Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Disabled Speakers: Are We Living Up to Our Responsibilities?

Below is an article I wrote in 2005. The message still rings pretty true today, I think. I have been disabled by whole life, but I was still a year away from amputation, blissfully unaware what my future would bring. I hear a bit more cynicism in this post that I use today, but have left it unedited. When was the last time you looked at something from years ago? How have you changed over time, in your thoughts, and your expression of them? It can be an interesting, and educational, exercise.

It's every audience's nightmare. The scheduled speaker is disabled - perhaps by birth, or accident, or violence. Will they wow us with their abilities and inspiring stories, or will they bring out the violin and expect us to be sympathetic even when they bore us to death? 

For the record, I am a disabled speaker. Ironically, being disabled can help open doors in the speaking industry. People enjoy stories of triumph under dire circumstances and impossible odds. The general public wants to be reminded of how good their own life is, and to be thankful they have their vision, hearing, mobility, etc. Facts are facts - and it is simply Karmic justice that our disadvantages work for us in this way.

Are we living up to our responsibilities? Are professional? Do we let our disability trump our message? Do we work at our craft? Do we let ourselves become a one-trick pony? We all know speakers, disabled or not, that fall into these categories. But as a group, I believe we have a responsibility not just to our selves and our audiences, but to EACH OTHER. We must not create and perpetuate our own stereotype. 

5 Ways to Be a Great Disabled Speaker:

1. Learn to speak wellWe have no more right to sound inept than anybody else. If anything, speaking poorly will cause people to wonder just how far our handicap goes. If you have the time, join Toastmasters. If you need to be great NOW, hire a coach.

2. Have a well-rounded messageDiscuss your disability within the context of something greater than yourself. Example: Can't walk? Develop a "Creative Solutions to Everyday Challenges" keynote which allows you to use your experience as an illustration, instead of a centerpiece.

3. Give the audience more than expected. If you've filled the room based on the tragic circumstances of your situation, give the audience a message they can take further than the dinner table that night. What did you know before that helped you cope, or what lessons have you learned since?

4. Don't play the anger card. Unless you are heading up a political rally, people don't want to hear about our anger, unless you can tell them how you've dealt with it.

5. Don't play the sympathy card. It's so easy to do, without even trying. We don't want their sympathy anyway, do we? We want respect, for ourselves, and our messages.Speech Killer Alert!If you have a disability that's obvious to the audience, don't ignore it. You may be speaking on a completely different topic, and thinking there's no reason to bring it up. But if the audience can see it, it's already brought up. If they're spending their energy wondering what's "wrong" with you, then you and your message is being ignored. 

Try one of these two approaches for a quick fix: 

1. Bring it up creatively in your introduction before you ever get up to speak 
2. Toss in a deft self-deprecating remark in your opening. The audience will relax, and listen to you instead of your handicap.

Unprofessional Disabled Speakers are everywhere. Unprofessional Fully-Abled Speakers are everywhere as well - but they don't face categorization. I have yet to here anyone complain about bad redhead speakers. We have a responsibility to ourselves, and to each other, to be the best speakers in the industry. To speak from our hearts, not our hardships. To bring to our audience what we bring to our lives everyday - the transcendence from disability to distinction.

Below is a short video from W. Mitchell - who truly transcends.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Speaking of Religion

Over the past few days, the worldwide Christian community celebrated Easter, and were vocal about it. Happens every Christmas, as well, though I find Easter tends to be more 'religious', as a general rule. While I rarely post religious posts, I went out on a short limb Friday on Facebook, posting a link to "Six Hours One Friday", Max Lucado's book on the Crucifixion, and then a "He's Alive" posting on both Twitter and FB on Sunday.

Regardless of which religion you are in, which god you follow, which holy book you read, which doctrine you follow - evangelism is often a piece of your spiritual puzzle. After all, if you're right, you should want to let your family and friends in on the deal. What about your clients? The readers of your blog? And speakers, what about the members of your audience?

