THIS BLOG HAS MOVED

Posted May 22, 2007 by publicspeakingblog
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Shifting the Focus

Posted May 21, 2007 by publicspeakingblog
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I’ve just got back home from a very enjoyable evening at Maidenhead Speakers.

It was a special meeting – our Annual General Meeting. Each member of the outgoing committee stood up to give a report on our progress as a club.

Then the new committee was chosen. We have a new President – Amanda, who put a lot into her role as VP Education, last year. I too have a role – Sergeant-at-Arms. The outgoing sergeant, Keith, has done an excellent job, and I have a tough act to follow.

That said, it mostly seems to entail telling the odd topical joke at the start of the evening, remembering to bring some milk, making the tea and collecting the voting slips. I think I can manage this – we’ll see, in a year’s time how I feel about it.

And then, in the “any other business section”, Joyce stood up to say a few “positive” words about… …this blog! I was so surprised. I didn’t think anyone was really reading it, though one or two members have said they have taken a look from time to time.

There was flattering talk about this blog and I might have a new role, but for the first time in ages, I didn’t go up and speak. It was a great chance to sit back and enjoy the show.

Looking back, when I started the blog I hoped to record what I learned from each meeting. To some extent, I’ve done that but I’ve tended to focus on what I was doing each week. This week was a chance to listen rather than speak. It really pays to shift the focus from yourself, to take the time to examine other people.

Marion was our Table Topics Mistress for the evening, so it was up to her to pick people to come out and give impromptu talks. It was her first time in the role, and I thought she did a great job. She chose a theme of ‘sports’ – which made me worry just a bit, as this is my least favourite subject.

At the start, she picked Noni but hadn’t realised that Noni a main speaker. (Noni is short for Antognoni – her full name was up on the board.) Well, that’s life – things go wrong. Marion handled it really well. She asked for someone to volunteer. Helen put her hand up, and saved the day.

There were some great table topics. Eric really stuck in my mind. He talked about how football was not “about life and death; it’s a lot more serious than that”. We discovered that you need to wear a red hat, if you go round to Eric’s when Liverpool are playing. It’s amazing how few of us knew the European cup final is on Wednesday (I didn’t). We found Liverpool are set against… …er… someone Spanish – Madrid, I think.

Then we got into the main speakers. Noni gave us a great talk on scuba diving – something I’d never really considered, until now. She described it as “another world”, conjuring images of all the colourful fish she had met. Apparently, we needn’t worry about Jaws – you’d have to be “really lucky” to see a shark. And we shouldn’t be content with snorkelling, either. This is how Noni put it:

Snorkelling is like standing outside a crowded pub, watching football on TV through the window, across the smoky pub.

Scuba diving is putting your boots on and running down the tunnel to go out and actually play the game.

True to form, Muryel talked about food. She told us how much less efficient it is to produce meat than vegetables. Did you know you can produce 16kilos of vegetables for the same resources as a kilo of beef?

“Just think about it,” she would say, after each statement. That was really effective.

As ever, Muryel had an interesting angle. She expressed the difference in terms of how complex the proteins are. She told us, we should all eat less complex proteins, further down the food chain, in order to be less wasteful. We should all be “responsible omnivores”.

Then came Pravin who told us all to write down our goals. He explained how, just a few years ago, he and his wife had done this, and then put their goals up on the bathroom mirror so they wouldn’t forget. A year later, they’d saved enough to move out of their flat. “It’s not enough to have a goal,” Pravin told us. “You need to write it down, and set a time against it.”

There are speakers at the Maidenhead Speakers Club who make speaking seem effortless and completely second nature. Ian, for example, is one. He was Toastmaster for the evening, and did a truly superb job.

Now, I don’t know how long Ian prepares for each of his speeches, but his style is relaxed and it always flows. He looks like he is in his element. Watching Ian speak makes it clear just what can be achieved.

It might take me a while to get there, but at least I can see it is possible. I would like to become as natural and relaxed as Ian – ideally, within 5 years. It’s my clearly defined goal – which I’ve just written down.

The Lazy Man’s Way to Speaking

Posted May 21, 2007 by publicspeakingblog
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Last Monday, I gave my first speech for a while.

The project title was “Your Body Talks”. I was supposed to use gestures and body language to good effect. I already had the topic for my speech, so I retro-fitted it to the project.

My topic idea was self-help and self-teaching books, and how I’d found them interesting but wasn’t sure they helped all that much.

The inspiration came from a story my Mum told me. She’d read a book on improving your memory. It was very interesting, she said, but she can’t remember a single thing about it – can’t remember the author, the title or anything it said.

Which I found pretty funny.

When I gave the speech, I stole Mum’s story, changing it to make it sound like it had happened to me.

