Friday, June 3, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: It's a Lab - Experiment!

One of the biggest pet peeves I have about people going through their manuals in Toastmasters is their penchant for perfection - on their first try! Too many people feel that the speech they give in their club must be the finished product, and invariably, once they give the speech, its filed away forever.

I'm all for giving your best effort in Toastmasters. Practice before you get there. Write your speeches, particularly if writing your speeches in painful for you - you'll grow.

But there's nothing wrong with screwing it up. With trying something new. With redoing the same speech and trying it again with new wrinkles. You don't have to be perfect in the Laboratory.

This week I was invited, the day before, to speak at a club's Speak-a-thon as a guest. I had two choices - give my District speech, or give one of my three pocket speeches. I wasn't in the mood to deliver a contest speech again, so I went with the speech I first delivered 5 years ago, about my 7th grade book report, my acting experience in college, followed by what I've learned in Toastmasters - its a speech geared at encouraging people to take advantage of every opportunity they have to give their audience something worth hearing.

I've delivered that speech at least 10 times at different clubs in the U.S., and I've used parts of it in longer speeches as well. I arrived at the meeting a bit late, and needed to give my introducer a title. I took a minute, and decided the words 'Say Something' would be a good title that night. I'd never formally given the speech a title before.

I had a few other speakers before my slot, and I started to roll those two words around in my mind - Say Something, Say Something, Say Something - and *BAM!* an idea hit. What if I changed my opening to me looking at a sheet of paper, looking panicky as I stared at my audience, and whispered the words to myself - encouraging my 7th grade self to "Say Something", vs. just telling the story as narrative, as I had, effectively, so many times before? What if I used "Say Something" as my anchor point, even though I had never used those words in the speech before?

Remember these words, fellow Toastmasters: "It's worth a try!" 
After all, what have you got to lose? No one is going to throw you out on your ear. They won't vote you out of the club. Unless you decide to give striptease a try, you'll always be welcomed back, and maybe even then.....

For me, being willing to throw in something new, to use TM as my laboratory, I found something that was incredibly effective - that will be remembered by those audience member for a long time. A statement that embodies the point of that speech that I had been searching for for years.  Could I have failed? Could it have blown up in my face? Sure. But I would have learned something in a low-risk environment, and so would everyone in the audience who chose to be a student in the moment.

Toastmasters is not the marketplace, its the Inventor's Lab. Where you find 10,000 ways not to invent the light bulb. Where you fall on your face often enough to know when doing it on-stage will work. Where you will find feedback and a willing audience, cheering for you to improve.

Bonus Observation - once you do put your speech into the marketplace, it can still be a work in progress. Every audience is brand new, and your speech can evolve with each telling. It's just a lot less risky to combine those chemicals in your Toastmasters Laboratory!

1 comment:

  1. I disagree w/ your statement that you don't have to be perfect in a lab. I'm a former principal research scientist and would argue that precision in your lab technique is critically important.

    That said, I do love your analogy / metaphor. Good luck w/ experimenting w/ your contest speech between now and August.



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