poets to add poetry to their speaking. Still, there is a resistance to embracing this art form. When our creative juices begin to flow, we seem to resist the urge to “take note” or even acknowledge our creativity. Adding poetry to a speech can be scary and intimidating. However, when poetry is presented as a natural form of self-expression, audiences often remember the moment vividly. They often recall how they felt.

Whether your use of poetry is an innate skill or one learned, it is a skill worth exploring. It encourages speakers to use more vocal variety, emotions, and body language in their delivery. Give it a try, and you will also discover, adding poetry is one of the fastest ways to establish a solid connection with audiences.

Looking back at my primary school days, I remember our teachers using poetry to help us overcome the fear of public speaking. Sometimes I think it achieved the opposite. While those experiences played a significant role in teaching us how to memorize, they failed to focus on the depth and beauty of the poems. Our ability to remember line by line was of the utmost importance. Forget one word, and you were lost and stayed lost.

Many of us never understood or truly appreciated the value of those poems. We were too scared. Like it or not, we had to recite the works of the legends of poetry, like William Wordsworth and Shakespeare, start to finish, as we stood nervously before our teacher and classmates. Who knew? Perhaps that’s where the fear of using poetry and public speaking all began.

It was only later in my cultural development I realized what I was missing. I began exploring metaphors, similes, and imagery in college. I also learned quite a lot while playing music for theatre companies. Then, in the late seventies, I had the opportunity to work with poet and playwright Derek Walcott on some of his plays. That experience was an eye-opener and quite an education.

There, I observed firsthand the value of using the wealth of literary devices available to those who dare to take them to the stage. In his workshops and rehearsals for two of his plays – The Joker of Seville and O’Babylon – Derek showed his creative mastery. He constantly tested the limits of using poetry in his plays and his poetry readings.

Different cultures and accents inspire a varied range of emotions. When communicating in a formal setting, we often speak a bit differently. However, all speakers want to be authentic when they are on the platform. Using a poetic quote can be an excellent interlude, especially when it is in the native language of your audience. There is a profound change in communication styles when native speakers of the same culture meet and speak.

Their confidence, descriptiveness, and vocal variety are more pronounced. Look for those opportunities that open those doors. They offer speakers the ability to be in the moment and to use their poetic license. Then seamlessly, you can flip that inner switch and return to the expectations of the platform and the formality of the occasion. It works every time.

Finally, relevance is essential when speaking poetically. Poetry always takes us back to an appropriate time and place. It can be a time when we were happy or sad. Perhaps it was a moment when we could not find the right words to express our feelings held deep within. In those moments, turn to the power of poetry.

You will discover expressions of emotions that are fitting to express those feelings. When those meaningful events in our lives are expressed poetically, they are cemented in our memoirs forever. Over time, we may forget the details of those events but seldom do we forget how we felt at that moment. Your words of comfort at the right time and in the right place will always remain fresh in our lives when we tell them in a manner related to poetry.

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