I also talked about the “Lazy Man’s Way to Riches,” a book I’d read as a teenager and the first “self-help” book I’d ever read. It promised to make you rich just by visualizing the rewards. Now, I’ve tried this out and, indeed, here I am over 2 decades later – I’m still lazy but I’m not rich.

A real aim I had for this speech was to try to spend less time preparing. For the previous speeches, I’d spent most of the day before preparing. This strikes me as quite a lot of time to devote to a five minute speech – I should be able to do it with less. That was one reason – and then, of course, I am just plain lazy.

This time, I tried to cut the preparation down to just 2 hours. That might sound a bit severe. It certainly made the actual giving of the speech more challenging.

What’s more (or, er, less), I wrote the body of the speech on the morning of the speech itself. I spent about an hour on it. I then spent an hour after work rehearsing and checking the timing.

Of course, it wasn’t as carefully scripted as my previous speeches. I had just 3 small cards of notes rather than my usual 6. Still, I am getting a bit more confident, and I hoped I’d be able to make the speech more “off the cuff” and natural than my previous efforts.

In the event, I felt it went fairly well as a speech in its own right, though it didn’t fit the project objectives well enough. I could’ve thought about some more gestures and given them more emphasis – and practise.

Also, I got a bit rushed towards the end of the speech; my close was not strong. That’s something I’ve been working on – a strong close – but I’m not there yet. If you have something clear, or witty, to say at the end of the speech, it is easy to wrap it up at any time. It gives you more confidence, as the speech moves on. Right now, I’m good at going over and over the speech start before I get up there, but I’m not so good at preparing, or delivering, the close.

Still, overall it went fairly well and when it was voted “Best Humour” I was delighted.

Interestingly, I got talking with David and Pravin during the break and when it comes to preparation they seem to be thinking along the same lines. Unlike many of our other club members, they too have tried to cut the preparation time down. David aims to use just an hour to prepare – which is amazing, given how well his speeches flow.

That is where I want to be – at least for the short speeches. I feel I should be able to define a clear period of time which is sufficient for most of them.

Yes, of course there will be speeches which require more preparation – even more research. For example, I have something special in mind for project 7 – on using visual aids. That is another story.

But I would like to develop this skill to the point where I find it effortless, where I can get up and give a coherent, structured speech fluidly with the minimum of preparation. I want to get to the point where I find it natural, and where I always enjoy it.

A Hot Potato

Posted April 23, 2007 by publicspeakingblog
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I was asked to give another table topic, a short impromptu speech.

Great, a chance to prove myself. The last time I’d given a table topic, I’d gone off topic; I’d used a short anecdote and tried to work my speech around it. This time, I vowed I would use the topic of the speech itself.

And what was the topic?

I was asked by David to act as a reporter, but to report on an event of the past – the introduction of the potato by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Well, I started off on good ground – after a brief talk about drug smuggling (i.e. tobacco), I started talking about the huge impact potatoes have had on Scottish cooking – how we’d be lost without them.

And then….

And then, I floundered. I started talking about how I wanted to talk on-topic this time. I was talking about talking, about keeping on topic but not about the topic itself.

And I babbled on and on until the time was up.

While I may be the least informed appreciator of food, I see now that there were many things I could’ve talked about. I love chips, and baked potatoes are great. How about potatoes wrapped in tin foil and cooked in a log fire? Or the one meal I can actually cook, corned beef hash. Where would that be without potatoes?

As my Mother-in-Law is fond of saying, “We’re all generals after the war”.

Men Can’t Multitask

Posted April 23, 2007 by publicspeakingblog
Categories: Learning to Speak

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Last week, I had 3 tasks to perform – yes, three!

First off, I was supposed to be timer. Then, at the start of the meeting, I was asked to step in as an evaluator for Pravin. Finally, I was called up to give a table topic.

Well, I um-ed and ah-ed about being an evaluator – I tried every which way to get out of it – but in the end, I gave way and said I’d do it.

So I found myself trying to do both main jobs, and I’m afraid I ended up doing neither terribly well. When Norman, the first table topics speaker, went up to speak, I was deeply engrossed in my preparation for the evaluation. I let poor Norman talk and talk, and it was only when he asked if the timer was still alive, and everyone looked around and laughed, that I actually realised I’d forgotten to start the clock!

How embarrassing!

Later, Paul called me up to give a table topics talk about swimming under water. I started by confessing I now know what it feels like to drown.

Paris in the Spring

Posted March 30, 2007 by publicspeakingblog
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This week, I was asked to give a Table Topics speech.

This was the first one I’d done for a while, and as I didn’t have a role I was looking out for who would be “Table Topics Master” from the moment I arrived at the club. Well, this week it was Geoff – who’d evaluated my Icebreaker, last year. He was sitting in the row in front of me.

