Toastmasters Your Way

  • Posted on: 12 February 2017
  • By: lyanabu

Once upon a time, my partner John was married to a woman named Sonia. They set up housekeeping in a small house in Austin. Sonia was a full blown hippie, and John noticed she was not that good with the dishes. The way she did it was kind of chaotic.

So one day, John said, Sonia, let me show you how to do the dishes correctly. He moved all the dishes to the side of the sink, filled it with soapy hot water, showed how he scrubbed each dish and put it aside, then rinsed them all and put them on the rack to dry. Sonia stood to the side nodding her head and saying, “Uh-huh, okay, I get it.”

The next day, Sonia went to the library – this was before you could get things off the internet – and came home with an article which she slapped on the kitchen table. The article was entitled, “There are over two hundred ways to do the dishes”. And Sonia said, “See John, there’s not just one way to do things.” John said, “Okay, I see your point.”

But later on John thought, “Well, sure, you could do the dishes with your feet, but that would not be very effective.” Today I’m going to talk about creating speeches for Toastmasters. This is the way I have found works for me, and for the students I have worked with.

The three things I want to talk about today are Choosing Your Speech Topic, Writing Your Speech, and Rehearsing Your Speech.

New Toastmasters get the Competent Communicator Manual, which has ten speeches in it, such as Get to the Point, or Organizing Your Speech, or Vocal Variety. But it doesn’t tell you WHAT to talk about. Sure, you can get lists of possible speech topics off the internet. How do you choose your topic?

I like to explain it as the overlap among three criteria. The first is, “Choose a topic you know”. You may think you are not an expert, but you know more than most people about some things. Pick one of those. Or pick a topic you want to know more about, and can do some research. I often give a speech simply because I want to know more about the subject.

The second criteria is “Choose something you are passionate about”. It’s no use picking a topic you know a lot about but don’t care about. You’ll be uninspired and your audience will be bored. Think about what you’re excited about; keep a running list of topics that you can craft a speech around.

The last criteria is “Choose a topic your audience already cares about, or something you can convince them is worth their time.” Give them something they can get excited about too.

Next, let’s talk about writing your speech. How many of you write your entire speech out? Sometimes I get pushback from students who don’t like to spend the time writing. But it is a good exercise to take your ideas and fit them in to the classic Intro, Body, and Conclusion, with Point 1, 2, 3, with supporting points A, B, and C. A five to seven minute speech is only a page and a half to two pages.

When you write your speech, you make your brain craft the connections between your ideas. Ideas are nebulous. Writing is a tool to pin your ideas onto the page. It helps you visualize your words and helps you memorize your speech. When you write your speech, you can edit and improve your speech. Five to seven minutes is not a long time. Every word should add to your message.

You’ll find that writing your speech is different than speaking. Former Obama White House speechwriter Jon Favreau said,

It's how it sounds -- the difference between writing and speechwriting. The way something appears on the page is obviously very different from the way it sounds. When you're writing you tend to write longer sentences, they tend to meander more. When you give a speech, they're clipped. There's more declarative sentences. There's more pauses. There's certain things you do, that make a speech more lyrical than something that you write down. 

- The Axe Files with David Axelrod, Ep 11 Jon Favreau

And he adds that stories are important in speeches. The White House had a staffer who was dedicated to reading through emails and letters to find stories that fit with the policies the President was giving a speech about, because stories humanize your topic, they make it memorable and relatable.

After you have your speech down on paper, it’s time to rehearse your speech. My fellow Lobo Toastmaster Kelly McGrath was a good example of how to prepare for a speech. Kelly entered the Tall Tales speech contest a few years ago and wanted to get really good for the contest. Kelly lived in Sandia Park, a twenty minute commute. On his way into town, he would recite his speech. He estimated that he repeated his speech over one hundred times before the competition. Kelly memorized his speech word for word, and was so comfortable with the material he was able to concentrate on other parts of his act: his facial expressions, his body movements, his phrasing. He was able to adjust his speech on the fly for the audience, because he had spent so much time with his material.

By practicing your speech out loud, you get used to hearing yourself. You do not want to be in front of an audience hearing your words come out of your mouth for the first time. It is too distracting.

Practicing also gives you a sense of timing. Many new Toastmasters do not have a sense for how long it takes to physically say a speech. Record yourself and check your time. You can do it while walking around the block or in your car. My partner John records himself, then plays it back on headphones while taking a shower or washing the dishes.

There are as many ways to make speeches as there are speakers. However you do it, I recommend carefully choosing a topic that you like and know about, that will be interesting to your audience; writing your speech, practicing so you are very familiar with your delivery, and then writing an introduction that sets the stage for your delivery. Part of the journey is to find your way of doing Toastmasters.