What place does your faith have in your speaking? Some of the great motivational speakers of the last hundred years commonly referenced the Bible and Christian principles, from Brian Tracy to Jim Rohn to Zig Ziglar. Ziglar actually has a few tape series on living a Christian life, and has been known to offer an 'extra' session following his sales talks, where he preaches the gospel.

Nowadays, with political correctness and tolerance being preached, and diversity awareness at full throttle, those speakers may be 'grandfathered' in, but what about new speakers? Can we still get away with mentioning biblical stories to prove a point? Should we balance our Christian references with Buddhist, Islamic, Judaic, and Sikh references (among others)? Or should we take the religion completely out of our vocabulary, sticking to solely secular stories of success?

This conundrum has been bugging me for years. As a virtually life-long, non-denominational, evangelical Christian, living the life (which is often difficult enough for the average soul) also means preaching the Word - letting others know what I believe and why. I've considered being a preacher in the past - but there's a lot more to preaching than speaking, and I've never felt my personality would lend itself to the entirety of the job. As a speaker, all of the principle I speak about have some basis in the Bible - but I never actually link them to religious origins. Success factors in general can often be traced to virtually any religious text or prophet, with people ready to argue as to who said it first and best, and in what context.

Does NOT bringing up religion constitute denying it? If we're deliberately taking religion out of our speaking so as not to offend, are we still being true to our beliefs? If we use religion and offend some in our audiences, thus reducing our hireability in the future, is that 'persecution'? How much is too much? Where is the line?

Lots of questions - and I'd love to hear your answers. I've got some ideas about this, but I'd really like to get YOUR feedback, and come back with another post this week. How do YOU handle religious references in your speaking? Please post your comments below - or email me at rich@richhopkins,.net with your thoughts. Privacy will be respected if requested.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: There Are No Minor Roles

Feeling Small?

I hate the term "Minor Roles" in Toastmaster meetings. Oh, its just Ah-Counter, who wants it? Followed, invariably by the Ah-Counter's report that consists of "Oh, I was so enthralled by the speeches, I didn't hear anything at all! Ha Ha Ha!"

Roles such as Ah-Counter, Humorist, Grammarian, Listener, Vote-Counter, Wordmaster and Timer are only "Minor" if we as Toastmasters view them that way, and then treat them that way.

While the amount of speaking time given to each person will vary from club to club, all should get a chance to at least give a report during the General Evaluation of the meeting. Many meetings also give them time to introduce their role for guests, or for just the sake of doing it, during the meeting opening.

That gives us TWO solid reasons to never call these minor roles again:

A. Your Role Matters. As Grammarian, Ah-Counter, and Timer, you are evaluating, in a very specific way, each speaker. You fill in the holes the Evaluator doesn't have time to cover, as well as evaluate the Evaluators and every other role in the meeting! You let them know if they are using the English language well, interrupting themselves, using run-on sentences, and staying in time.

As Listener, you are encouraging folks to pay attention to details of the speaking content throughout the meeting. As Humorist, you get a chance to focus the audience and get them in a good mood. The Wordmaster offers up an opportunity educate the group and hold them accountable for actually learning through doing by tallying up who uses the word, both properly and improperly. As Vote-Counter, you hold the public trust, and play a vital role in encouraging fellow TMs by making sure they get their awards at the end of the meeting.

B. Speaking Time. Each role should get an opportunity to speak. If your club doesn't allow for that, I'd strongly suggest you find a way to change that, if possible. Taking the opportunity to introduce your role gives you a chance to exercise your skills - humor, vocabulary, conciseness, making a  point. During the general evaluation part of the agenda, I've heard Grammarian reports that are funnier than the humorous speech given during the meeting. Ah-counters can give wonderful and helpful reports when they take their role seriously. Vote counters often get short-shrift - why not let THEM give the awards, if your club doesn't already?

When we communicate that the "Major" roles are just the Toastmaster, Speakers, General Evaluators or Table Topics Master, we discourage everyone else in them meeting - some in a big way, some merely subconsciously. How much more likely are you to let something get in the way of your attendance if you are "ONLY" an Ah-Counter, as opposed to a Speaker?

