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

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Anatomy of a Speaker's Introduction: Part I

We'll spend hours, days, weeks, even a lifetime writing and perfecting our speech, and yet, before we ever get up to present, someone else holds a major key to our success or failure.

That someone else is our Introducer. That major key is our Introduction.

Both tend to be neglected or even forgotten by the beginning speaker, and downright mishandled by all but the best speakers.

Too often a Speaker's Introduction is one of two things - a reading of the biography or description provided for the event program, or an equally long biography either written by the clueless speaker or the wannabe helpful introducer themselves. We KNOW this is both boring and ineffective, and yet we let it happen time and time again.

Don't waste the 30 seconds before your presentation, you know, the one you spent all your time on, on information the audience doesn't need and/or already has. Don't give them a reason before you even open your mouth to shut you out and turn to their smartphone. Instead, use your introduction to draw them in, make them laugh, and prepare them for the main event - YOU.

Your introduction is a mini-speech - and I mean mini. If it goes longer than two minutes, you're doing it wrong. If you can do it in minute or less, all the better.

What exactly IS the Anatomy of a Speaker's Introduction?

1. Attention Grab - just as you might in a speech, start with a question or shocking statistic or statement related to your content, or yourself. This sucks your audience in immediately, and sets an expectation for your subject and your style. EX: If you're giving a leadership speech, start off with a controversial statement about about leadership, a question about how the audience feels about leadership, or perhaps a qualifying statement about your own leadership experience in a concise manner.

2. Humor - yes, humor. If you can get your audience laughing before you ever come up, your connection will already be building, and it will be easier for you to keep their attention, vs. trying to regain it, after your introduction.

EX: Instead of a laundry list of your leadership experience, offer up a combined credibility/humorous triad - 'our speaker today is the CEO of a multi-million dollar tech company, has been married for 20 years, and has three wonderful children who have honed her leadership skills faster than either the corporate world or the bonds of matrimony ever could.' 

3. Tailored Credibility - you're probably loaded with personal and professional credentials. President of this, CEO of that, with multiple BS, BA, PhD, and Master's degrees from the best schools, not to mention organizational certifications like CPS, AS, DTM and WCPS, technical certifications like - well I don't have any so I don't know what they are, but YOU do - along with your amazing spouse, beautiful children, stepchildren, adopted children, and foster children. You've written 5 best-selling books, and appeared on Larry King, Oprah, and Jerry Springer. You make a ton of money, and give most of it away to 15 different charities. In your spare time, you fly, climb mountains, and crochet afghans that you give to your local homeless shelter.

In short, you rock.

This is all great information to share...on your website.

As far as your introduction, remember, we're keeping it short. If your credibility matters to the audience you're in front of it, or is crucial to your message, use some of it - maybe one or two items, at most. Keep in mind, however, that these people already know you're credible, because you're in front of them, and your bio is likely in the program, or at the very least a smartphone away.

4. Product Placement - yes, you can briefly include a mention of your most recent book or product, if it matters to the moment, and is available after the presentation. Briefly. You'll also bring this up in your Outroduction, which I'll talk about in another post.

5. Promise - this may have been part of your Attention Grab, but if not, make a short statement at the end, right before your name, with your promise. What are they going to get? What solution? What feeling? What plan? EX: In his presentation today, you will be armed with three solid way to Speak and Deliver your greatest message - Welcome Rich Hopkins.

6. Title NO, Name YES - in a professional introduction, the title of your talk is entirely irrelevant. As seen in the example above, give the promise, then have them introduce you with your name. If you can stop your name from being used at all before the end, all the better. Why? Because use of your name triggers both applause and your movement towards the stage. Using it throughout the introduction can inadvertently create false starts. Save it til the end, and head up to the stage.

Bonus Tip - Humorous Name or Branding Modifier - if you've used a personal funny description in the intro, or have a branding moniker, call back to it. EX: Welcome the rocker himself...., Welcome, fresh from his latest Game of Thrones binge-watching.... Welcome the Man in the Hat.... Welcome the Win Anyway Guy himself....

In Part II, I'll talk about the hazards involved with your introduction and introducer, and how to navigate all the landmines involved when you are relying on a third party, or several third parties, to launch your presentation. In Part III, I'll discuss, for my Toastmaster friends, a more tailored approach for your TM speeches, and how they can improve your club and member experience.

