Friday, November 20, 2009

Toastmasters Friday: 3 Steps to Being the IceBreaker

You've just joined a Toastmasters Club in your area. You've rarely, if ever, spoken in public. Now you find yourself faced with giving a speech, gently named "The Icebreaker", but more realistically thought of by first-timers as a "BackBreaker, MindBreaker, and Potential DealBreaker", all rolled into one.

Don't let fear break you - instead, try these 3 Steps, and you will "Be the Icebreaker", not the broken!

1. Fix Your Brain

You don't think anyone cares what you have say. You feel like you'll completely blow it, stutter and stammer, or even break down and cry. Worse yet, that hyper guy is scheduled as ah counter and you're gonna get nailed for ah's and uhm's ad infinitum, running your club fine account up to the size of the U.S. National Deficit.

Stop. Breathe. Pour yourself a cool beverage and relax. Fix your brain by remembering the following:

a. You have permission to speak. Everyone their cares about what you have to say, and they were all in your position once, or soon will be. What you say may not change their lives, but for those 4-6 minutes, they care.

b. You have permission to stutter, stammer, and cry. The more you fear it, the more likely it is to happen. By accepting this possibility, you allow yourself to instead focus on what you're going to say.

c. You can just spare a buck. Bring a one dollar bill, and prepare to majestically pay the bank at the end of the ah master report. Or give it to him before the meeting as a bribe to forget to count. Either way, take the pressure OFF!

2. Don't Memorize Your own Life.

Even if you love to write and memorize and feel this is the only way, for this speech, don't let yourself do it! The speech is all about YOU! When you meet people, do you open a notebook and read your bio to them?

Instead, sit down with a piece of notebook paper and write down two, or at most, three things you want them to know about you. What you do for a living. Your favorite sports team. How many kids you have. What marriage you're on. How double jeopardy laws have allowed you to be at the meeting tonight. Whatever you want them to say - it your call.

Then find a why story. Why do you have six kids, or why do you enjoy them? Did you adopt, merge families, or could you simply not afford cable? Why do you love/hate your job? Did you always dream of opening a hotdog stand, or was it left to your by your brother who just left the country with his fiance? Why do you love your sports team? Did Don Drysdale come to your house and sign a baseball for you? (Uh oh, now I'm channeling old Brady Bunch episodes....)

Open with a simple summary - I'm Bob Jones - I work with mystery meat, and the Dodgers rock, and I love being a dad. Boom - move into your dad story, then the Dodger story, then the mystery meat story. Missed a detail, said something wrong? Who cares? WE DON'T KNOW ANY BETTER! Just keep speaking! No notes means you can say whatever you choose, and still be right.

Close by hitting each story again quickly, just a word here or there: "Those are the basics of Bob - I make and market mystery meat, long for the days of Dodger domination, and since I don't have cable, I've joined Toastmasters - cause 6 kids is enough! Boom, sit down.

I know, easy for me to say - but you can do this. Give yourself a set amount of time with pen and paper, and see what you come up with. Blocked? Ask your spouse, close friend, or your facebook peeps what THEY if they have ideas. Take your notes with you, but leave them at your seat, buried so you won't be tempted to grab them mid-speech.

3. Enjoy the moment.

After taking your position in front of the group, breathe. Smile. Make eye contact. Then go for it. You know who you are. You know your stories. And you know you're not going to be perfect - maybe not even very good.

Remember - that's why you're there. You don't become a good driver until you've been a new, scared, stop and start driver. This is your classroom, your support group, your laboratory, your garage workshop, your studio, whatever image you choose to identify with a place to create, learn, destroy, and recreate, Toastmasters is it.

Many of you are far beyond your Icebreaker speech. The concepts apply anyway, far beyond the confines of Toastmasters:

Fix your brain. Don't memorize (even if your speech isn't all about you). Enjoy the moment. Find a place to practice, to create, to evaluate, to create again.

Know someone about to give their first speech? Don't let the Icebreaker break them. Send 'em here, or email them this article - and show them they can "Be the Icebreaker" instead!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Originality is Overrated

photography by Bruce F. Webster

Many a speaker has been stunted, stalled, or simply shut-down over the desire to be original, myself included.

Today is the day to GET OVER IT. There are no original ideas left. There's nothing new under the sun, to un-originally paraphrase the book of Ecclesiastes in the Holy Bible.

You want to talk about Change? Been done. Leadership? There are speakers all over this one. Self-empowerment? Choice? PowerPoint? Speaking? Social Media? Weight Loss? Healthcare? The horrors of children's television? Done, done, done, done, done, done, done, and double done!