Be a SuperStar!
If your club routinely considers these "Minor" roles, how much effort do you think the average person will put into them? When meetings end up with short, incomplete reports, the club is losing out on valuable feedback.

These roles exist for a reason - to add to the overall education of the group on every possible aspect of speaking and leadership in a 60-90 minute period. Treat every role as if were a starring role - and both you and your club will be the better for it - in feedback, speaking growth, and even attendance. Just as in corporate culture, when everyone feels important, the company runs better - and so will your meetings.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How Do You See Yourself When You Speak?

artwork by Fernando Botero

Self-image is such a hot topic in our world - and it has been since Adam & Eve realized they were naked!

Our planet is populated by people of every size and shape, an infinite combination of facial measurements and features, and voices that range from mousy to screechy to booming. Despite this long lineage of diversity, many of us spend a great deal of time and money trying to change or hide who we are. Too often, the way we perceive our appearance also affects how we perceive our value, and the value of what we have to say to the world.

I've struggled with this over the last few years. I've always limped due to a birth defect that caused my left leg not to grow at the same rate as my left. In 2006, my left foot stopped working altogether, and I went for an upgrade, amputating below my left knee. I still limped, despite hopes that having two legs the same size would fix my gait. Something about a lifetime of my body being trained to walk a certain way, combined with the remaining defects in my upper leg, has doomed me to a life of lurching about. While this is inconvenient, and frustrating for me to watch on film, to me its not the worst part....

It's my Ben & Jerry's belly!

That's what I call it in a few of my speeches, anyway, to get a bit of a laugh. While I'm not MASSIVELY overweight (232 lbs, 5' 9" - wouldn't get me on the Biggest Loser), and in fact have dropped 20 lbs from my heaviest (and gained 20 lbs from my lightest last summer...), I am still FAT. And boy, does it bug me - particularly as a speaker.

I worry about how I look, about falling on stage, about whether the audience is even going to take me seriously when I clearly have so many physical issues. Yes, even after all this time, and all the audiences I've spoken in front of, I worry.

There are things I can do to help - lose more weight, for one. I've been aiming for 199 for the last few years, and never quite get there. Physical therapy for my legs, which won't fix things, but will improve them.

Today's world is full of solutions for how we look - plastic surgery, endless types of exercise programs, infinite diet fads, fancy and not-so- fancy make-up, oils, organic body washes...and that's on top of the old stand-bys: a new haircut and dark clothing with vertical stripes.

But does how we look affect the value of what we have to say? Unless you're preaching the value of fitness, do you need to look like Bob Harper or Jillian Michaels? Yes, we must reflect the values of our speaking, but if your speech is about improving your finances or changing technology, do you really think a few extra pounds (or 100 extra pounds) is going to cost you credibility?

Only if you let it.

The audience may key in on your appearance before you speak your first word, but once you speak, you can control the room. Your confidence in yourself will translate into audience confidence. If you're worried about how you look and how you walk, they will feel it, and they will feel uncomfortable with you.

I'm not going to lie and say image isn't important. As a professional, you certainly want to dress the part, put your best foot, real or not, forward, and make sure your zippers up and you aren't trailing toilet paper from your shoe.

What is more important, however, is self-image - because how you view yourself will directly affect how others view you. If you believe you have value, believe what you have to say has value, your audience will sense it, and be ready to receive value. Regardless of your clothing, your weight, your affectations, your rating on the scale of physical beauty, you will make a difference for your audience.

With a poor self-image, it won't matter if you're Adonis in a three-piece suit. They'll see right through you.

I still want to lose weight. I still want to walk better. You may have aspects about you you want to fix. I won't tell you not to fix them. But know this - no matter what you fix on the outside, you have to fix what's on the inside to Speak & Deliver.

Take a moment and watch this video from speaker
Nick Vujacic - remember, not only are you beautiful,
you have something to say that people need to hear!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is Your Speaking Art or Appliance?

Artwork by Karen Sloan

When we first learn Public Speaking, it can be a lot like art class.

