Monday, September 7, 2015

Why Women Almost Never Win the World Championship of Public Speaking

 "Image copyright 2015 Angie Key as Keyframe Photography,
used with permission."
How's that for a charged title?

It could just as easily be this one: Why Asians Almost Never Win the World Championship of Public Speaking

Or: Why Speakers Over 7 Feet Tall NEVER Win the World Championship of Public Speaking

Or my favorite: Why a Father of Six with a Fake Leg has Yet to the World Championship of Public Speaking

In the wake of August's World Championship of Public Speaking, two major arguments quickly hit the Toastmaster world.

1. Order bias (1st, 2nd, and 3rd went to the last three speakers, with the winner, Mohammed Qahtani the last speaker of 10)

2. Gender Bias - no women even made the Final Ten.

I'll save order bias for another day - there's a lot of data crunching that goes into that, and it's not something we can readily fix. Women winning the Championship, however, is something I can talk about. At least from a biased male point of view.

Let start by mentioning a couple major aspects of my own competitive career. First, I have been on the losing end to women several times. At club. At Division (twice!). At District. At the Semi's. And even in the finals, losing to the last woman World Champion, the late LaShunda Rundles.
2008 World Champion LaShunda Rundles
So I get a little amped up when I hear people accuse Toastmasters of being biased against women.

Yes, we've only had four female champions since 1973, when women were first allowed in Toastmasters. We've had a small percentage of women in the Finals in the first place, but we've had more than a few place in the top three. Mary Cheyne, Angela Louie, Katherine Morrison, Kelly Sargeant, to mention some from the past decade. But still, a small percentage overall. Indeed, it isn't even that unusual for the Finals to be all male.

So - there's a problem. Supposedly.

Judging bias? Men like male speakers better? Women don't like other women speakers? Women speakers aren't assertive enough? Women speakers are too assertive? Women speakers pick bad topics? Women have the wrong tone of voice? Too fat? Too Skinny? Too tall? (a love shout-out to Libra Ford!) Too much jewelry? Wearing gawdawful shoes?

The list I've heard from people is endless. It all adds up to women are...well...women!
Yeah, well, SO FREAKIN' WHAT? Men are also...well...MEN!

 "Image copyright 2015 Angie Key as Keyframe Photography,
used with permission."
Flawed. Bad beards. Bad dressers. (I heard this year's world champion criticized for having too small a suit, and an 'unconventional shirt'.) Terrible speech topics. Too loud. Too animated. Too cocky.

Are they as heavily criticized as women? No. In fact, dressing for the stage is far easier for the average male, and no, we don't usually get penalized for being too fat, too skinny, or even being just plain ugly. I do believe society in general is far more critical of women than men in almost every way. That can't help but seep into judging. If we are going to call that judging bias, then yes, it exists, and no, it shouldn't.

But I don't think that's the main reason. A contributing factor, perhaps, but not the main reason.

Let's face facts: more men lose in the contest that women. It's true. I think there were 17 women in the semi's this year. That means, out of 96 contestants, 10 men won, 17 women lost, and 59 men lost. Unbelievable. All those poor men. And several of those women placed, making it even worse for the men. Oh, the humanity!

Therefore, IF there's bias, it's more on the lower levels, right? Gotta be. But then I hear the problem is actually that not enough women enter, lowering their odds in general. Like the speech competition is a slot machine or a dice game. Yes, luck enters in to a degree, but it isn't really an 'odds-based' competition - it's a quality-based competition. Out of 10 speakers, we cannot objectively say each speaker has a 10 percent chance of victory. 'Chance' is directly countered by experience, talent, and performance. Otherwise we could just draw the winner the way we draw for order.

Wait a minute, Rich. Are you saying that women aren't good enough speakers in this competition?

Well.....Yes. Yes I am. And neither are the literally thousands of more MEN speakers in this competition than women. The competition starts with 30,000 contestants. Based on 18 percent of the Semi-Finalists being women, 4100 of the 30,000 are women. That means there were 25,890 men who weren't good enough EITHER. Holy freaking COW!

