Thursday, December 12, 2013

Toastmasters Friday: Tall Tales 2013 'It's Gotta Be The Shoes'

For Toastmasters around the world, the contest seasons, Spring & Fall, normally consist of Table Topics (an impromptu speaking exercise requiring the speaker to talk on a topic the are unprepared for for 1:00 to 2:30 minutes), Evaluation (where they listen to a target speaker, then one by one offer a 1:30 to 3:30 minute evaluation), Humorous Speech (4:30 to 7:30 min), and the International Speech (also 4:30 to 7:30 min) - which can take the contestant all the way to the title of World Champion of Public Speaking.

However, there is a FIFTH contest that occasionally makes it into the mix - Tall Tales - a 2:30 to 5:30 minute story that offers an opportunity for speakers and judges alike to stretch themselves, since no one seems to agree on exactly what a Tall Tale IS!

For some, it's a lying contest - "I caught a fish THIS big!". For others, it's more of a sharing of a legendary story, ala Paul Bunyan, but since it must be wholly original (well, at least 75%), it isn't a story of legend until the speaker makes it so...

The rulebook describes it as such: 

1. The subject for the Tall Tales speech must be of a highly exaggerated, improbable nature and have a theme or plot.
2.  Humor and props may be used to support or illustrate the speech.

Clears it up well, right? Well, not so much.

For me, I like the storyteller approach - a true story around the campfire type Tall Tale. While I acted out a few actions and gestures, I used a narrative approach. My speech wasn't laugh-out-loud funny - only 1.5 laughs. The previous five speakers all used themselves as the protagonist, and gave 'fish stories' to a point - something crazy happened to them, or they were a wacky character. Accents, props, and costumes abounded. My speech was going to stick out like a sore thumb, for better or worse. As the last speaker of the night, it was either going to end well, or with a magnificent THUD.

What do you think? Please share any comments below.

As it turns out, I ended up taking home first place - but I wouldn't have been shocked to not place at all. Not that I didn't think that it wasn't good, or that I didn't do a decent job presenting it, but it would have been easy for the judges to throw it out when viewed against the other speeches and their approaches that evening.

I wrote 'It's Gotta Be The Shoes' ten years ago - competed with it in another district, up to the Division level. It went through some pretty big changes over the last few months, but the core story has remained the same. I would also trust that a decade later my delivery skills have improved a bit. The tale is one of my favorites - and while it will now be retired as a contest speech, hopefully I'll have plenty of opportunities to share it in the future.

You don't have to wait for your District to have a Tall Tales contest - hold one yourself. Get a few clubs together for a friendly competition or showcase event. Make it an open house. Our just have a Tall Tales night in your own club.

Pure storytelling is a wonderful skill to develop, and will help you in every other facet of your speaking life - whether you're a motivator, a trainer, a preacher, or simply a water-cooler raconteur. Have some fun, and remember to always Speak & Deliver.

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