We don't worry so much about what we're painting as much as how we're painting it. We'll paint whatever is around - flowers, a fruit bowl, shoes, or, yes, even a Toaster!

We spend a lot of time deciding which canvas to use, what kind of paint (oil, acrylic, watercolor - oh my!), the color scheme, the perspective and composition, as well as which tools to paint with. We work and work and work, correct our mistakes, then turn it in and hope for the best. We get some feedback and a grade, then start all over again, as we strive to perfect our style and learn new techniques.

This is great for the classroom, but unless you are planning on being an Artist who survives on people loving your Art enough to buy 10,000 prints for their new hotel, those skills eventually need to be put towards a product or service that has a purpose.

In Public Speaking, teachers, organizations, and coaches will often teach the basics - vocal variety, gestures, eye-contact, pauses, pace - all the tools and techniques we need to sound good in front of an audience. The subject doesn't matter as much, its more important to just get up and talk than worry about subject. Talk about your childhood, your job, even your toaster - just talk!

As with Art however, unless you plan on only speaking on a street corner for donations, you must take your Speaking beyond an exercise of expression. It must serve a purpose, provide a solution, or create a result.

Learning speaking techniques is a start, but its even more important that you have an idea of what you want to say, you you want to say it to, and why they want to hear it. If you don't spend as much time, or more, on your message as you do on your presentation skills, your speaking will never be the strong, results-producing, profitable skill you likely need it to be.

Not sure what your message is, how to craft it, and where to find the right people to hear it? Find a coach who does more than just teach you to Speak - find one that will teach you Speak and Deliver!

Message + Skills = Speak and Deliver.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's Stopping You?

Part of the 'Fear of Public Speaking' isn't really fear at all, but a feeling that we aren't special, can't think of anything special, and don't have anything worth sharing.

I found this video this morning, thanks to Twitter, and fellow coach Nancy Duarte. In its simplicity, it says it all:

(Derek Sivers can be found at @sivers on Twitter and Sivers.org)

Quit arguing, and start Speaking.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Melting Speaker's Brain Freeze: The Show Must Go On...

I was at a Toastmasters contest a week or so ago, and watched some great speakers go up and give their best. This includes the final speaker, who, after speaking for about two minutes, stopped. He had been sailing along through his story, and abruptly broke out of his speaking mode, standing up straight and proclaiming "Wow - I've practiced this speech so many times, and now it's just gone. I'm going to have to concede."

He was met with sympathy and support - as he should have been in that setting. Toastmasters is the perfect place to 'bomb' without losing much in the way of reputation, clientele, or self-esteem, even in a contest setting. In the real world, I wonder what he would have done differently. If he had been at a storytelling convention? In front of an audience of high school students? A Fortune 500 company? How would YOU have handled it?

No matter how seasoned a speaker you are, there is an ever-present risk of losing your place in a presentation, forgetting the well-crafted words you spent hours writing, or simply having a complete brain-freeze. It's happened to me, it's probably happened to you. If it hasn't yet, just wait - it eventually will, and there's never a great time for it to happen.

5 Ways to Ensure The Show Will Go On...

1. Trust Yourself - when you are in that moment, where the next word is simply gone, say something else. It's your speech, filled with your stories, and your ideas. Nobody really knows what you were going to say anyway, and even if they've heard it before, people re-write all the time. Trust your ability to tell the story with words available to you at the time, even if the words on the page have run far, far away.

2. Push Through Practice - most people stop and start when they practice. We want to 'practice perfect', so we stop the minute we miss a word, refer to our notes, and start again. Unfortunately, this also trains us to stop when we're on stage. That's when the mental warfare starts. We're stuck mid-sentence, and aren't sure what to do, because it's NOT practice, and we don't want run to our notes, but we don't know what else to do, because we've only practiced what's on the page.

Practice going through the speech without stopping - ad-lib your way through any missteps. You never know, you might even find a better way to say something that carries with it the extra benefit of being more natural, because you came up with it on the fly. Pushing yourself through your practices will give you more confidence on stage, because you'll have already put yourself successfully through the mental warfare games.