See - other than a tiny percentage of speakers every year, NONE of us are good enough. Because it's a competition. With ONE winner. ONE winner every step of the way.

Is it possible that a man gave a better speech than any of the other women or men in there Club, Area, Division, District, Semi, or Finals round? OF COURSE. Is it possible a woman who placed second, third or not at all in one contest would have WON in a different heat? Or even a man who placed second, third, or not at all? Of course!


Put all the finalists in one semi, and all but one loses, and the Finals is totally reshuffled. For instance, last year, Joe Grondin and James Jeffley were in the same Semi-Final. Joe had been to the Finals before, James was a first year Toastmaster. James won. This year, they were both back, in separate Semis, and both won and went to the Finals. Neither placed. Luck? Maybe. Odds? Maybe. If you really want to game the odds, put all the women in one Semi-Final - yeah, there's a solution built for rioting.

The reality is, allowing a little room for human judging error, that the 10 male Finalists this year simply HAD THE BETTER SPEECH than any of the other women and men in their contests from club on up. Except the champion, who took second at District, but that's a whole other cool and inspiring story.

Could a woman have won a Semi in 2015? Sure. Different set of judges, perhaps. Put them in a different heat, perhaps. The only woman I watched this year who took second that I personally thought could have won her semi was beaten by a speaker who finished in the top 3 of the Finals - so we're really splitting hairs with that one.

Most of you aren't going to like this, but the answer for women is the same answer I have for me. We aren't winning the World Championship of Public Speaking because our speeches, while stunning, spectacular, and skillful, are not as stunning, spectacular, and skillful as those who beat us. Even if they only beat us by a single, measly point. One measly point is enough.

What can you do about it?

Write better speeches. Practice your delivery more. Study what wins, and what doesn't. Don't make excuses. If you're charged up about a woman winning, and know one who should be competing but isn't, convince them to compete! If you think judging stinketh, then volunteer to give judging training - I'm helping with judging training in my own district in just a couple days!

Find coaching - be it from a man or a woman, or both. I know Olivia Schofield, 2011 Finalist, and Chelsea Avery, coach for 2012 Champ Ryan Avery, have started VocalWomen specifically for coaching women speakers. There's no shortage of women coaches available, in Toastmasters OR the real world. I coach women speakers all the time, both in the contest, AND the real world.

Finally, keep in mind two truths. First - you can't control everything. The judges, the audience, the other speakers. Your Sgt. at Arms. Your Toastmaster. The stage size. The microphone. You can only control you, your content and your performance. Focus on winning what you can control.

Second, losing isn't an indictment. It doesn't mean you're not a great speaker. Women, it sure as HELL doesn't mean you aren't as good as a male speaker. All it means for you, and the men, and that father of six with the fake leg - is that we didn't have the best speech that day, in that moment, for those judges. We, and eventually 29,999 others - we ALL LOSE.

Dark Phoenix literally giving Wolverine the Death Stare
OK - I can feel the death stares. Send your hate mail. I'm not a woman, so I don't know what's its like, and I don't appreciate 'male privilege', and I shouldn't even be writing any of this. I know. I'll probably never get another 1st place vote from a woman again. Or a man, for that matter, because, after all, at the end of the day, I've actually just said more of them apparently suck at speaking in the contest than women.

It's almost enough to make me think competition is a bad thing. Almost.

Here's to seeing all the best speakers - male, female, fluid, tall, short, thin, fat, old, young, high-pitched, low-pitched, low energy, high energy, well dressed, poorly dressed, white, yellow, brown, orange, or black - in DC next year. Most importantly - may the winner be a - WINNER.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Note to the Losers in the 2015 World Championship of Public Speaking

Yeah, congratulations and all to 2015 World Champion Mohammed Qahtani. I was watching here in my office in Colorado as you literally smoked the competition.

