Archive for the ‘Learning to Speak’ category

Men Can’t Multitask

April 23, 2007


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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.


Christmas Meeting 2006

December 12, 2006


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Last night saw our special Christmas meeting, the last of this year.

Accordingly, many of our members brought along food, and the club provided red and white wine. Magdalena, my lovely wife, kindly spent most of Sunday baking a delicious chocolate cake which I proudly brought along.

Since my mother was staying with me at the time, I’d asked Club President Mireia if it would be OK for Mum to attend. It was, and she really enjoyed her evening.

I had a role too – Sergeant at Arms. I was responsible for making sure it all got started on time, but I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at it and we started a few minutes late.

We had lots of Table Topics speakers but only two main speakers for the evening, to make time for food and drink.

The table topics were all on the Christmas theme, followed by two excellent speakers: Marion and Muryel.

Marion’s speech was especially dramatic right from the start – and in an unexpected way. When she took the floor and looked back at the audience, there was a little pause. Then the pause grew a little longer – something was wrong. Marion said something like “Oh, I’m sorry; I’ve frozen” before very graciously sitting down to compose herself.

It was the right thing to do. It gave her time to get her opening back together and, when she stood up again, she got back into the flow of her speech. Slowly at first, but then more confidently, she built the picture of her story.

The story was dramatic too and, because of her well structured speech, as well as the surprising entrance (and super recovery!), we found ourselves gripped throughout. She took us to a cold and lonely ski lift which she was trying to help her son desperately get up. Each unsuccessful attempt drew more strength, and we all waited anxiously to hear if they would get back before the cold night drew in.

It was a great talk, made all the better by its image of a cold, snowy mountain, a perfect tale for the time of year. Oh – and they did make it home that night so it had a happy ending too. Marion closed by telling us the experience had taught her to accept help when it’s needed, and to remember to bring a functioning mobile with you, when you’re out on the slopes.

Our other speaker was Muryel – she of “How Many Feet are in an Apple” fame. As with her last speech, her talk was on food, this time discussing the history behind the various Christmas treats.

She bravely ended on a comparison of British Christmas Pudding with her homeland’s “La Bûche de Noël”. The Brits were never going to come out ahead in this comparison (well, she is biased!).

Mum evidently enjoyed the whole evening but was quite surprised when Mireia invited her to speak about it, at the end of the night. Mum spoke for a few moments about her fear of speaking, the wonderful atmosphere at the club and how much it had surprised and encouraged her.

She spoke confidently, and her words were well thought out. Given how well she talked, I wondered why she was so afraid of talking in public. I was so proud of her.

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Some Like It Hot

December 7, 2006


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Well I thought I’d be in for a quiet week, but I was wrong.

Despite not having any roles planned for the evening, I was asked at the last minute to step in as evaluator for Andrew.

Furthermore, at the start of the night, I was asked to give the first table topics talk (“My Most Exotic Meal”) – so much for having an easy night. I must admit I let out a bit of a yelp when my name was called!

But I got up there and did it. It wasn’t too bad. I started off with a story about my Mum & Dad, to buy me some time to think. Before meeting my father, Mum studied and learnt 366 recipes, so that he would never be bored. Then, when they finally got together, she learnt that all he really liked was “Mince & Tatties” on Monday to Saturday, and Steak on a Sunday! She still has the poor unused recipes in a folder somewhere.

That was how the evening started. And then, at the end of the night came Andrew’s speech and my evaluation.

He was giving a speech from one of the advanced programmes, and his project required him to have a questions and answers section afterwards.

Andrew was speaking on an interesting topic too – global warming, with a speech entitled “Some Like It Hot”. Now it is often said (and it was this Monday) that you’re best steering clear of sex, politics and religion – at least when it comes to
public speaking.

Andrew resolutely ignored this advice. He even made a joke out of it. He went through each of the UK political parties in turn and analysed their response to global warming.