I'd love to have a Part IV - where I take real introductions YOU send me, and I power them up for you. I'll take four intros - first come, first served - and help you craft them to help you get your next speech off to a powerful start before you ever get on stage. Just leave your request in the comments below.

Until then - look at your current introduction and compare it to the above formula. Is it too long? Too boring? Too filled with non-pertinent information? Is it giving you your best chance to Speak....and Deliver?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shatter Your Writer's Block Pt II: 7 Quick & Dirty Writing Solutions

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 'Speechwriting in Reverse' as a solution to Writer's Block. In a nutshell, it means Speak, Record, Transcribe.

That doesn't work for everyone, though, and we don't always like to have just one solution, so I promised more to come. Here we go:

1. A Funny Thing Happened to Me....Today. Yep, sit down, and think about your day. Anything different happen? Anything funny? Anything awful? Anything boring? Even if it was the same old same old day you always have, there's something to talk about. Write down a blow by blow description of the day, and somewhere, you'll find something to talk about that will lead to something more.

2. Life Biography. If you haven't already gone over your life story, do it. Any significant moment, good or bad. Lessons learned. Heartbreaks. Great joys. Successes and Failures. Accidents, broken bones, getting caught doing whatever. If you've already done this - do it AGAIN. You've probably been around long enough to forget a few things the first time, or the tenth time, around.

3. How-To. What do you know how to do? Cook? Get paint off furniture? Build a birdhouse? Change your own oil? Plant a garden? Do your taxes? Play Poker? I guarantee you know something someone in your audience won't - teach it, and you'll suddenly bring up memories and stories of you learning how to do it, and doing it. Poof - instant speech.

4. Reports & Reviews. What have you been reading lately? Tell us about it. Why you chose it, how you liked it, how it affected you, if you'd recommend it. Works for Music, Movies, TV, or any consumable media - heck, it even works for restaurants. Where have you been eating lately? If its good enough for Instagram, its good enough for a speech.

5. In the News. Be cautious so as to avoid political/religious material, unless that's what you want to do intentionally. There's so much news available, you've got thousands of potential speeches just waiting for you on the web.

6. Finding Forrester Approach. In this movie, Sean Connery played a fictional writer in seclusion who mentored a young writer in the neighborhood. One of his tricks was to give him one of his old articles, have him start re-typing it, and then take it into a different direction after the first few lines. Consider watching some YouTube speeches, bringing out your old speeches (you've saved them all, right? RIGHT?), looking at famous speeches - and doing the same. Just be sure to give credit where credit is due if you don't change things up enough. And the movie, Finding Forrester? Well worth a watch.

7. Table Topics. What was the question the last time you got up in your club? Wish you'd answered it differently? Here's your chance, and with more time to address it, to boot.

I'm not saying you're going to build something brilliant right off the bat. The key is simply to start building, and the above gives you the material to start building with. Once the mind is in motion, it will stay in motion, and your Writer's Block will fall away before you even realize.

Go write your next speech, and then Speak....& Deliver!

Monday, March 30, 2015

March Madness and the World Championship of Public Speaking

I just finished sweeping my Area Contest last Friday night, both Table Topics and International Speech, as I make yet another run at a third District Trophy in Topics, and hopefully, finally, a 1st place trophy at the World Championship of Public Speaking (WCPS).

Similarly (or not), Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Michigan State all won their Elite Eight games to send them into next weekends Final Four in the NCAA Basketball National (USA) Championships, where one of them will end up winning it all, and be considered the best team in the country, out of a couple hundred overall, and 68 who ended up in the tournament, commonly referred to as March Madness.

They say that between 30,000 and 40,000 contestants start at the club level, and average of roughly 2.7 per club (15,543), which is where we get the statistic oft used in marketing the WCPS - best out 35,000 speakers worldwide. Once you get past club, you'll compete in one of 3277 Areas, 712 Divisions, and 97 Districts (thanks George Marshall for running these stats down), meaning at any various level you can say you're in top 10 percent of competitive TM speakers after winning Area, the top 2 percent after Division, the top two hundredths percent (I think that's how one would say it - .00277) after District, and so on....whether you win the Final or not. Not bad, right?