But this post is for the rest of you. The losers. That's all 95 of the rest of you - because everyone knows taking 2nd just means you're the first loser, right?

In case you don't know, I know how it feels. I've lost all 12 times I've entered the International Contest. I've lost at club. I've gotten lost going to Area, and not showed up. I've lost at Division, 5 times (three of those, I was lucky enough to go to District, anyway). Lost at District this year, for the first time - because I went OVERTIME. Lost at the semi-finals 6 times. Lost at the Finals, twice. The highest I've ever made it? 3rd Place.

And let's not even talk about all the losses in Table Topics, Evaluation, Humorous and Tall Tales. Because, frankly, I just don't like to think about them.

So I'm a loser too. Just like YOU.

And I know how you feel. Especially when people come up and say wonderful things like:

'You gave a great speech'
'I had you placed in the top three'
'I thought you should have won'
'If you had drawn a better speaking order....'
'The winner just had a lot of support in the audience'
'I just don't understand the judges'
'Your message meant so much to me'
my personal favorite, from 2006, when I took third in the Finals 'You finished right where I picked you!'
and, finally, one I use myself 'You're a winner anyway!'

(Editor's note: One I can't identify with, but sympathize with is: 'Toastmaster judges are just biased against women'. But let's save that for another day.)

We hear that. We nod. We smile. We say thanks. And we even try to believe it. But for awhile at least, most of us are seething just a little bit inside. Wondering what we did wrong. Thinking about what we aren't going to get to do. Questioning the judging, our writing and delivery, our coaches, and perhaps even whether or not this whole competition thing, or even Toastmasters thing, is even worth it anyway!

OK - I get it.


First - Let's face it - you gave a great speech. ALL of you did. And yet, only 10 were going to win the semi's, and only one was going to win it all, no matter what. If you reshuffle the semi's, you'd have different winners in many instances. Heck, if you pit all 10 finalists against each other in a semi - well then you'd have a whole different contest on Saturday. I bet even if you had all the Finalists compete in front of a different set of judges, you'd have a different outcome.

The contest is about finding a CONTEST WINNER even more than it is about finding the best speaker in Toastmasters. Luck of the draw & luck of the day both play strongly into the outcomes. Even those champs that say great things like 'I already knew I was going to win because of the work I put in' or even 'Make the only question be whose in 2nd place' could have fallen to different fates if things had fallen slightly different.

And yes, I'm fully aware of the maxim 'The harder I work the luckier I get'. I'm in favor of both hard work AND luck.

Second - You just finished in the TOP 96 speakers in all of Toastmasters. Out of about 30,000 competitors. That's the top 1/3 of 1 percent. Some of you finished in the Top 30, 20, 10 and 3. That's pretty doggone impressive, isn't it? For some of you, it wasn't even your FIRST time!

You just spoke to audiences of several hundred (or a couple thousand) people on a great stage (or two), with full mics, lights, and cameras. A far cry from your TM meeting back home, I bet. You can pull some sample video without breaking copyright law, and grab a few screenshots here and there to promote yourself, right?

You just spent a tremendous amount of time (hopefully) honing your craft, speaking in front of new people over the last few months, getting coached, and dreaming of 'what if'. That makes you A - a much better speaker than you were a few months ago. And B - aware of the 'what if' you want - which you can pursue without a trophy, in virtually every scenario. Whatever you want to do, you are closer to it now than ever before. Don't chase the wrong trophy.

Third - No whining. No believing the excuses you hear made for you. Don't blame the judges, or the speaking order, or the crowd, or the organization. Don't blame...whatever you want to blame. Even yourself. You did your best. They did their best. Can you do better? Fine - accept that, and do better next time. But the more time you spend whining, the less time you spend getting better. Take it from a recovering whineaholic!