3. Pause and Walk - this works well if you've just ended a sentence, or are between points. The Pause and Walk gives the audience time to think about what you've said, and builds anticipation for your upcoming words. It also gives you time to walk back to your notes - preferably an outline - and get yourself back on track. If you're mid-sentence or mid-story, the Pause and Walk is NOT your best option.

4. Ask a Question - Ask a rhetorical question, based on the point you've just made, or the behavior you've just been talking about. It buys you some time to mentally find your place, or Pause and Walk! Your audience will just accept the question as part of your presentation, and it will give them something to consider while you reset yourself. Where in your speech can you toss in an 'Emergency Question' if you have to?

5. Acknowledge and Reboot - sometimes there's simply no amount of bluffing that can save you. You're in the middle of a dramatic story and *POOF* it all goes away, just like what happened to my Toastmasters peer. In the end, he did the right thing by acknowledging his problem - but he could have taken it one step further - and when we're in front of a 'real-world' audience, we MUST take it that one step further. Acknowledge the error, make a self-deprecating remark (preferably one you've formed while Pushing Through Practice), and get to your notes. Then just pick up where you left off. If what you have to say has enough impact, they'll look past your gaffe. If it doesn't, you got an entirely different set of problems.

At the end of the day, my fellow Toastmaster gets a pass. He was in a contest and knew he would have little or no chance of winning regardless of these five techniques. At the same time, had he pushed through and finished, regardless of the trophy he was after, both he and the audience would have come out winners in the long run. Regardless of who your next audience is, decide ahead of time that no matter what, The Show Must Go On.

Have some additional ideas and techniques? Please, share them with the rest of us by commenting below!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Get Comfortable With Your Audience - But Not TOO Comfortable

One of the oldest pieces of Public Speaking advice is "picture the audience in their underwear". Its also one of the worst! No matter who's in the audience, you are likely to either completely distract or disgust yourself by following this odd maxim that perhaps only the editors of Maxim still publicly endorse.

I was going to put a Maxim cover here - but, unsurprisingly, couldn't find an appropriate image...

The concept behind the statement, though, is sound - see your audience as human beings - equals - and not as a judgmental mob waiting to attack you at your first misstep.

Instead of turning your audience into a horrifying mashup of Whitey-Tighties and Granny Pants, consider these strategies instead:

1. Pre-Event Interviews - This is an excellent way to get to know your audience and make sure you are addressing their needs. Ask the person who booked you if you can make contact with a variety of individuals in the organization, from top-level executives to front-line customer-service reps to middle-management. Along with gathering a tremendous amount of valuable information for your presentation, you'll build a comfort-level with your audience members, and create a few friendly faces before you ever arrive.

2. Read Their Press - Both good and bad. See what they look like both on and off their pedestal. This research may or may not make its way into your presentation, depending on the goal of your message, but it can help you build a more realistic vision of the company you are about to serve.

3. Check Their Competition - Who else does what they do? The more you understand what conflicts they face in the marketplace, the more you will understand and identify with them.

4. Attend the Entire Event - If you are just one piece of a larger conference, be their for the whole event. You'll learn a ton about the company, the culture, and the emotional temperature of your upcoming audience. You'll also get a chance to introduce yourself to those around you, creating more friendly faces for you to connect with from the stage. If you're lucky, you'll also know to scratch that story the speaker used two hours before your presentation!

5. Show Up Early - Even if you are the only speaker, you can show up ahead of time and mix with the crowd coming in. Shake some hands, share some smiles, and maybe even ask a question or two that can fit into your presentation: "One of the questions I heard coming in was...."

6. Get Them Laughing Early - Not only does humor put your audience in a better state to hear you speak, their laughter can immediately set YOU at ease, knowing that you are connecting and they are accepting you.

In the end, your audience is simply made of regular people. They are not going to throw the baby tomatoes from their salad at you, come after you with pitchforks, or instantly vaporize you from the stage if you aren't making them happy. The more you get to know them before you speak in the first place, the greater the likelihood you'll make them happy anyway - so get comfortable with your audience. But not TOO comfortable...