Both March Madness and the WCPS have six rounds, though it can have seven, if, in basketball, you end up in a 'play-in' game, of which there are four, or in the Int'l Contest, if you're in a large district that has a run-off after the Division level. But basically, the best team plays six others teams out of the 68 to claim their title - in a seeded tournament, with the 'best' ranked teams facing off with the worst - one seeds down to sixteen seeds.

The World Champion goes through Club, Area, Division, District, the Semi-Finals, and the Finals. During that run, the Champ will face anywhere from no competition to 5 competitors at the average club and Area contest - so let's be optimistic and say 10 total (your mileage may vary). At Division, I've seen as few as two contestants, as many as 8, so lets be optimistic again and say 5, and most districts have between 4 and 10 competitors, again we'll go with 8 as a high average. The semi's feature 9-10 competitors, the Finals, nine.

OK math majors, that means the World Champion actually faces, in direct competition, around 39 other speakers, with gusts up to 50. We won't even go into the fact that all these speakers are Toastmasters, leaving out the vast world of professional speakers who typically aren't members of TM, much less interested in competing for a trophy they don't 'need'.

Surely, though, these are 50 of the best speakers Toastmasters has to offer, right? Well, it depends. The path for some of the best speakers can end early, if two (or more) top-notch competitors face off too early. I knew a WCPS finalist who lost the next year, at club, to someone else who then went to the Finals for the SECOND time in her career. So the equivalent of two #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament faced off in ROUND ONE! This can happen at any round, and who knows if all the speakers in, say North Carolina are better than all the speakers here in Colorado.

When I compete at Division on the 11th, I'll be facing the fall District Humorous Champion - meaning the two of us hold the last two speaking trophies in District 26, and neither one of us is guaranteed to even PLACE. Will we suddenly fall of the the map as quality speakers?

Additionally, in any given year, a large number of top-notch speakers aren't even competing, as they've taken a year off either in leadership roles, or just to rest awhile.

So, if you can be a World Champion after facing as few as, perhaps, 30-50 other speakers, is there true value in the title?

Elsa/Getty Images

Considering I've been going after this title since 2001, I really have no choice but to say YES. Just as one of the four teams in the NCAA Tourney will eventually be considered the best, even if it's Michigan State, with 11 losses, who gets hot at the right time.

Contestants can only compete with those put before them, after all. They aren't responsible for the format, just as the basketball teams can't always control their seeding in the tournament, or who they will play from round to round. The speech contest is equally unpredictable, thanks to the diversity of judges, and the randomness of speeches created from talented speakers throughout the organization.

And the pressure - oh the pressure. Whether you're facing an audience of 10 at club, or 2000 at the finals, the one loss and you're done nature (in most cases, though some Clubs, Areas, and Divisions send the top two) of the event puts the pressure on.

Craig Valentine, 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking
Winning the championship of public speaking, much like winning any contest, takes a unique combination of talent, performance, and plain old luck. Whether you win on your first try, a la Craig Valentine and Ryan Avery, or after several false starts, like Lance Miller, or several close shaves, such as Jim Key, Mark Hunter, and of course, the King of also-rans, Jock Elliott, who won on his record sixth try in the Finals, you're a champion. You're a great speaker, with a marketable title who has achieved something that, by design, only one person per year can achieve.

Does it mean you're the best? Maybe. Maybe not. It does mean you're a champion - and the truest champions always get better, and usually faster than non-champions. After all, now everyone expects them to be the BEST of the best, not just 'pretty good'. Craig Valentine famously said that the first thing he did after winning the championship in 1999 was to go buy a book on speaking. Good move, I'd say.

Am I trying to run down the credibility of the champs, or the contest? No, not by any means. I still want to win this thing some day before I die. But I am saying that if you don't win, that if you NEVER win, such as John Howard, 5x finalist who died as he went up the leadership ranks, just before he was to take on the Int'l President role, it doesn't mean you aren't a great speaker. If I'm counting right (he says he doesn't remember), J.A. Gamache has gone to the Semi-Finals 8 times, the Finals twice, but hasn't won. He's still a great speaker, right? Rory Vaden? Twice in the Finals, took 2nd in 2007 - seems to be doing fairly well.