What's really sad, is that this is one of the oldest, most unoriginal lessons in the book, and yet many speakers never learn it well enough to explode through it. Instead we stare at our walls of books by other speakers who have made millions talking about OUR topics. If only WE had been Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Jeanne Robertson, Patricia Fripp, or Les Brown before THEY were!

Guess what? Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale, Jim Rohn, and Norman Vincent Peale WERE those people before they were! Antiphon, Demosthenes, Aristotle...great orators have been around since the beginning of time, and they have all spoken on Change, Leadership, Self-Empowerment, etc. They may not have talked specifically about PowerPoint, but you can be sure they covered the pertinent points of presentations in their generation.

Even as you become a learned expert in your field, you become keenly aware of those that have preceded you. The more you delve into your topic, the more competition you find. When you find yourself discouraged or disheartened, feeling like a tiny voice shouting out of a crowded marketplace of speakers, trainers and consultants, remember the following:

1. The Next Generation.
Everything there is to learn has to be learned for the first time. If you teach just one individual an age-old concept for the first time, you are worthy of your speaking slot.

2. Repetition.
Almost everything there is to learn needs to be learned more than once (exceptions usually involve sky-diving and bungee jumping).

3. Repetition.
Just because they've heard it, read it, or done it before, doesn't mean they remember it, are doing it correctly, or even understood it.

4. The Power of You.
As a new speaker, your audience hasn't heard this idea from you. They haven't learned it the way YOU learned it. Originality is overrated, but your personal uniqueness is not.

If you're a celebrity or seasoned speaker, your audience often wants to hear what you've always said - just as we go back to hear Journey, Bon Jovi, and even the Beach Boys time and time again, for their older songs even more than anything new they bring to the stage.

5. Cloning is illegal.
Your competition can't be everywhere. Even in an ever-burgeoning market of speakers, their are more venues, more avenues of communication, more people to be reached than ever before.

Originality is overrated. Your unique perspective and passion, however, are not. Your success will not be determined as much by the originality of what you Speak about, but by your ability to Deliver the message effectively.

Don't be discouraged, or worse, envious of those who have come before you. They have beaten down the path - and now that path is yours to charge through.

Today is the day to tell yourself, and announce to the world that YES, there's nothing new under the sun....except YOU.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Toastmaster Friday: 9 Ways to Pump Up Your Evaluations

Evaluation is the core of the amazing fruit that the Toastmasters tree can produce. When the fruit is soft, you will often find a history of rotten evaluations at the core.

Perhaps that's harsh, but I believe its accurate. I went my first year in Toastmasters winning Best Speaker, Evaluation, and Table Topic ribbons left and right before anybody finally had the guts to say "Rich, you're a great speaker, but are you ever going to SAY anything?" Thank goodness for Billie Jones, my first real speaking mentor, for getting into my face. She convinced me I could go to the World Championship, all the way back in 2001. I was a slow learner, but eventually made it to the 'Big Stage'.

Since Toastmasters is made up of people from all walks of life, all at different stages of their speaking and self-confidence, it can be tough to get, or give, a strong evaluation. Toastmasters teaches a 'What's good, what could be improved, what's good again' approach, or a 'Follow the manual objectives one by one approach'. Both offer benefits, but unless the club follows up on evaluation technique, members can fall into several rotten ruts, including:

A. The Whitewash - the evaluator either can't think of anything critical to explore, or doesn't feel good enough about their own skills to say anything, so the Oreo comes without the creme filling (as my mentor used to say: The criticism is the creamy center - the good stuff).

B. The Recap - mentioning everything the speaker mentioned, seemingly to remind us what that speaker said, in case we weren't listening.

C. The Checklist - "The manual said you should do this, and you did/did not, then the manual said do this, then...."

D. The Review - agreeing or disagreeing with what the speaker had to say - which is not the same as evaluating HOW they said it!

E. The HiJack - the evaluator tells their own story that relates to what the speaker talked about, essentially giving their OWN speech, instead of evaluating the speaker's speech.

F. The E-Bomb - this is the dark side, when the evaluator gets up and aggressively reams the speaker. The evaluator, thinking they are offering oodles of 'constructive criticism', forgets that the evaluation is not about showing off how many things they can find wrong with a speech, but a mixture of praise and suggestion. This self-centered approach is the worm in the apple. As bad as A through E are, the E-Bomb is the mother of all that can be wrong with evaluations, and evaluators.

Evaluations aren't the easiest part of Toastmasters to give, or to listen to, but they are designed to build muscles for all involved parties. To pump up your evaluations, remember the following:

1. It's not about you, it's about them. Try asking them before the meeting what THEY would like to be evaluated on. Get a feel for their experience level and emotional strength. What dosage level should you set your evaluation at? Put yourself in a state of mind that is centered on them, not you.

