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!”
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 members – Shaw 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.
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.
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.
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?
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: bit.ly/TI_PathSelection. 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?
Let the speaker determine if your feedback is a criticism, coaching, cheerleading, or evaluating.
At a recent table topics session, I was asked the following question, if you had the choice, who would you rather receive feedback from, a Critic, Coach, Cheerleader, or Evaluator, and why. My response was, while feedback from all the above chosen or qualified to be so-called, I would choose the evaluator. We evaluate in some manner every day of our lives.
We listen and observe others and offer our opinions even when we are not invited to do so. If there is one thing everyone has, is an opinion even when we are not qualified. But that is precisely what an Evaluator is, someone’s personal opinion, and that is how I believe it should be received.
Evaluators are expected to provide direct feedback and follow-up on what they saw, heard, and felt. In addition, they are expected to offer specific improvements, reinforce the speaker’s strengths, and support building and maintaining the speaker’s healthy self-esteem. When evaluators can fulfill those expectations, you have received a good evaluation. However, what separates the evaluator from the cheerleader, coach and critic is the language used to deliver that evaluation.
In a casual or informal setting, we are direct. Do you remember the feedback you gave when another driver cut you off? We are all human. Then why is it so difficult to be natural among friends and associates? Could it be because you are conscious of being evaluated also? Whenever we approach evaluating for the right reasons, we feel wordy to evaluate anyone at any level, anytime. And what are those reasons? First, you are offering your knowledge and experience to help others improve. You are building self-understanding. You are creating mutually beneficial bonds with others. And you are improving your impromptu speaking skills.
The tone and content of an evaluation can positively or negatively impact everyone – speaker, evaluator, and audience. Therefore, it is essential to meet every speaker where they are. After you have had a few experiences under your belt as an evaluator, you can tell if a speaker was prepared or not. Every day is not Sunday. Even a major league slugger gets three strikes before they are out.
As an evaluator, think before you make that call. Even when you believe that call is deserving, it can be taken differently, especially by audience members. Also, an overly kind or undeserving evaluation may be received negatively by others. Some guests may even walk away with the false impression that it is the accepted standard of your group or club. In those cases, there are no winners. So, amid the noise and haste, be gentle, and be on good terms with all persons. Some feedback is more effective when given privately.
Good evaluators prepare for their speakers. As Yogi Berra “is said to have said,” if you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else. Similarly, if you are not prepared, not familiar with the objectives of the speaker’s project, which the speaker has provided, you are going to try to “wing it.” And that is where many evaluators get into trouble. One of the primary responsibilities of the evaluator is to prepare the audience for the speaker’s project.
The evaluator sets the expectations of the assignment for the audience. It is also important for the speaker and evaluator to connect before the delivery of the presentation. Ask what are you working on and what would you like me to observe specifically? With that information and your evaluation forms for that project, you should be all set as an evaluator.
Addressing only that which the speaker can change is a good rule of thumb. Make notes during the presentation and pay attention to the speaker’s soft skills, natural eye contact, meaningful gestures, audience awareness, and speaking area usage. To make the best use of your delivery time, work in threes. Three things the speaker did well – organization, clarity, humor. Three things the speaker can improve, like posture, unanswered questions, or confusing statements. And three things to encourage or boost the speaker’s morale. Thank the speaker for their time and work in preparing for the presentation. When speakers and evaluators are ready for the platform, that’s a winning proposition for everyone. Always close on a positive note and give thanks for the moment.
Follow-up after the speech is essential. After providing the speaker with a written evaluation, ask for questions or comments about the evaluation. The responses you receive will help you improve as an evaluator. Do not be defensive. Clarify anything that may have been misinterpreted in your verbal evaluation. Then, expand in your written evaluation on anything you were unable to cover in the oral assessment.
Let the speaker determine if your feedback is a criticism, coaching, cheerleading, or evaluating. However, if critics and coaches hold the same views as you, their evaluator, and they still don’t know that they have a problem, then they have a problem. And a cheerleader and not an evaluator will better serve that speaker. Therefore speakers should also seek out their trusted evaluators. As we all know, many are called critics, coaches, cheerleaders, and evaluators. Still, few, and only a few, are ever chosen.