It may mean you aren't a CHAMPION, and that you didn't WIN. But as I like to say - WIN ANYWAY. Find your own victories outside of the trophies. Be a champion to your audiences that aren't awarding you little plastic trophies - that's where the victories truly await.

Speaking isn't about Championships, and neither is basketball. They're both about developing skills, promoting emotional (and physical) growth, and sportsmanship. Go Speak & Deliver - and Go Wildcats :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Shatter Your Writer's Block Pt I: Speechwriting in Reverse

I don't know what to write!

You'll have to Google James Caan/Misery to find out what he's actually typing...

A common malady among writers, it is a shared obstacle between writers of prose and writers of oratory. It's a complain I hear from all kinds of speakers, whether they're writing a keynote, a business presentation, or their next Toastmasters speech.

I totally get it. I hated writing down speeches, even though I enjoy writing. I went through many of my early years just speaking off the cuff off of a brief outline, or nothing beyond my own mental notes. And I did ok. I actually did pretty well.

Two problems with that - not everyone CAN have success with this method, and those that do, like me, are easily fooled into thinking that's the way it should be done, and believe it's the way to get the best results.

So often I hear clients tell me they don't have to write it out, that they have the 'gift of gab', and feel more natural when they just go 'off the cuff'. Sure, it might be better for you, but that doesn't mean it's better for your message, or your audience!

It was through the Toastmasters contest process, as I competed year after year for the World Championship of Public Speaking, that I forced myself to wordsmith. I had to both stay within the given time of 5-7 minutes, and enhance the impact of each section, each sentence, even each word. I soon discovered my speaking pace to be about 100 words a minute, taking into account laughter and pauses, and kept track of word count accordingly.

But I still hate writing. So when I have the opportunity, I'll practice a speech from an outline (real or mental), record it, and then go back and transcribe, edit, and prepare it for prime-time. In fact, I did this just last week, at a club contest that I intended on being just a practice for my home club contest.

Recording is a lot easier now than ever. I just used my smartphone - but in the past I've used digital recorders as well. If you're still holding out from the 80's, bring along the cassette recorder!

My club contest (1 of 2 clubs) was last week. I had an idea I'd been thinking about for months. I had a couple of stories. But I hadn't honed it, hadn't quite figured out how to open or close it, or even what I might say beyond the two core stories and the point. I figured I'd just go up and give it my best shot, and see what happened.

Keep in mind, of course, I've been competitively speaking for 15 years, so I can still manage to do 'well enough' to have a cohesive speech, even on the fly. If you're still at the beginning, I would be more cautious about where practice this way. Your regular club meeting is a much safer bet, and since Toastmasters is essentially a learning laboratory, it is more than acceptable to experiment with this technique.

Time: 7:02
Word Count: a bloated 884!


Run-on sentences - One sentence had about 100 words and 7 'ands'. In fact 'and' appeared 44 times!

Lane Changes - Starting a sentence one way, then stopping and going a different direction mid-sentence

Double Clutches - Saying something before I'm ready to continue the sentence, and stuttering to start again

Disconnected Points - Was I talking about love? dreams? anger? rejection? They all showed up, and never got tied up.

Lots of emotion - I could hear the spontaneous passion throughout, which too much of the wrong kind of practice can beat out of a speech.

Audience engagement - with a small audience, I made reference to individuals there, and made the speech personal on the fly.

New ideas - since I made so much of it up on the spot, new ideas, good and bad, got a trial run. I have some great thoughts for humor and emotional phrasing that I may not have gotten by writing it first.

In the end, the total freedom I felt in the situation helped me tremendously, and that's what I want you to take away from this post.

I'm looking forward to turning this raw speech into something that will live a long time. It'll end up 160 words shorter, and have twice the impact.

But if I hadn't gotten it out there, If I'd stayed in front of my computer, my notepad, whatever, and let myself get tied up with the paralysis of perfect prose, it might never have existed.

I have a few other strategies to share in coming posts, and depending on how I fare this season in the contest, I will eventually share a side by side comparison between this speech and the finalized version.