What tips have you found useful as you speak to put you at ease with the audience? Please add to the conversation!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Keep Your Contest Speech Alive

It's sad really. Each year 30,000 some odd contest speeches disappear into the dark recesses of hard drives all over the world, never to be heard again. Some never made it past the club level, others died their final death one step short of being immortalized by Bill Stephens at the Semi-Finals and World Championships now available annually on DVD. Even among those fortunate few, other than their digital second life, most are never performed live again.

All that time, effort, and passion gets pushed to the side, usually ingloriously labeled with the phrase "losing speech". What a waste. No matter how your contest turned out, your speech can still help audiences - there are still people who need to hear what you have to say. Before you just discard your speech in despondent disgust, consider resuscitating it - it may still live a long and productive life.

6 Ways to Keep Your Contest Speech Alive

1. Rewrite It and Give It Again - take feedback from those who've seen it, make it better, and take it to other clubs for more feedback. Who knows, you may need a great speech next year when you make it all the way to the finals.

2. Salvage It - did some parts work better than others? Take the best and leave the rest, saving stories and humor lines for future speeches.

3. Expand It - five to seven minute speeches have little use in the real world, but your contest speech can grow to a 20 minute speech easily by adding more depth to the stories you used, and combining with additional illustrations to make your point. Offer to give the newly pumped up version at local service clubs - you'll probably be the best speaker they've heard all year.

4. Publish It - polish it up into a blog post or a chapter in that book you've been waiting to write. Offer it as a free download for people who sign up on your website. I've even known people who put a bunch of contest speeches together in a book as a teaching guide to future contestants!

5. MP3 It - record your speech and compile it with other speeches and commentary, and create a downloadable MP3.. Turn it into a CD and use it as a business card when meeting people who are interested in hiring you. Oh - and you can always sell it, too!

6. YouTube It - take the contest recording, or give it again and film it, then post it on You Tube. The real world won't know it 'lost' a contest - they'll just hear your message. A great way to let people see your skills and spread your message across the web.

When you wrote your contest speech, you had a message you wanted to share - letting it disappear into a black hole is unfair to your efforts, your message, and your future audiences. I still recall many 'losing speeches' - and keep in mind not everybody felt you lost. To some, you're tossing out a WINNING speech.

After the contest, your speech still breathes regardless of whether or not you left with a trophy. Only you can truly kill it. Before hitting that empty trash button, consider keeping it alive instead - the world will likely be a better place with your message in it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Finding Feedback

Finding Forrester is one of my favorite films, despite the fact it isn't necessarily a great movie.

Jamal Wallace is an inner city kid with great basketball skills and a great mind to go with them, as well as a penchant for writing. He's spent his formative years polishing his basketball skills, while mostly dabbling as a writer, just enough to impress his teachers. His notebook ends up in the hands of William Forrester, a reclusive author famous for a single book written in the 50's. He eventually gets it back, marked up with writer's unsolicited, no-holds barred feedback. As you might expect, eventually the two become friends, and Jamal ends up working under the tutelage of his famous friend, transforming into a polished and professional quality writer himself along the way. (There's a lot more to this movie - but you'll just have to rent it for yourself.)

As speakers, finding the right feedback - feedback that doesn't either fill our heads with delusional opinions of our greatness (which seems to be the modus operandi of the American Idol judges this year) or blast our speeches with such ferocity that we run underground wondering if it will ever be safe to speak again - is a tremendous challenge.

Toastmasters tend to take feedback for granted - each speech gets evaluated in written and verbal forms, and they have a group of people around them to give them additional comments on a regular basis. The level of this feedback will vary from group to group, and in the vacuum of the club, it may not take long for the feedback to plateau.

Other types of feedback we receive can be equally treacherous. Feedback from our Supervisors can be weighted towards whether or not we said what they wanted us to say. Our co-workers are often more concerned with being entertained, or entertaining themselves as they tell you how you did.