Fourth and Finally - You're only a loser if you choose to identify as such. I give entire keynotes about this concept. Find your victories. Celebrate them. Build upon them. Whether you ever enter another contest or not is inconsequential. You've done something tremendous this summer/winter. Don't minimize, don't regret it. Learn from it. Be better because of it. Give more to your audiences because of it. Give more back to Toastmasters because of it.

You may not be the World Champion of Public Speaking - but you're damn good. Don't chase the wrong trophy, continue to Speak and Deliver, and WIN...Anyway!

Friday, July 3, 2015

10 Ways a Contestant Can Add Value to their District

Recently in the Toastmasters Official Facebook group, the topic of a International contestant's value to Toastmasters, or rather 'lack thereof' came up. It was suggested that winners of speech contests are often in it just for themselves, as they chase the trophy, and do little else for Toastmasters.

That was a grand sweeping statement, and I know many, many contestants who do a great deal within Toastmasters, both outside of their competing, as well as as a byproduct of their victories.

But the comment wouldn't have come up if it weren't true in some cases. Maybe it's a new contestant that is getting overwhelmed and is overly focused on themselves. Maybe it's a truly selfish contestant - people are people, after all. At the same time, maybe it's the District - not reaching out to the contestant, not taking advantage of the opportunity to support and promote their winners.

For now, I'm going to focus on you (or your friends) as a contestant - we can only control our own actions, and we can contribute. This goes for ALL contestants - winners and losers at ANY level - but especially for those of you that are fortunate enough to go to the International Semi Finals, Finals, or even win it ALL.

Ten Ways to Add Value Beyond the Trophy on your Desk...

1. Visit other clubs - you've got to practice anyway, right? Schedule yourself at clubs - summer is often a tough time for them to have full speaker slates. I've found most clubs more than happy to bring contestants in, and they'll often promote that they have a 'World Championship Contestant' in order to fill their room. Don't want to practice your speech that much? Offer to come and give a different speech that interests you and them. Afraid they'll say no? Some will - but at least they know you tried.

2. Volunteer at your TLI - the next big project for your district after the Conferences is the Toastmaster Leadership Institute. Volunteer to train officers, give an educational session, or to keynote the event. No speaking slots available? Work the registration table, bring food, be a Sgt. at Arms, or a room host!

3. Write for the Newsletter - your article could be contest related, speech-writing related, or anything else you know that might be of value to the District readership. Newsletter editors are often desperate for content - become their ally, and fill some of that space for them.

4. Use Social Media - promote Toastmasters on your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, whatever. Your club, your district, the organization itself. Write a blogpost, or twenty, about your journey to the championships. Post pictures. Tell the world about all your great experiences both as a competitor and as a 'plain old Toastmaster', and share the stories of others as well.

5. Contact Your Local Media - don't just rely on your District to contact the local paper - you can write a press release easily - go here for a template. I've been featured in my local paper in all three Districts I've competed out of, and I've seen other contestants score radio and TV spots as well. Don't just talk about the contest - get the Toastmaster message out there!

6. Speak Outside TM - schedule yourself at local service clubs - Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Optimists and the like. Practice your contest speech in combination with a speech promoting the TM program. You'll get good practice in a non-TM environment, and meet a lot of amazing people.

7. Take a Club Officer Role - just a month after your victory, all the officers are shifting. Why not be the next President, VPEd, or Secretary. Show your club you're in it for more than the shiny trophies. It won't effect your eligibility a bit.

8. Support Demo Meetings - your District is always trying to grow, and spread the goodness of Toastmasters to the world. Volunteer for a role - ANY ROLE - at a demo meeting. Your leaders will love you for it.

9. Coach, Sponsor or Mentor a Club - After that demo meeting, those newly chartering clubs will need a sponsor or a mentor. Why not you? Their are other clubs that may be flagging that could use your experience and enthusiasm as a coach, as well.