If you can't sit and write, go speak. Even if it's not a speech, but a blog post. A book chapter. A letter. Record it. Transcribe it. Be free from judgment in the moment, then come back and start editing.

Shatter your writer's block so you can Speak....& Deliver!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Levels of Credibility & the Big Lie for Speakers

Credibility - it's a quality every speaker must have.
Credibility can help us believe in ourselves.
Credibility can help other believe in us.
The fear of not having Credibility can stop us from speaking altogether.

Are you Credible? Take a look at this list of Levels of Credibility and decide for yourself - because if you don't believe you're credible, it doesn't even matter if others DO.

Levels of Credibility

1. Celebrity Credibility - You've walked the walk. Up Mt. Everest, on the Moon. You've won the trophy, you've held the office, you've earned the money. You're famous, or just infamous. Bottom line - people want to hear you because they just want to be in the same room with you. Your content may or may not be directly related to your credibility, but as long as it is connected in some way, your content is elevated by your Credibility.

2. Survivor Credibility - You've survived cancer, a car accident, a plane crash. You survived the military. You've lived your life with a disability, or acquired one along the way, be it Parkinson's, Neurofibromatosis, or a Super-Deluxe Robot Leg. You survived abuse as a child or an adult. Bottom Line - you survived some extreme, though not necessarily unique, circumstance of life. Both the survival, and your willingness to speak about it, are your Credibility.

3. Process Credibility - You've been where your audience is, and found a better way to go from where they are to where they wish to go. You've figured out how to be a great salesperson, manager, leader. You've been fat, and now you're not, because of the diet and exercise regimen you're teaching. You've found and used the best way to find the best mate, be the best parent, or invest your money wisely. People want to hear you because they want to know how you do what you do. Your content must be directly related to your credibility.

4. Educational Credibility - perhaps the most commonly used, yet ultimately weakest, form of credibility. You're a PhD, MD, MA, or any other of a myriad of educational degrees. Not to say they are meaningless. Academic Credibility has it's place. But that place is rarely in the hearts of your audience, unless it's combined with the one or more of the first three. In other words, I don't want to hear from a doctor about the latest surgical technique for brain surgery, I want to hear from a doctor whose USED the the latest surgical technique for brain surgery.

Many of the above examples are extreme - and it's often the way we think about Credibility. If we haven't climbed Mt. Everest, had our leg blown off in Iraq, or earned our way to Warren Buffet's dinner table, we're not credible enough.

That's the Big Lie. We are ALL credible. We just aren't credible on ALL things. 

We are credible when we have done something the audience has not, something the audience aspires to, or something something the audience hasn't done as well. We are credible when we have knowledge, or a combination of knowledge and experience the audience does not.

Before you pick a speaking topic, do a credibility inventory. How much do you really know? What success have you had in that area? This can be empowering or discouraging, depending on how you approach it. First, don't compare yourself to others. There's always going to be someone with more knowledge, experience, and results than you. That's OK. Second, if you do feel you're falling short, treat it as a guideline for gaining more education, experience, and results.

Unless you're choosing to speak on something that is way off in left field - say, you're a single male who's done nothing but play video games his whole life and you want to go speak about cultivating successful romantic relationships - you're going to discover you do, in fact, have several items on the list that separate and elevate you above your average audience.

Remember too, that your audience will with self-select, so they want your information, or you be selected to speak by someone in authority, meaning they'll often believe they'll need your information.

The only other danger comes when we try to artificially enhance our credibility, and say we've done things we haven't. Like lying on a resume when you're hired as the football coach at Notre Dame. Or say your helicopter got hit by enemy fire in Iraq, when it was actually the helicopter in front of you. Misstating, or mis-remembering, our credibility, which leads to misrepresenting ourselves, will only lead to embarrassment at best, and a complete loss of respect, revenue, and future returns at worst.

You have either have enough authentic credibility or you don't. If you don't, get it, or change your topic. If you THINK you don't have ENOUGH credibility, you probably DO, unless you KNOW you don't have ANY credibility. Live a credibility building life, and in six months, you'll be even more credible than you are now. Take credit where credit is due, and build your assets as you grow your speaking career.

Don't let fear of a lack of credibility silence you. Go SPEAK - and Deliver!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Nobody Cares About You!