Meeting planners will provide feedback of sorts - but it will still be weighted towards whether or not you met their expectations of message delivery vs. speaking skills.

Finding out whether or not you are delivering for the people you are speaking for is important, of course. Just don't confuse it for top-level speaking feedback. You may be delivering the message they want, but they won't always know if you are delivering it as effectively as possible. As long as they get the pizza, in other words, they don't care if it comes from Domino's or Beau Jo's Mountain Pies.

Since it's unlikely you live next to, say, Harper Lee or Truman Capote, lets look at some other ways for you to seek out feedback you can use to keep you on your game:

A. Sift the Status Quo - accept all the feedback you are currently getting, regardless of the source or the intent, and actively qualify each piece. Just because Bob wants you to use animation in your PowerPoint doesn't mean its a good idea (99.9 percent of the time, its not). Just because you hate Mary, it doesn't mean she's wrong when she asy it annoys her when you run your hand through your beard when you speak, no matter how nasty she is when you overhear her telling John how much she hates you in the breakroom.

B. Allocate Your Resources - before you speak, ask someone you know will be there to watch evaluate you on specific aspects of your speaking afterwards. People are much better at offering valuable feedback when they have been readied before-hand, and they will typically be a bit pumped up about themselves that you asked for their opinion.

C. Record Yourself - If I haven't said this enough over the years, let me say it again. Watch/listen to yourself, and ask others to review it as well, again asking for specific feedback. Even if all you do is hit record on your smart phone an leave it near you during your presentation, you'll get a valuable recording. Just remember to turn off your ringer!

D. Read - It's not coaching per se, but there are some tremendous speaking books available that cover the art of effective speaking. Soon, I'll be adding my own to the mix as well, so feel free to start saving your 19.95 for that in the next few months. In the meantime, I recommend Nancy Duarte's Resonate and Jerry Weissman's The Power Presenter as good starter material - look for something each week or each day you can work on, or incorporate into your present speaking.

E. Join Toastmasters - if you're not in a group, shop around and find a group with people who will challenge you. If you are already in a club, consider joining a second, and exposing yourself to new opinions.

F. Hire a Coach - someone who you respect, who is succeeding on a level beyond your own. I wrote a post in 2009 that covers many points that are important in considering who you hire, including location, experience, and costs. If you'd rather avoid the hassle of finding a coach, just hire me - I still have a spot or two available for one to one coaching, no matter where you live.

If you're not looking for feedback, you're dabbling. Unless your life story is being written by the producers of feel-good movies, you need to go out and start Finding Feedback that will help you Speak & Deliver in ways you may not even be considering right now. Right now you may be getting by on talent alone, or you may just be surrounded by people who are willing to accept any old pizza. No matter how much you've spoken in the past, or how many people tell you how awesome you are, their is another level of effectiveness you can reach.  Don't you, and your audiences, deserve for you to get there?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: I Won My Contest, Now What?

Hey - way to GO! You've just won your contest, you're holding your trophy in a triumphant pose, and are heading to Chili's to celebrate with your club members who, if you're lucky, are proud enough of you to pay for your baby-back, baby-back, baby-back ribs!

Then, just as you wipe the last bit of sauce off your masterful first place mouth, a scary thought enters your weary mind: I'm...not...done! Even if you've won the World Championship, you're not done - in fact, whether you've brought home the Toastmasters Holy Grail or a simple first place certificate from your club - you have some work left to do.

For today, lets keep it down to earth. You've won your club, Area, or Division Contest, and in anywhere from 2 days to 7 weeks, depending on the scheduling of your contests, you'll be competing again. Now what?

1. Celebrate - even if you don't get the Chili's Celebrity treatment, take time to celebrate your victory. Feel good about what you've done, and rest.

2. Review - hopefully you recorded your speech, at least in audio form. Many contestants don't like to video record for fear of being seen as Prima Donnas, including yours truly. But Audio recording is inobtrusive, and can provide you with insight on your performance, and where you can improve at the next level.