10. Don't Compete Every Year - Yes, I've competed 11 out of 14 years, so I know this can be a tough suggestion. But I've also served as an Area and Division Governor (now Director, for you newbies), and even taken a year off to just...take a year off. I'm even a DTM, finally. There's no rule that says you can't compete every year, but some districts are less likely to suffer serial contestants (like me) than others. Consider that their tolerance of you might be proportionate to how much value you provide along the way - just sayin'.

Do you HAVE to do any of these things? No. But not adding value is likely at the heart of the comments I've heard. Don't become so focused on your own goals that you forget the people that helped put you in position to reach them.

I would suggest that as contestants we have a responsibility to serve our Districts, to serve Toastmasters in general. They have provided us the stage. Use it to Speak & Deliver the right messages - messages of communication, service and leadership that define our organization.

Don't chase the wrong trophy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

7 and a Half Ways to Make Your Information Matter

If you're a regular person with a regular job living a regular life, chances are the only times you get asked to speak is to share straight information. Sales data, new product information, company reports - if you're lucky maybe training for new employees, or teaching new technology to the current staff. Even client sales presentations, if you aren't careful, can become massive information dumps.

Information isn't inherently bad. In fact, it is the core of any presentation, the essence of why a presentation must be made. Too much information, superfluous information, and information presented in a boring fashion, however - that's bad.

7 1/2 Ways to Make Your Information Matter

1. Simplify - you probably know what you're talking about, because you deal with it all the time. Your audience may not be as versed as you, however, and treating them like they are will leave them in a daze. Use accessible vocabulary - watch your industry jargon and define your acronyms. If they can't comprehend what you're saying as you say it, they'll get hung up, and you'll find them nowhere near where you're trying to take them by your conclusion.

2. Chunk It Down - once you've simplified your word choices, simplify your conceptual organization. Instead of bulldozing ahead with everything you have, or indiscriminately weaving from topic to topic like an out of control bundle of computer code, organize your information. Create a structure for your talk that will serve your audience, not your knowledge base or your ego. example: if you're talking about Theodore Roosevelt, keep your talk focused on a purpose (time period in his life, his political philosophy, or his family life), and make sure all you're including leads to that purpose.

3. Organize by Relevance - much like the top-down style of a classic newspaper article, start with what they need to know most, first, and fill in the details after. If they see the end result, the big idea, up front, they will be more attentive to the process it takes to get there.

4. Compare - either to a straight up competing product or service, to a similar device or concept, or to the item or process you're replacing/upgrading. By providing a reference point they understand, that is, accessing their old information, it will make your new information easier for them to handle.

5. Pictures, not Numbers - numbers, statistics, and hard data in general don't work well when displayed or spoken, in terms of memorability. If they are linked to pictures or simple charts, they become easier to assimilate. example: Instead of 'we sold 5,254,326 more hamburgers this year over last year, a 52.6 percent increase' as a verbal only statement, or as stark numbers on a screen, consider a graphic of a small stack and a bigger stack of burgers side by side in combination with the verbal statistic.

6. Use Humor - this goes for pretty much any presentation of any type. Humor done right builds connection and opens minds. Anchoring information in a humorous story is going to make it a lot more memorable than a straight-up information dump. example: telling someone about how you got your tongue stuck on the flagpole in kindergarten is a sure way to help them remember the concept of thermal conductivity.

7. Leave Behind - your information is important, which is why you're sharing it. It's also likely very specific, and may be so specific that you don't want to leave any room for error. Create a leave-behind that has your statistics, your research, your sources, even your slides, to give to folks AFTER your presentation. Giving it before opens the door for them to open the door, and walk out on you - either mentally or physically.

7.5. Notes Handout - unlike the leave behind, this is basically a combination of blank scratch paper and a partially filled out map of your presentation. Put blank lines, or partial sentences with key words to fill in, on a page or two and hand out at the beginning. You don't give too much away to begin with, while still giving an implied promise that you'll be giving enough information that notes should be taken.