For him, in this speech, it worked. He certainly had no problem getting the audience to ask pertinent questions at the end. It just goes to show there are no rules to speaking that apply all of the time.

And do you know what? Despite my having been so nervous last time, I took this evaluation in my stride. This time, I wasn’t eating myself up with questions beforehand. Perhaps because it had been sprung upon me, I simply felt that I could do this, that I’d make a good show of it for Andrew. I felt good about it for once.

I feel like I’m getting somewhere now, that I’ll be actually not just able to do this public speaking lark, but I’m starting to actually relax enough to enjoy it.

Maidenhead Speakers Club is changing how I feel about speaking, and how I feel about myself too.

How Many Feet are in an Apple?

November 14, 2006


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I had my first job as evaluator, last night.

In some ways, this is even more nerve-racking than speaking. I was evaluating Muryel, one of our most entertaining speakers. I knew I’d be given 2 mintues at the end of the night to give a complete and interesting account of how she performed.

And there’s the crunch – it’s someone else’s speech you are talking about. You don’t know what the speech will be about beforehand, so you can’t really prepare.

In my case, I did know the speech number Muryel was speaking from, so that meant I could look at the notes before the speech. Her main speech objectives were to use body language well to convey the message.

At the start of the meeting, I asked if there was something in particular she wanted me to watch out for. She said the timing was her biggest concern.

Muryel’s speech title was “How many feet are in an Apple?” She talked about how far your fruit travels before it gets to you, and the impact this has on your “carbon footprint”.

Before the speech, I took a blank sheet of paper and wrote the key speech objectives as single words, taken from the Toastmasters programme notes. Then, as she was speaking, I made points beside each of these words on the page. As soon as she did or said something that matched one of the objectives, I’d link the points with the objective and write brief notes. Then I highlighted important points with a circle or star.

At the end of the night, I stood up when called upon and went through each of Muryel’s objectives in turn, describing how she’d done, and giving examples. 2 minutes isn’t a lot of time, so I kept it simple.

Before the evening, one of our members had recommended I:

  • Say something complementary
  • Give a single suggestion for improvement
  • Close with another complement

That was good advice, and I stuck to it. I started by talking about some of her more successful points, talked for a bit about how to improve and then closed on some more of her accomplishments.

In the end, I think I covered most of it, though I did forget to comment on her timing (which she’d asked for).

Muryel gave a great speech (she won the vote), and I think this made my job easier, though it meant it was hard to find some constructive suggestion or advice for her.

The Long Way Home

October 24, 2006


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Yesterday evening, I gave my third speech at Toastmasters.

This time, it was the second speech from the Toastmasters “Leadership and Speaking Programme”…

I gave a talk about coming back from Germany on a motorbike. It was a funny trip – I’d overloaded the bike and had no idea where I was heading, so I thought that would make a good topic for my speech.

I started the speech by marching up to the floor with my motorcycle gear on – even the helmet, with the visor down.

However, this time, I found one or two of my jokes fell flat. It’s hard to push on when your best punchline meets stunned silence!

But push on I did, and I got to the end of the story. I was much less nervous this time – I didn’t rush through it, and even found occasion for the odd pause.

At the evaluation, I was pleased to learn a bit more. Apparently, I’d held the helmet and waved it around when it might’ve been better to put it down on the floor.

Still, at the end of the night I was amazed to hear I’d won another blue ribbon! When the votes had been counted, I’d been voted the night’s best speech. The competition had been stiff – Pravin had given a particularly hilarious speech about all the things that went wrong on his honeymoon.

It just goes to show, you never know. This has been a speech I’d really practiced and honed, though on the night I’d had to plough through it, a little disappointed by the response. Clearly, though, it had gone better than I’d thought.

Humorous Speech Competition

September 27, 2006


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This week, our weekly meeting took the form of a humorous speech contest – apparently, an annual occurrence.