3. Gather Feedback - ask for evaluation from those you trust who were in attendance, or are willing to review your recording. A fresh, outside perspective can yield great ideas that may elude you as you sit hovered over your computer wracking your brain for ways to improve.

4. Edit - don't rest on your laurels! Every level offers a new audience and a new challenge. Being married to your material will block you from finding better ways for you to communicate your message. Your speech may be fantastic as it is, but every speech can be better. Where can you be more concise? Where can you be more descriptive? Where can you change a gesture or a stage location to improve the audience's reception? Don't forget the pitfalls of humor from level to level. Remember, several audience members will be hearing your speech for the second, third or fourth times - tweaking your speech, particularly in your laugh lines, will keep them on their toes.

4.5 Check Out the Competition - go to other contests and see who you'll be up against. You'll get a good gauge of what it will take to win your next contest, and also help eliminate the duplication of speech material. The last thing you want working against you is someone else using the same theme you are. Even if you both give great speeches, you may very well cancel each other out, like two great players on one team vying for a league MVP trophy.

You may even find that humor you are using or a point you are trying to make isn't going to work based on who you are competing against. For example, in one contest speech, I discuss participating in the paralympics, and feeling out of place against wheelchair contestants. This was a valid feeling for me, and makes a strong point. But if I'm competing against someone in a wheelchair, it could actually work against me in that environment.

This isn't for everyone, granted, and it can be done wrong. Go and be supportive and congratulatory to the winners. Volunteer for a non-judging role if the attendance is sparse. This isn't a required strategy, and for some of you, you'd never do it. For me over the last 10 years, its been great at calming my nerves, helping me meet people, and, albeit in rare instances, adjust my material.

5. Write a New Speech - yes, you heard me. One past world champion talks about winning his Division contest, and realizing that even though he won, his speech wasn't a District winner. He tossed his speech out and started anew, eventually taking the ultimate prize. What works in your club may not work at a higher level. The comfort level of a club contest is completely different from Area and Division, and many Division Contests are light years away from the atmosphere of District. If you aren't 100% confident in your speech, don't be afraid to throw it out and start over. Judges and audience members alike will be able to tell if you're giving 'the same 'ol speech' vs. the speech on your heart.

6. Practice - but not too much, and not too little. It can be easy to do either. Sometimes we just want to get away from the speech and not look at it til the day before (or the day of) the contest. Other contestants want to practice at every club they can get to between contests. Both carry risks.

Obviously, not practicing at all can leave you unprepared when your name is called, or at the very least, provide you with several pressure-filled hours before the contest. Practicing EVERYWHERE can spoil the impact of your speech at the next contest. It's human nature, even as a judge, to not be as rapt with attention to a speaker they've heard over and over again, much less impressed enough to place you in first over a speaker that is just as good, but they've never heard before.

Practice in the privacy of your home can be beneficial, because you can throw caution to the wind. Experiment with cadence, accent, volume, gestures. Learn your speech backwards. Start in the middle. Their are plenty of practice methods that are much better used at home than in public - take advantage!

7. Double Check Everything - from the time, date, and location of the contest to your eligibility status. I got lost going to an Area Contest in 2001, and the guy who won that contest went to the World Championship. I've also seen too many people disqualified because their treasurer didn't handle their dues in a timely fashion, and they, or their club, were not in good standing with Toastmasters International. District winners have been removed for these infractions - so take responsibility upon yourself to go to Toastmasters website and know the rules, and your membership and club status!

8. Deliver! - contest day is here, and its your chance to shine again. As I've said before in this series - focus on the audience, enjoy the moment, and you may very well find yourself starting the process all over again.

For the last few weeks I've been writing contest-oriented posts, as Toastmasters International's Spring Contest season begins, and with it, the International Speech Contest, which annually produces a World Champion of Public Speaking. Prior posts include: Why Contests are the Best and Worst Events in Your Speaking CareerWhy Does International Become Inspirational?Are the Contests Fair?The Top 8 Ways to Guarantee Victory, and I Lost My Contest: Now What?


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