If you want their full attention, tell them at the beginning not to take notes, that you have a leave behind - but be aware you might lose the attention of a few at that point, if they think they have permission to not pay attention.

Most of us do live a regular life. A lot of speaking advice, articles, and trainings, heck, even this blog, can overly-geared toward motivational/inspirational/storytelling type presentations. This isn't all bad - because much of the concepts in that type of speaking can be brought over to the 'regular life' of information sharing, sales-oriented, training type speaking that may be more prominent in your circles.

And vice-versa.

Take ALL the information...and then go out and Speak...& Deliver!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What Happens When the Win Anyway Guy Loses? Part I

Yesterday was a unique day for me, in terms of competing in Toastmasters at the District Conference Level.

I had qualified to represent my Division in both Table Topics (Impromptu Speaking) and the International Speech Contest. It was the 21st and 22nd time I had qualified for various contests at that level in the 3 different Districts I've competed in. Currently, I'm in D26, which is Colorado, Wyoming, and parts of Nebraska. I've also competed in D9 (Eastern WA, NE Oregon, Northern Idaho), and D15 (Utah, Southern, Idaho, Eastern Nevada).

Of the 20 previous contests, I had acquired fifteen first place trophies (8 in International), 4 second place trophies, and only once failed to place in a contest (Evaluation, 2003), but placed first in a second contest (Humorous) at that conference.

This time - for the first time - I came home without a plastic, plexiglass, or gold colored aluminum trophy in either contest.

This time, however, I failed to place in Table Topics at all in the morning - which, frankly, didn't bother me. I was the first out of six speakers, and didn't do well at all at answering the question. I felt out of rhythm, and at a bit of a loss for an answer to the question 'If you won $1000 and had to spend it on yourself, what would you buy?'. Walking off the stage I was pretty certain 3 of the next 5 speakers would beat that pretty easily.

No worries though - the real trophy was waiting for me in the evening. I'd never lost an International Contest at the District Level. A perfect 8-0. I had edited my speech down 100 words from the last level, changed a line or two (or twenty) during the day, which isn't unusual for me at all. I added a humor bit that called back to Keynote Speaker Tim Gard's presentation in the morning - and it got a big laugh. The speech was powerful, and well-received.

It was also 4 seconds....OVERTIME.

Which means I've still never LOST at District in the Int'l, but I have disqualified myself. Took the decision out of the hands of the judges altogether. And I knew it when I sat down, just like I knew it 10 years ago when I last went overtime, at the Semi-Finals in Oregon.

Let me say this - I have no idea if I would have won if I stayed in time. I may have. I may have placed. I may have been shut out as I was in Topics in the morning. DOESN'T MATTER. Even if I WON on the judging ballot, I didn't have the best speech because it didn't meet the criteria.

I made a rookie mistake, a mistake I've made before, and essentially BEAT MYSELF.

Congratulations to Greg Picone, 3rd, Place, David Meed, 2nd, and Kelsey Robb (pictured with Contest Master Andre Simoneau and District Governor Linda Rhea), returning to the District Stage after taking 2nd to me last year, who will represent District 26 in Las Vegas at the Semi-Finals.

The questions coming at me are now centered around 'what will you do next?' and 'will you compete again next year?' The results I encountered both at the conference and in my 27 Day Challenge, which ended yesterday as well, have put my 'Win Anyway' philosophy to the test, and put it up for a bit of scrutiny.

Overall, it was a great conference, and a unique experience for me. I do believe, at least for the International Contest, I managed to Speak & Deliver - even if I went a little long. At the end of the end of the day, that really is what matters. Or is it?

I'll be addressing these and other questions in Part II and Part III - which will show up in my Win Anyway Blog and 27 Day Challenge blog, respectively, later tonight.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Anatomy of a Speaker's Introduction Part III: Toastmaster Tips

In Part I of this series I covered 6 Key Components for you to use in your Introduction, and in Part II, I discussed What Could Go Wrong with your intro, and how to mitigate the damages.

