Sunday, February 15, 2015

Here we go again!

 2014 seems like a blurry memory.

 My good intentions of keeping the blog going sadly went the way of all good intentions when Alison relocated and I had to take over the presidency of the club.  However, the timing seems right.  The last blog was almost exactly a year ago. So here goes.

When I first worked my way through the Competent Communicator manual – then called the Competent Toastmaster manual, I had an experience that has stayed with me for a long time. I had prepared a speech called Walk for your Life and although I can’t remember what level it was for, I found it again the other day and I must say, I was quite impressed with how erudite I sounded!

Thinking back on it now, that was probably my first mistake – I was trying too hard. Too many phrases that had to be ‘just so’; too many quotations by people I didn't really know about.  I did what most of us do when I was preparing: I tried to learn it off by heart.

The time for presentation came and I was doing so well.  Then I hit a blank and I started stumbling.  I apologised and stuttered and then had to go back to my notes.  Although I finished well, I ended off feeling as though I had failed.

To this day I can recall the advice given to me by Cheron Joubert – “Nobody knows what you have written; only you do.  If you find yourself faltering, try to recover, but don’t apologize.  Just move on”

It was good advice, but that’s all very well.  It got me to thinking about the time we spend researching and preparing our speeches and whether there isn't an easier way.  Please don’t get me wrong. I believe that there are times when we want to research a new subject or uncover something we don’t already know about a specific area of interest.  There are also times when rehearsing a particular turn of phrase or catchy statement is essential to getting our message across.

 But most of the time we talk about topics that are close to our hearts, subjects that we do not need to research.  It’s my contention that if this is the case, we probably could get away with an introduction; an outline of our material and a conclusion. It’s always a good idea to memorise your introduction and your conclusion, so that you grab your audience’s attention and leave them with something to think about.  The rest will be pretty much ‘doing what comes naturally ‘

Let me give you an example of how you could structure such a speech.

Your opening
As parents we always cautioned our boys about ‘stranger danger’ - you know:
  • ·        Never speak to strangers
  • ·        Never get into a car of someone you don’t know

But I want to tell you about an incident when I was so grateful for the assistance of a stranger to my son.

Setting up the scene
Our older son, Gareth, who was then six, used to go to art classes near Fort Frederick in Central every Friday afternoon. As I was sick, I had asked a friend to drop him off. She waited until she saw him enter the yard and then drove off. None of us knew that the classes had been cancelled owing to renovations.

Body of the speech
Gareth turned around only to see her car disappearing around the corner.  He really didn't know the area, although he knew that his dad’s office and the church were somewhere in Central.  This was before the time of cell phones, so he had no way of reaching us.  He started to cry. Just then an old man stopped in a car, saw the little boy in his Grey school uniform and asked what the problem was.

Gareth was so conflicted.  Remembering our words of caution about strangers, he didn't want to talk to the man, let alone get into his car.  Yet, he was lost and didn't know where to turn.  Fortunately, he remembered which church his dad worked at and the man drove him there and restored him to his father.

Conclusion – it would be good to tie this back to your opening
I’m not saying one must throw caution to the winds. When it comes to strangers, always trust your instincts and it is probably better to err on the side of caution, but one should also be open to the kindness and compassion that does exist in strangers.

Nothing has been written out. You have an introduction. Then you relate the body of your speech, which is familiar to you. Finally, you link back to the start with your conclusion.

Practising is still important.  It is probably going to sound slightly different each time you do it, but that isn't important.  What is important is timing yourself.  This will allow you to do some on the spot editing.

The beauty of not memorising a speech parrot fashion is that you will not lose your place; so you won’t be upset or disturbed if it doesn't sound exactly as you had planned it. Just focus on your main points and tie it all together at the end.

If it sounds scary not to have a memorised speech, just remember that Toastmasters is about taking risks in a supportive club environment.

Next time, don’t do it off by heart.

Outline. Focus on your content; practise your delivery; be aware of your time – and WOW your audience.

Have you tried to do it like this? Did it work?  What works for you?  Please share your experiences with us so that we can learn from you.

Until next time
Ricky Woods

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