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.
Sometimes we attend a scheduled meeting, which turns out to be something else; an experience. Recently I had one of those unforgettable experiences. At one of my club’s bi-monthly meetings two Thursdays ago, we didn’t have a quorum.
As the SAA- Sargent at Arms, I called the meeting to order. Realizing we were facing a problem all clubs occasionally do, we considered canceling the meeting. Luckily, we didn’t, and it turned out to be a moment all who showed were happy they did. I now call that experience – The Meeting that Never Was.
The scheduled agenda was postponed to the next meeting day. A motion was then entertained to watch a video and have Table Topics based on what everyone saw, heard, and felt. The motion carried.
After watching the video, Jeffery Deslich delivered his Table Topic, which I am happy to share today with his permission. The video selected from my library was by Dr. Sean Stephenson.
His video was played on the final day of a 3-day Seminar I had attended one week earlier. Unfortunately, Dr. Sean Stephenson is now deceased, but he remains unforgettable.
The Seminar was entitled – Monetize Your Message – Hosted by Bob Dietrich and Chris Nielson. It featured Lance Miller, Darren LaCroix, Mark Brown, and many other well-known Toastmasters and professional speakers. The following was Jeffery’s Table Topic. He vividly captured and shared how much he appreciated Dr. Stephenson’s video in an email to all the members of the club.
——– Original message ——–
Hello fellow Toastmasters,
“During the last meeting, which was minimally attended, Henry proposed that we watch a video by Dr. Sean Stephenson, a therapist, self-help author, and motivational speaker. This speaker was unique in that because he was born with a problem that caused his bones to be very brittle, and he was only 3 feet tall 65 pounds, and in a wheelchair. Nonetheless, this man was an incredible speaker. “In the speech that we watched, he broke down the elements of the speech that he was giving, as he went along, detailing the many lessons that he has learned on how to write and deliver a great speech.”
I searched YouTube hoping to find this video, I could not find it, although I found many other excellent Sean Stephenson videos such as:
(Dr. Sean Stephenson Videos are available on YouTube)
After watching the video last Thursday, we had a table topics session, and I delivered my table topics speech about the video from the notes I had taken.
This is a summary of my notes:
Don’t jump into the speech – he rolled his wheelchair out onto the stage but did not immediately start to talk; instead, he took a moment to look at the audience – for the audience to look at him. This had a huge visual and psychological impact.
For someone in a wheelchair, he had an incredible onstage presence, the way that he moved his wheelchair about the stage kept the viewers’ eyes focused upon him.
No autopilot – focus on your audience, make it real and personal every time you give your speech, don’t just recite your speech the way you have rehearsed it many times before
Pauses – many times during his speech, he just stopped and looked at the audience, sometimes to let the audience absorb what he just said, or other times to build up anticipation of what he would say next.
No Division – write your speech in a way not to divide your audience into groups; politically, religiously.
No Idolization – be one with the audience, try to be like your audience, show your audience that you are like them, do not put yourself on a pedestal.
Reconnect with the audience often.
Oh, Bummer. I have a note about a joke he told, but I only wrote on the punchline! “I’m not the father… I’m not the father” please, somebody, remind me of the joke! … ( it was about receiving good and bad news – I am not the father – Good News… I am not the father – Bad New)
Never make up a story – I liked this part the best! In this concept, he referred to the story as coffee, never make up a story, make your story real, but it’s okay to add “cream” that’s what adds flavor to the story, a little bit of embellishment.
He used many comedic hand gestures, for example, “ripping the Band-Aid off.”
Don’t apologize for screwing up – if you screw up and apologize to your audience, then you have screwed up twice! If you make a mistake, just keep going.
Audiences want closure – when you end your story, your audience wants it to have an ending. Even if it is a bad ending, it provides closure. ‘He closed his story by humming the tune to “Hail to the chief” as he told of him being pushed in his wheelchair into the White House, and that took his story back around the beginning of his speech where he talked about wanting to become the President of the United States.”