For Toastmasters - all those tips and suggestions apply, but we also face our own unique challenges - so this post is specifically for you!

In my fifteen years with the organization, I have witnessed a severe deficit in our education program when it comes to introductions. In fact, googling 'Toastmaster & Introductions' brought only one article from the TI site itself, and it focuses on the Toastmaster of the meeting being in control of the intro more than you, the speaker.

In general, I rarely see speakers in TM clubs actually write their own introduction, and at best, it typically includes their manual/project number, their name, and the title of their speech. Occasionally it's brought in a typed format, but it's most often scribbled at the last minute, often handed to the TM right before the speaker is to present, setting the TM, and the speaker, up for a completely mishandled beginning to their speech.

Most of the time, however, there is NO introduction, and the Toastmaster for the day has to make something up on the spot, or simply intro the speaker and their title.

We spend so much time (hopefully) preparing for our speech - why do we do so little, or even nothing at all, with our introduction? If we're really preparing ourselves for the 'real world', we should add this particular skill to our repertoire, and put ourselves, and our introducers, in a strong position to succeed.

Of course, our organization, at the club level, has different aspects to what we may want to do in our intros, though, in general, the tips in Part I & II are still good for this purpose, and certainly any presentations we give at District, Toastmasters Leadership Institutes, or other special events.

3 Club Introduction Considerations.

1. Speech Requirements - every time we give a manual speech, we have requirements that need to be met. Some clubs have the evaluator mention the manual, speech number, and requirements before the introduction of the speaker. Some clubs have the TM mention them. Some intros mention them. And sometimes, no mention is made at all.

No matter how your club handles it (and if you have a different variation, let me know), I suggest you keep it these 'details' separate from your actual introduction, unless they are vital to the content of your speech. If someone else is not handling the introduction of this information, and you feel you must include them in your written intro, use it as a preface to the actual intro:
'Rich is giving speech 7, Research your Topic, out of the Competent Communicator Manual. Requirements include collecting information about his topic from numerous sources and carefully supporting his points and opinions with specific facts, examples, and illustrations gathered through research. His time is 5-7 minutes. (PAUSE)'
Then go into your actual introduction.

2. Audience Set-Up - In TM we often give speeches that are meant for other audiences. Your introduction can be a good place to let your audience know they need to be children in the second grade, conspiracy theorists, or rocket scientists. This way, they know how to receive the speech, and your feedback will be more directed and pertinent to your goals.

3. Credibility - This is a tricky one, as it can feel tiresome to continually put '2x World Championship of Public Speaking Finalist, a DTM, and father of six' in your introductions. Keep in mind, however, that that bit of credibility may not matter when you're giving a presentation about kids, or fictional characters, or really anything not speaking/Toastmasters related.

You have to decide which part of you lends credibility to your subject matter. Since we're constantly writing new speeches, we need new introductions, and different bits of credibility to match.


Writing an introduction takes extra time, yes. You'll want to email it to your Toastmaster, as well as print in and bring it to your meeting. It will put your TM at ease when they see they don't have to make anything up. Remember to ask them to read it out loud before the meeting so you can make sure they know all the words, and have practiced it at least that once before introducing you.

It will also put your audience in the right state of mind to listen, and set you up to come on stage with power, and launch right in to your presentation.

If you make writing introductions important in your club, you'll be amazed how much more smoothly the speaking portion of the meeting will go. If you make writing introductions important to YOU, you'll be amazed how quickly you're able to create them. When you go out in the 'real world', you'll be happy you took the extra time to be prepared, and to prepare your introducer, before you go out to Speak....and Deliver. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Anatomy of a Speaker's Introduction Part II: What Could Go Wrong?

In Part I, we looked at the different parts of an ideal introduction for a real world speech. So once you've created it, you're home free, right? Not quite. You'd be amazed what can go wrong once you're done writing your introductory masterpiece.