“I’m watching you, Mr. MacLeod,” he warned.

Right, thought I. That’s it – I’m bound to speak. And I started to consider what I’d say when he called me up.

Sure enough, I was the first one he called. The general topic was “Spring”, and he particularly asked me to talk about “Paris in the Spring”.

Wow – what do I know about that?

When you get a table topic, take your time going up to the front. Never say the first thing that comes to mind.

The first thing that came to my mind was my father. We had a disastrous holiday in Paris as a family in the eighties, and after that he always sang, “I love Paris in the Spring-time…. …but that’s because I’m never there!”.

Unfortunately, with no consideration of the Francophile audience, I said it. Doh!

Well, I seemed to get away with it – and some people laughed.

I wasn’t totally unprepared for the speech. Because I’d guessed it was likely I’d be speaking, I’d prepared myself while I’d been sitting waiting.

The speech I had in mind was based on a true story – about an English teacher who’d taught me. However, since the topic was “Paris in the Spring” I changed him into a French teacher.

The teacher had set me an assignment as homework. Of course, I’d left it to the last minute and, in the end, I had to tell him I hadn’t actually done it!

He was fuming.

So, when it came to doing the next assignment, I learned my lesson – I lied about it. You see, I told him I’d written an excellent assignment but then I’d been stopped on my way to the lesson. A pink elephant had floated down from the skies and he trampled all over my poor assignment.

“Sacre bleu,” said my (now) French teacher, who was delighted. He thought the story was wonderful. (Believe it or not, this got a laugh.)

And so, said I rounding up, it just goes to show you can get away with anything if you have a decent story. I was meant to be talking to you today about Paris, but I got away with talking about pink elephants.

Except, I didn’t. I knew it was a cop-out. The way to really give a table topic speech is to keep it on topic. My approach (trying to quickly adapt an existing story) made this hard. It was amusing, perhaps, but it wasn’t really the object of the game. Maybe I need a new approach?

I watched the other table topic speakers intently, and noticed a trend. A lot of the more experienced speakers (including Joyce, who won the evening’s “Best Table Topic” ribbon) use the topic to describe a scene.

I could’ve described all the things that come to mind when you think about Paris in the springtime – and let’s face it, there are plenty. There are the steps up to Sacre Coeur, the hussle and bussle of the  Champs Élysées, the view from the Eiffel Tower, the freshness of the air.

So, this is my resolve for my next attempt. Try to describe the scene. It might not get so many laughs, but it will be a fresh new speaking challenge.

Lorraine’s Humorous Look at the Decline of Marriage

Posted March 30, 2007 by publicspeakingblog
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This month, we had a couple of meetings where I had no assigned role, but was lucky enough to get a chance to speak both times nonetheless.

On the 12th of March, I was asked at the last minute to evaluate Lorraine’s humorous speech. Lorraine is a very confident speaker who spoke at this year’s humorous speaking contest – so I knew I’d have my work cut out.

It’s much harder to evaluate a really good speaker. Firstly, you have the feeling you’re not really qualified to comment – after all, I’ve only been going to Toastmasters for just under a year.

And then, you have the problem of just understanding the project. The beginners’ speaking manuals have clear, step-by-step objectives. In the later manuals, the objectives get more sophisticated, and there tend to be more of them.

Finally, you have the difficulty of actually finding something constructive to say. When the speaker is too good, it’s awfully hard to find something they can improve on.

And so it was with Lorraine. Her speech had been prompted by a newspaper article she’d read, about the decline in the number of marriages.

It was a charming speech, with lots of clever puns and word-plays. It was extremely hard to find something to suggest to improve it. Perhaps, I thought, the punchline timing could’ve been stronger, once or twice, but that was splitting hairs. And then, I thought, it had been brave of her to make fun of men so often – after all, half the audience were male.

I had a close to my evaluation ready – I wanted to finish with a reference to a Britney Spear’s bikini (which had been one of Lorraine’s jokes). However, despite all attempts at a strong finish, I still made my usual “and that’s all I have to say” close. Why do I say that? I’m still working on it…

In the end, Lorraine got the “Best Speech” ribbon – and the “Best Humour” ribbon too. That just goes to show you how great her speech was. But I was proud as punch to get the “Best Evaluator” ribbon. Lorraine said we had a clean sweep!

On a separate note, we were treated to Sheila’s entertaining speech on the value of a smile. The point she made was how much you can affect the environment around you, with a simple smile. Whenever you greet someone you know, smile. When you meet a stranger, smile. The world around you will be brighter. Even babies just a few weeks old know this!

And that’s true. Sheila’s speech made me think about my little daughter, and her lovely smile. It made me smile all week.