2. You have permission to be constructively critical. No matter your experience level, you have an opinion. Unless this is the first time you've heard someone utter something aloud, you are an experienced listener. It doesn't matter if anyone agrees with you - you have a right to your opinion. This is your time to share it, as long as it's aimed to benefit the speaker.

3. Remember to tell them WHY. Don't just tell them to work on Vocal Variety - tell them WHY it will help. Will it build excitement? Suspense? Tension? Emotion? Same with all aspects your evaluation. WHY it worked and WHY, for you, it didn't.

4. Take responsibility for your evaluation - these are your ideas, and nobody in the room may agree with you. Use precursor phrases such as "I saw", "I think", "I wonder", "I felt", and "I believe", vs. "You should", "You need to" or "We could all see".

5. Show what you mean. If you want them to use gestures, use the gesture in the evaluation. Model vocal variety by repeating what they said using your idea of vocal variety. Don't command them to accept your ideas, but say "What would happen if you" or "I'd love to see you try", etc.

6. Reinforce the positive. "I loved it when you did" and "The way you (say what they did) really worked for me". Even the poorest speeches have positive spots to reinforce. Whether it's word usage, grammar, use of logic, or the courage to get up and speak at all.

7. Offer strong written notes. Don't just leave them with 2 1/2 minutes of verbal evaluation. Write your thoughts down in their manual or on a sheet of paper. You can offer more than what you said, and give in-depth explanations, if need be.

8. Address improvement. If you asked them what they wanted to be evaluated on back in #1, be sure to talk about it. If you've seen them speak before, and notice growth, mention it. Recognition of growth leads to more growth.

9. Summarize and Encourage. The red light goes on, it's time to wrap up. Mention your main points again: aspects of improvement first, positive observations second. Then offer encouragement: "You have improved...", "You'll have a chance in your next speech to...", or, if you have to, just go with the old stand-by "I can't wait to hear your next speech!"

As an evaluator, you are serving a crucial role in both the meeting, and the growth of the Toastmaster you are evaluating. It can be a balancing act between self-esteem and ego for you, and for them. Above all else, endeavor to 'Do No Harm' as you evaluate - you don't want to hurt the speaker, or cause collateral damage by either scaring off guests with an overly harsh evaluation, or making them doubt the value of Toastmasters with a cream-puff whitewash.

Solid evaluations create solid cores, and sweeter fruit, and stronger speakers. Be mindful of your yield and remember, for 2-3 minutes, your mission is to help your fellow Toastmaster to Speak...and Deliver!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Do You Let People Like You?

Carrie Prejean was on Larry King last night. If you don't know who she is, below is a brief bio from Wikipedia:

Caroline Michelle "Carrie" Prejean (born May 13, 1987)is an American model and former beauty queen from Vista, California. She held the title of Miss California USA 2009, and placed first runner up in the Miss USA 2009 pageant. She gained nationwide attention over her answer to a question about same-sex marriage (note - the answer was that she felt marriage should be reserved to be between a man and a woman). She was eventually dethroned on June 10, 2009, with the producers of the Miss California USA pageant citing continued alleged breach of contract issues as the reason. Prejean called those claims false, and filed a libel suit alleging that she has been discriminated against due to her religious views. However, the legal battle between her the pageant officials was settled out of court on November 3, 2009 following the revelation of a "sex tape" involving Prejean.

She just released a book called Still Standing which details her life, and what she feels is the persecution she's taken for her stance on marriage.

Now, before things get out of control, this post is not about her stance on marriage, the video she made for her boyfriend, or her opinion of "The Donald".

This post is about how people present themselves. When we speak, we have a lot going for us from the get go:

1. An introduction, even if it's just "And now Barbara will tell us how sales are going"
2. Borrowed credibility from whoever gave us the right to speak in the first place
3. Anticipation - the audience is wondering what we'll say

If we're fortunate, we also have promotion of the event, a positive environment, and a charged audience.

Carrie Prejean had all of those things, and more, going in to her interview on Larry King last night. She was ready to Speak, but she doesn't have a handle yet on how to Deliver.

She gave us harsh facial expressions, an aggressive body position, a condescending tone, and no understanding of Question Deflection (a concept I will write about in the future).

Even if you AGREED with her stance on life, she makes it hard to support her. If you're a conservative, is this type of presentation what you want representing your 'brand'?

As speakers, we must be aware of how we come across to our audiences. We can waste every last piece of goodwill given to us with an inappropriate joke or story, an aggressive and condescending tone, or a defensive physical and verbal posture. We can present these conditions without even knowing it, simply by being uncomfortable with our situation - and being uncomfortable can include being angry at the world, as Ms. Prejean seems to be.