What Could Go Wrong?

The Dog Ate It

Yep, you sent it to them early, and they forgot it. Or you didn't send it to them, and YOU forgot it.

Vocabulary Hurdles

You've crafted a beautiful introduction, and when it's read perfectly, it's like a symphony of syllables. Unless they pronounce it Sim-PHONEY of Si-LOBB-els. Not everybody is a speaker, and not everybody is familiar with all the words you use.

Language Barrier

It's one thing when you put a few unfamiliar words in front of your introducer - it's another when English (or whatever the language you're speaking in is) is their second, third, or eighth language. Pronunciation, cadence, and understandability can go right out the window, without them ever intending it.

The Summarizer

Sometimes, the introducer thinks they just know better than you - and they'll skim through your intro, skip a few words, maybe try to add their own 'style' to it - which often disrupts the flow, and even the meaning on your intro altogether.

The All Out Ignorer

This is when they KNOW they're smarter than you, and go off script completely. They may make something up. They might read your bio straight off the program, because they think it's 'better'. Worse - they may know you, and think it's 'OK' to tell the audience about that time you were both in college and he caught you singing Billy Vera songs into your hairbrush as you pined away for a certain blue-eyed, blonde-haired co-ed.

Bonus: The Time Traveler

Maybe you're speaking more than once that day. Maybe you've gotten creative, and done separate introductions for each presentations, that even build on each other, creating a cohesive narrative throughout the event. Maybe they get them mixed up, and your 3:00 pm intro gets read at 8:00 AM. If only YOU could go back in time...

You can't ensure that your introduction won't be forgotten or just plain botched, even if you are a 50K speaker with a video intro - after all, tech problems are just as likely as human problems. You can give yourself the best chance to have a strong intro though, with a few precautionary Best Practices.

Best Practices

Double Up - send it to them AND bring it yourself. You are ultimately responsible for making sure that introduction is in their hands at the event. Heck, print two, in case they had it an hour ago and can't remember where they left it.

Go BIG - Print it in 20 pts or more - on one page, in an easy-to-read font, separated into paragraphs that will create the vocal cadence you want.

Get Hooked on Phonics - Phonetically (fo-net-ick-ly) write out complicated words - tech jargon, proper names, foreign words, anything that might be complicated.

Be a Detective - find out who your introducer is before you go! Email them, heck, CALL them. If you're at your venue, verify it's still the same person, and go find them. You can spend a few minutes, ask them to read it (even out-loud so you can advise on certain points), and make sure they have the intro with them in the first place.

Be an Encourager/Parent - your introducer may be nervous. This may be their first time speaking in front of this many people. Let them know how your introduction is designed to make them a success, even get them a laugh. Tell them how much you appreciate them. On the other hand, if it's your old college roommate, well, be a little firm and let them know how carefully you've crafted this introduction to help make this presentation for THEIR audience a success.

Salvaging a Botched Intro

When, not if, this happens, be ready. Pay attention when you're introduced so you can handle damage control. While the best move may be to just start your presentation, if it's botched badly enough, and the whole audience is in a state of laughter or discomfort, you can't just act as if nothing has happened.

Depending on the scenario, you may energetically apologize for writing such a complicated intro, or you might call back to an important mispronounced word to clarify (I actually coach PUBLIC speakers, not PUBIC speakers), or, if they've improvised and botched it, take the hit yourself, and say 'I knew I should have written my own introduction!'

Whatever you do, never put the introducer in a bad light. Always be appreciative, and take the blame, if necessary, even if it's not your fault. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, acknowledge it - then, quickly, launch into your presentation.


I'm sure I haven't covered every scenario, and if you have a crazy intro experience, please share it!

In Part III, I'll be focusing on my Toastmasters brethren, and the importance of introduction to your experience as a member.

I'd still like to do a Part IV, showcasing or coaching up YOUR typical (or brand new) introduction. If you have one you'd like me to see, email it to


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...