I invite all of you to go to YouTube and watch one or more videos from this excellent speaker. I believe you will find them very entertaining as well as educational.
I’m looking forward to seeing you at next Thursday’s meeting,”
That was not the first or will not be the last meeting that never was. However, every time I have one of those experiences, I am reminded of the humble beginnings of Toastmasters and even some clubs. They began with those who showed up and kept coming back. So, make your next meeting that never was, and experience. Have it for all who are called and the few who have chosen to be present. It’s not always about the numbers when you show up.
Samuel Clements, famously known as Mark Twain, must have scared every aspiring speaker when he said – “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” However, Twain was known to be quick-witted, humorous, and could be in the moment when called unexpectedly to speak.
I believe the secret to impromptu speaking lies in your ability to be in the moment. But first, you must have a plan. Over time, speakers should develop their strategy for speaking impromptu. Begin by focusing on the keywords of the question. Then, use your keyword as anchors at the beginning and end of your answer.
In the English Language, there are five basic types of questions. Factual, Convergent, Divergent, Evaluation and Combination. Most Toastmasters Table Topic questions are either Convergent or Divergent. Therefore, it is wise to identify the topic type as you listen carefully for subtle details hidden in the question.
Convergent: Questions moving towards a single point challenge the cognitive thinking skills of the respondent. They are expected to offer a response that is within a finite range of acceptable accuracy. The response provided may be based on personal awareness, material read, or known. The speaker is also expected to justify their answer or give evidence to support their response.
Divergent: Questions moving toward different directions challenge the speaker to explore other avenues and create different variations and alternative scenarios. Correctness may be based on logic, projections, creation, or the speaker’s imagination. These types of questions require the speaker to analyze, evaluate or synthesize the various possible outcomes.
How you answer your question is most important. Don’t leave your audience out of the moment. Check-in with your audience. When you fail to check in – your audience will check out. A standard method used to answer Table Topic questions is the PREP formula. The acronym PREP is derived from (P) Point, (R) Reason, (E) Example (P) Point.
In Toastmasters Table Topic Competitions, each speaker is allowed 2 minutes and 30 seconds to respond to their question before disqualification. So, prepare a plan for how you are going to divvy up your allotted time. The following is my suggestion.
Point – Pause – Paraphrase: 30 – Seconds
Reason – Because – Justification: 30 – Seconds
Example – For Instance or Story: 30 – Seconds
Point to Summarize and Close: 30 – Seconds
Note the speaker will still have 30 seconds left. After you have delivered your summary, hand control back to the Chair. Stop talking! Let silence send your message.
Table Topic contests judging are like any humorous or international speech contest. The suggested point values are Speech Development 30 pts, Effectiveness 25 pts, Physical 15 Pts, Voice 15pts, and Language 15pts. When your answer is different enough to stand out from the rest of the crowd, you will most likely win the judges’ hearts and minds.
We all know nothing in life is absolute. But just as there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to an argument or a Divergent question – Make sure you address both sides; the pros and cons. A referee with a two-headed coin is biased. Similarly, addressing only one side of a discussion will divide your audience and your judges. So show both sides of the coin to your audience.
Your summary and closing must have a lingering effect on your audience. You don’t have to be an expert on the subject you are addressing. However, by relating the question to a real-life event or a familiar theme, you should get a boost of energy. So, relax, and get to work without hesitation. Be in the moment.
Before you begin to speak, let your body language show your appreciation for the question. With a smile, check in with your audience, then paraphrase or restate the question. If possible, add a twist to your paraphrase to make a stronger connection. Then, address the question as if you are the expert in the room. You must convince your audience that you know what you are talking about.
Table Topics in Toastmasters is intended to help members develop their ability to organize their thoughts quickly and respond to an impromptu question or topic. Two past Presidents I have always admired for handling difficult questions were Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton. They were both quick-witted, Regan especially. He mastered the art of turning questions on its head in a flash with humor.
When speakers can get their audience to laugh, think profoundly, or look at a problem differently, they will be rewarded by their judges and audiences. So perhaps Mark Twain was right; maybe it does take three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech, but I will add, except for when that impromptu speaker is in the moment, with a plan.