Believe it or not, it's true - not single person in your audience gives a whit about you. You and your story. You and your success. You and your obstacles. You and your genius.

Even if your mom, spouse, or children are in the audience - they don't care about you either.

Humans are a egotistical lot. There's an old saying - 'your favorite word is your own name' - even if you don't like your name, when you hear it, you immediately come to attention. Heck, with six kids, if I just hear the word 'Dad' in any space I'm in, I start looking around!

We may like you. We may even want to hear you tell us about your eight years in the oval office, your climb to the top of Mt. Everest, your triumphant rescue of a Fortune 500 Company.

But only if it affects...US. 

It's the first thing I have to work with my clients on when they tell me how passionate they are about their messages, how amazing their experiences are, and how mind-blowing their approach to life is. To THEM.

My response? "So. What? Why do I care?"

Because in the end, your audience needs a reason to care that is in their self-interest - because they only want to hear what you have to say if it benefits THEM.

Those benefits don't have to be major. They may simply come in the entertainment value of your talk. More likely, for the average Non-Celebrity Keynote Speaker, the benefits will come in the form of your process - your solution to their problem, their pain.

Their problem. Their pain. Those are the money words.

Where can they find their pain in what you're sharing? You have to ask yourself that because it's your job to show them their pain in the beginning of your presentation. To give them a reason to care, to listen to you as opposed to playing Candy Crush on their smart phone for the next 45 minutes.

If you ARE a celebrity speaker, their pain may simply be that they don't understand how you got to be you. Envy. So you let them know right away you're going to give them behind-the-scenes access to being you, so THEY can find hope that THEY can be more like you.

For the non-celebrity speaker (that is, most likely, you and me)...
Here are a few popular topics, and some ways to Poke Their Pain:

Marketing - without it, you have no business. Doing it wrong can bankrupt you. Your competition is probably doing it better than you.

Leadership - the hardest thing you'll ever do. Fail in this, and you can't reach your goals. Fail as a leader, and you feel horrible about yourself. Fail in this, and your company will fail with you.

Communication - poor communication destroys companies, slows productivity, and sours relationships of every kind.

Speaking - what if you had an amazing message, and spent your own life sharing it with an audience of one - the one in the mirror?

Quilting - how many hours do you spend hand-stitching? How long can you work until your arthritis acts up, forcing you to stop, and putting you behind on your Christmas gifts to your 26 grandchildren?

It's not that hard to find the pain - most any topic pertains to our financial, physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being to some degree. But if we simply assume they'll know the pain we're talking about, we'll lose most of the audience pretty quick, and miss our opportunity to bring them immediately into our presentation. Point out their pain, and then....

...swoop in with empathy.  You've been there. You understand their predicament. You share a short promise to them that by the end of your presentation, they'll know how THEY can get through it, and by the end of the speech, they be begging to know exactly how YOU got through it. Promise them they'll have solutions for their marketing, their leadership, their communication, their speaking, and even a better idea of how to climb Mt. Everest. Though probably not all in the same speech...

Promise them, and then deliver, PAIN RELIEF. That's right. As a speaker you're basically Aspirin.

Most of us get into speaking because, well, we like to hear ourselves talk. We love our message, and our stories. We often enjoy the attention. Those that successfully STAY in speaking learn to love their audience first, and use the result the audience will get as a filter for everything they say.

Whether you're building a speech or you have a message you've been giving for awhile now, take some time to ask yourself (or find someone who WILL ask you) "So What? Why Do I Care?"

Because until they have a reason to care...a pain that crystallizes their attention...they sure as heck don't want to hear how awesome your life is. As for your mom, spouse, and kids? They're just hoping you give them some credit for how awesome you are.

Because it's all about THEM!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Triumphant Return?

After coming home from the International Conference in August, I haven't done much speaking. In fact, other than a couple of 5-7 minute speeches in my home club toward the end of the year, I've really done NONE.

Over the weekend, I was an educational presenter for my District's TLI - Toastmasters Leadership Institute, and gave a 45 minute session (Unlock Your Keynote) designed to help TMs who want to get their message out to the world in a longer format. Twice, in fact. Once in Denver, then that afternoon in Colorado Springs.

