Wednesday, August 24, 2005

For the record...

I've been practicing recently for various speeches and even some phone calls. When I don't have anyone to evaluate me, I have to be my own worst enemy and drag out an audio or video recorder then proceed to evaluate myself.

It's painful. The voice that I think has a somewhat sonorous tone is nasal and high. The smooth and flowing hand gesture is quick and jerky.

Always very educational. The second and third takes are significantly better as a result of review. Try it. You might not like it, but whomsoever listens to you afterwards will.

Not brain surgery, but effective nonetheless.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Icebreaker Redux

This was my first speech to this Toastmasters Club (SpeakEasier). It's a second Icebreaker, given about 13 years after earning my CTM (Competent Toast Master). I wanted to 'wow' the audience, enrich them and engage them.

However, the best and first goal for an Icebreaker is to introduce yourself. Simply introduce yourself. Let the listeners know you as a person.

The result? Somewhere amidst the eleven (11!) "ahhs" and "umms", I managed to cram in three speeches. In 7+ minutes. Needless to say, it gave short shrift to introducing me. Whoops.

I tried to accomplish too much in such a short speech. I felt hurried doing it and I should've known. I also worked hard on the opening - memorizing it and refining it - and I pitched overboard, starting completely differently.

At least one of the positive comments I received was that I had managed "to organize and fit so much into such a short speech".

Unfortunately, I think this left most of the content spilling over onto the floor as I overworked the retentive capabilities of my listeners. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Speaking Today - My Ice Breaker

I am speaking today at lunch. I have five to seven minutes to introduce myself as part of my CTM #1 exercise in Toastmasters. The CTM #1 is the first speaking exercise in the Competent Toastmaster Manual of the Toastmasters International training. Its called the "The Ice Breaker" and the purpose is to introduce myself as well as 3 or 4 interesting aspects of me and my life.

I am looking forward to it. I will speak, I will be evaluated - getting valuable feedback on how I can improve. My Evaluator has a rubric to use, noting things such as:
  • What strong points does the speaker already have?
  • How well did the audience get to know the speaker?
  • Did the speech reflect adequate preparation?
  • What are one or two specific suggestions you can make to help the speaker improve?

There are more, but you should get the idea.

I'm going to try to give as well as get during this speech, so I am presenting some listening tips as part of my speech... and then presenting a "quiz" to check their listening. It will be fun. More on the structure and results later.

This (Toastmasters) is the best program around, as I belabored in The Speakers Silver Bullet .

Monday, April 04, 2005

Inventing Answers

You are asked a question, basically given a topic upon which to discourse. Except it's not a question that has a ready answer. The "Turn knob B and push the start button" sort of instruction won't cut it. Think in terms of the "tell me about yourself" or "why do you think we should do X" sort of landmine-ridden question.

What do you do?

Instantly there are perhaps dozens of things to talk about and paralysis sets in as you try to connect these into a coherent whole. In short, what will you say?

As it happens, the study of Rhetoric has developed to answer just that question. One of the canons of rhetoric is "inventio" and it concerns finding something to say. Inventio or "invention" provides tools for picking out what to say. A key guide is the topoi (literally "places to find things") also known as topics of invention. The topics are categories of relationships between ideas which help you discover things to say about a topic.

Grab one of the topics (some of which you should have stored away in memory in case of an "extemporaneous emergency"), and use it to quickly guide you in organizing and creating your ideas on a given topic.

One of the topics is "Antecetedent and Consequence": Given a certain situation (the antecedent), what is likely to follow (the consequence)? This often takes the form of an "if...then" structure.

Given the "why do you think we should do X" sort of question, you can grab onto the antecedent easily and work down, layer by layer with this structure. "If we do X, then Y will happen. If Y happens then our world will be good because of Z. Z is what will cause revenue to increase since..." etc.

The topics are questions you can ask of your topic, to dissect it and reconstruct it as a speech.

Right now, this same invention is at work. Given that I wanted to introduce the inventio, what answers does it provide?

Well, if you do not have a ready answer to a question, then you need some ready tools for discovering an answer. As such, you can rely on the ideas of rhetoricians past to help discover it.

Silva Rhetoricae is an excellent source for rhetorical tools, including the Topoi. If you have never researched the value of Rhetoric in your speaking, give this site a view. Take a look at the topoi and see how they will help the invention of your next speech.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

How to Say it - Structure your speaking

Let's look at why and how you should structure your speech to best achieve your goals.

When you are speaking, just as when you are writing, you need to drop your thoughts, advice, ideas and observations into a structure - an order - that allows your listener to understand what you are saying and aids remembering what you said.

When you write, the structure starts as an outline. You take your main point and all of the bits and pieces that support it, order them, organize them and reorganize them - until you have fashioned a skeleton off of which you'll hang the rich fullness of your ideas and words. Ideally, your reader will use this skeleton to remember your words and ideas.

With speaking - particularly extemporaneously - you need a structure even more. The structure is a map to your thoughts and a filing system for the listener.

Important points about structuring your speaking:

The structure of spoken communication is different than written communication. Even if you aren't working from a prepared speech, you need to have a structure, for the benefit of your listeners. With the written word, you can use a list and won't need to repeat it, since readers can just look back at it. In a speech or conversation, there usually isn't a replay button, so you'd need to present and repeat the list as you go, to keep the listener up to date.

You also need a structure to help yourself as a speaker. When you are writing, you can review your words to make sure you have achieved your goal by the end. If you stray off your path, you can edit to fix this. No such luck with the spoken word. If you forget your goal and stray off the beaten path, you lose both yourself and your listeners. Your structure helps you to remember where you are and where you are going as a speaker

These differences between the written and spoken word means the structure of a great speech will make sure that the listeners won't need a replay button, and you won't walk away having missed your goal.

So much for why to structure your speech. How to do it is straightforward. I have learned a simple structure for speaking, which allows avoiding the pitfalls discussed a moment ago.

Here's the structure:

  1. Tell them what you are going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you told them.

Start your comments by telling your listeners what you are going to be talking about. Summarize the goal you're headed for. Tell them what you are going to tell them.

Once you have warned your listeners where you are all going, take them on the ride, tell them what you have to say. This is the meat of your remarks. Tell them.

To finish review the goal and summarize how you reached it. Tell them what you told them.

This structure is simple, easy to remember and applicable to entire speeches, sections within speeches, short remarks - just about anything, including written words like these.

This organization allows you to repeat yourself, without repeating yourself. You take the outline or list of important points along with you through the whole speech, so that the listener can remember it without reviewing it. You give the listener advance warning of what is coming so that they can better understand what you are saying while you are saying it.

And you as a speaker have a much better idea of where you are and where you are heading as you speak.

I think that I have used many of these points in this very article. I tried to tell you up front that this is about how to structure your speech and why. Then I told you, using some repetition so that you wouldn't need to go backwards. And now I'm summarizing - telling you that the simple: Tell 'em what you're going to tell them; Tell 'em; Tell 'em what you've told them structure - is a key tool for effective speaking.