Presenting your authentic self is worthy of respect, but if you're authentically unlikable, don't expect us to give you any credibility whatsoever. Even "The Donald" understands that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are You Ready To Speak? 7 Tips for Last Minute Speaking.

shocked Pictures, Images and Photos
image by TracyYoungTV

You've been put on the spot. Maybe you've been called to give a report or summary at the meeting in 30 minutes, or you've been asked to give a religious testimony, or the discussion unexpectedly turns to your expertise in widget marketing, and you've been asked to contribute your great knowledge to the group.

What do you do? Are you ready to speak? Are you even WILLING to speak? Many times our first inclination is to say "I can't, I won't, or I need more time." Our speaking muscles are weak when it matters, despite the strong, logical, and enthusiastic arguments we can muster about the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive line or the lousy customer service from the cable company.

Obviously we can't always be ready to talk instantly about anything - even if its a topic we're very familiar with. Where we can improve, however, is how quickly we GET ready to speak.

1. Say yes. The more you say yes, the stronger your speaking muscles get, and the more time you'll save in the future. A racing car pit crew doesn't get faster by sitting around doing nothing - speak, speak, speak.

2. Breathe. Monitor your breaths in the minutes leading up to your speech, and make sure you are in a calm physical state when you begin. If you have to pop up and speak immediately, breathe, summarize the question request if you need time to get into a groove, and then begin.

3. Instead of thinking about what you know, think about what the audience wants to hear. This will help you edit what you're going to say from the beginning, and save you countless seconds sifting through everything you've got to say.

4. Pause. Don't be afraid to stop speaking at the end of a sentence or point.

5. Write a three step outline. Start with the overall point you want them to get. Above, put a question, statistic, or thesis statement to open with. Below, write the last line you want to say, perhaps mirroring your opening. Armed with these three flashpoints, you will sound more prepared than most, and you'll stay on topic.

6. Don't disqualify yourself. Make no statements that refer to 'the last minute', 'wasn't expecting to speak', 'not ready'. This gives your audience permission to ignore you, not sympathize with you.

7. Just do it. As my friend and coach Tom Cantrell says: Stand Up, Speak Out, and Sit Down!

While its not Toastmasters Friday today, it only makes sense to recommend you join a club if you haven't already. The Table Topics training alone is worth the small bi-annual cost.

Don't sell yourself short by saying "I can't, I won't, or I need more time." Exercise those muscles, and allow yourself to Speak...and Deliver!

Monday, November 9, 2009

How to Read with Style

There are times when reading during your speech is appropriate and necessary:

A. Letters, memos, and reports that must be heard in there entirety
B. Quotes, short and long
C. Poetry, lyrics, short excerpts from books
D. Manuals
E. Religious readings

Reading the written word effectively can be a daunting task. We've spent our lives listening to others read out loud in school, church, and the workplace, and it is often so excruciatingly bad, we fear our own reading will be heard with the same critical ears.

On top of that, we may have a smaller vocabulary than the writer of the material, eyesight issues, or even dyslexia (15-20% of us suffer from dyslexia in one form or another), making reading a challenge before we even get to the spoken word.

The most important part of reading while speaking is to read the material ahead of time. When you do, check off everything from the list below:

1. Can you read it? You may want to retype the document, or photocopy it at a higher magnificiation.

2. Do you know all the 'big' or 'technical' words? Look them up for both meaning and pronunciation so they don't surprise you at their appearance. Looking to improve your vocabulary? Try for a new word everyday.

3. Read it out loud to yourself. How does it sound? Bonus points if you record yourself (digital recorders are very inexpensive nowadays) and actually listen to it.

4. Look for points of emphasis. What is most important? Make sure your voice reflects the emphasis the writer intends.

5. Check for dialogue. Take a different tone when reading dialogue - it will liven up the material, and give you an opportunity to add character to the speech.

6. Create pauses. Don't barrel through the reading - your audience needs to process, and you need to breathe. Picking your moments of emphasis to pause, look up, and make a human connection is an excellent way to ensure you, and your material, are being understood.

7. Edit. This goes against the 'word for word' theory - but if you can drop verbiage that sounds better read than spoken, go for it. As long as you are enhancing understanding, you are on the right track. (Caveat: if you are doing reading from a religious text, you will likely want to stay in 'word for word' mode.)

Even if you are given something to read at the last minute - or handed it a memo in the middle of speaking - be willing to take a moment to run through what you're about to read.

Whether you are reading from Shakespeare, the HR handbook, or the Sunday funnies, it is your responsibility as the speaker to ensure the message gets across, either as the original writer intended, or in the manner you wish it to be taken.

Be prepared to Read, Speak, and Deliver!


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