There were four very funny speeches from some of Maindenhead Speakers’ finest. In particular, I was impressed by Sheila, who discussed Toilet Grafitti. While this did call for the odd smutty joke, Sheila always dealt with the subject with class. It is incredible, the gravitas she brought to this subject! (That was funny in itself.)

There are no evaluators as such for a competition – instead, there are judges, who mark all the speeches against set criteria, giving point points for each. The points from each judge are then combined to give a winning score. I wasn’t surprised when Sheila’s toilet humour won the day.

My job for the evening was timer with Joyce, one of the club’s most experienced members. We had a great time and got so carried away with the funny speeches, it was hard to remember to light the correct timing lights. Still, one way and another, we kept each other right, and all the speakers finished on time.

The other interesting thing about the meeting was that the table topics were judged too. After the main speeches were over, the table topics speakers were asked to leave the room. Then each was called in and given the same topic – how they would plan a campaign to help people overcome the number one fear, learning public speaking.

I was surprised that the Table Topics speeches came after the main speakers – on a normal meet, this is the other way around. Joyce explained that this is to let the poor, nervous contestants off the hook as soon as possible!

Speech 2, Project 4: “The Dishwasher”

September 12, 2006


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I gave my second speech last night – a supposedly humorous look at my complete inability to plumb in a dishwasher.

It was only my second speech, but I broke with convention and used project 4 from the Toastmasters “Communication & Leadership” programme. The event (installing the dishwasher) was still fresh in my memory, and I hoped it would make a funny speech. It didn’t suit the second project, but the objectives of project 4 fitted perfectly.

(In Toastmasters, you can change the order of all but the first and last speeches. However, they recommend you don’t. The programme is ordered in this way for a reason: the speeches build on one another. Still, I ignored this advice. I hoped my speech would be interesting enough to justify it!)

I prepared as I had for The Icebreaker, but with a twist. This speech started out as an email I wrote to my Mum! It made her laugh, and we both thought it was a good basis for a speech. I re-wrote it out in full, before preparing bullet points on cards, the day before.

Well, on the night, I was really nervous. It was a complex speech, about a catastrophic chain of events that led to my almost flooding the whole street. The trick was to remember all the little links in that chain.

I got up there and started rabbitting on about how much I’d wanted this blasted dishwasher. My first couple of jokes fell totally flat. A sea of blank faces stared back at me. I stoically carried on regardless.

Then, a real stroke of luck. In describing the moment when I broke the cold water pipe, I deviated a bit from my written speech:

As I screwed in the self sealing tap, I was faced with a jet of water. You see, the tap would’ve been self-sealing, but I’d forgotten a very important rubber bit. I’d left it on the table!

A spurting stream of silver shot onto the kitchen floor. It gave all the stuff I had lying around a right royal soaking.

Well, I reacted immediately – I panicked!!

I must’ve really looked panicked too, because this really broke the ice. At this, the audience were laughing out loud, now – real, genuine laughter, not the apologetic “we’ve been there too” kind.

I was on a roll.

The whole previous week, I had worried that the speech wouldn’t be funny. It is hard, looking at words on the cold page to see if they’ll bring the right reaction or not, on the day.

But, somehow, I had done it – by just saying what felt right in that moment. As I went on to describe the ridiculous things I did with my hammer, the stopcock and the freezing water, I had them laughing in the aisles. It felt great.

Indeed, I got a bit carried away. Before long the red light was on and it was time to wind it up. I tried my hardest to get through the closing story about the mains stopcock, the concrete and the water board man, but it was no use. I was over time by 5 seconds, and so disqualified from the night’s voting.

My evaluator for this speech was Steve. He did a great job, encouraging me at the start of his evaluation and then pointing out one or two wee things I could improve. I still have a tendency to clasp my hands, and my movements at the start of the speech were distracting and a bit nervous. Steve was sure that I’d achieved all the objectives for this project, and he liked the phrase about a silver jet of water.

It was over, and they had laughed. I don’t know whether they were laughing at me or with me – and I don’t care. They laughed and enjoyed it, and that’s more than could have hoped for.