Returning to the stage was extremely satisfying for me. I was glad, for one, that I was ABLE to stand for 45 minutes and deliver, without falling down. For those newcomers to the blog, I had back surgery back in September, which led in large part to my absence from the stage. I was certainly sore by the end of the day, but I rebounded pretty quickly the next day.

My speaking chops weren't terribly rusty, though as I run the experience through my head, there are a lot of things I would do differently, both content and delivery-wise. Isn't that always the way? I had a tremendous amount of positive, appreciative feedback, but I'm always self-critical. Heck, just looking at that picture, my first thought is 'wow, I can tell I'm up 20 lbs since Malaysia'.

One of my challenges, in Toastmasters, at least, is selling from the stage. I didn't bring any books, didn't even ask for information - though I did finally use a handout with some contact info. It's so wrong, I know. It goes against everything I teach my clients to do.

There's an old saying about never being a prophet in your home town - perhaps I've mentally turned that word into 'profit' in my mind. I've never liked asking 'family' for money, and my local Toastmasters feel like close family to me. It's easier when a district (still family, but more like, say, second cousins) flies me out to speak - I know they WANT me to sell, typically, and that these folks don't get to see me all the time.

It's the local folk that I get a bit shy in front of. As a result, I think I actually told folks NOT to hire me as a coach, though my intent was to say there were lots of coaches out there, and I'd happily find them one that would match their style and personality, if I could.

Overall, it was nice to be back, and I'm looking forward to getting out in public a lot more in 2015. Time to actually make those phone calls to Rotary, etc., and get some bookings.

What will year look like? Do you have a plan to speak a certain number of times? Do you have places targeted to speak? Do you know who to talk to? Hmm. Maybe I'll talk more on that in my next post...

For now, I'm just happy to have had the chance to once again give to an audience. To Speak & Deliver!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Toastmasters Saturday: The New Year That Almost Wasn't

As I drove up to the auto dealership our club meets at last night, it was eerily quiet...and locked.

Down the way, were a few of my club members huddled around their cars in the cold, already wondering if and where we were going to hold our meeting - a meeting/party we had boldly scheduled at our normal 7:00 pm time, despite the holiday.

Smart phones out, we started looking for alternate venues. Whole Foods? Soon to close for the night? The local diner? Pretty loud and we couldn't bring in the food we had brought. Same for McDonalds, even though it had a private meeting room (the only one I've ever seen in a McDs, actually). One of our member just leased a meeting facility for weddings and events - but the heater was on the fritz.

It looked bleak, until our newest member volunteered his home, which was just about a mile away. His wife was with him (she's been a guest at all the meetings he, and their son, our second newest member, have attended), so he had immediate buy-in from the boss!

The only guest we expected had already been contacted with the change in plans, and while we started late, we got the meeting in - two speeches, topics, and all, followed by the party - all in the comfort of a wonderfully still-decorated holiday household.

Still - we got LUCKY. This was the New Year that almost WASN'T.

I've had similar situations in the past, and often they seem unavoidable. Building closings, problems with the heat, double-bookings, the person with the keys is detained or just doesn't show.

Is your club prepared for your next 'location crisis'?

Four items to consider at your next Officer Meeting:

1. Be Proactive, not Reactive. We should have verified building access for a holiday. Our SAA is new, but that's no excuse - I've been in 15 years, and I didn't even think about the potential issue - none of us did.

2. Have a Back-Up. Do you have a default second location? Find one close - and if it's a restaurant, maybe even have a meeting there once a quarter to keep it 'in the rotation'. A little variation in routine can be healthy, and having the goodwill of the owner always helps.

3. Have a Communication Plan. How will you let members know to re-route? Do you have a call list on your phone? An easily accessible email/text list? Will you leave a note behind for guests, or an actual person who can be late for the changed meeting time/place in said emergency?

4. Create a Flexible Culture. You never know what's going to happen. Not that long ago, the dealership pulled up all the carpet in the facility, and closed our room down, without notice. We survived that for a couple of weeks, but only because our folks are willing to go with the flow vs. throwing their hands up and cancelling. Flexibility starts at the top - you know, where leaders are made!

Our crisis had a happy ending. What are YOUR venue horror stories, and how have you solved them - or not?


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